Have you ever found that even before you’ve made it to the bottom of a climb your inner chimp is already sowing the seeds of doubt in your mind? Although logic dictates that the physical side of climbing uphill on a bike is the most important factor, having a positive mental attitude towards your ability and the road ahead will go a long way in improving your performance and overall enjoyment when it comes to climbing. Try replacing negative thoughts with positives as to why you ‘can’ instead of why you ‘can’t’. It’s likely you’ll be surprised just how much of an impact this has on your cycling and what you can achieve.
With your mind in a good place the next step is to focus on your body. On the run up to the ascent take a few deep breaths and relax. Replace the death grip that you may have on the hoods as you prepare to attack the climb by gently resting your hands on the tops of the handlebars. Whilst in the saddle, keep your arms slightly bent (as opposed to being locked out) to act as shock absorbers to soak up any road vibration. Sitting more upright with your back straight will open up your diaphragm, allowing your to breath more deeply and in turn increase your aerobic efficiency.
Climbs come in all shapes and sizes, from the long and winding hors catégorie ascents made famous by the Tour de France to the short and punchy pitches that litter the UK, which means adopting a good technique depending on what you face is crucial in making it to the top in good shape. On longer ascents try staying in the saddle whilst pedalling at a higher cadence (around 90rpm) which will help to keep your legs supple and utilise your aerobic capacity more efficiently as opposed to relying on brute force and leg strength alone. When the gradient does rise, shift your weight forward and stand on the pedals to put more power down. With practice you’ll find what feels comfortable in any given situation. Everyone is different so it’s important to find a technique that suits your characteristics as a rider.
Even with the best will in the world if you hit a climb too hard, or with too much enthusiasm, then it’s only going to be a matter of time before you’re in the red and gasping uncontrollably. Remember to ride within your limits, especially if your route has multiple climbs to conquer as is the case with many UK and European sportives. Try to keep a solid and sustainable pace throughout the climb. If you find that you’re in a group and you’re hanging onto the wheel in front, back off, catch you breath and concentrate on your own climb. Tipping yourself in to the red over and over will quickly deplete glycogen stores so it’s best to ride within yourself until the point when you can smell the finish, then you have permission to go all out!
Whilst a nice light weight bike will obviously help against the drawbacks of gravity, often shaving a kilogram or two from your body will offer a far more positive result when it comes to performance. That said, if you don’t have your gearing right then no matter how fit, or how light your bike is, it’s always going to be a grind. Compact chainsets with a 34 tooth small chainring have become increasingly popular, even for professionals, when the road turns lumpy. Keeping your legs spinning in circles will allow you to stay in control on the climb as opposed to the climb controlling you.
I hope this helps a little. Thanks for reading and good luck!
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