Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador! 3 people who have won grand tours which always include some BIG climbs. Each one has a different way of climbing. Dumoulin just gets into a rhythm and pedals away with a consistent effort. Froome, he’s head-down, elbows out, spinning a high cadence at a tough pace; waiting to explode with one big effort that he will maintain to the top. Contador is a different story, sitting, standing, dancing around, changing pace, attacking with destructive bursts. What do they all have in common though? Weight!! or lack of it! Well, each of us have lives to lead and are built in different ways, so weight will be what it is, if we can lose a bit that’s great, but it shouldn’t become an obsession. Mortals like us will have to find a way to get to the top.
Firstly, you need to ensure that you have gears that you can manage, its no fun riding a 20 km climb at 50 PPM! Typically a compact front chainset (34/50) is ideal and if you can, fit the biggest cassette you can to the rear wheel. 11/28 is OK, but if you struggle on hills, an 30,or even 32 is worth fitting. It’s much better to have a gear that you don’t use, rather than constantly wishing you have an easier one.You may need to check at your local bike shop if your rear mech can cope with the larger cassettes.
So how do I climb a long alpine climb? Well as a man who’s ’normal’ size 6’2” and around 14 st a measured consistent effort is how i do it. I find that gear that is comfortable to turn over and just keep turning the pedals over, I sit up hold the bars on the top to help the breathing a bit. Periodically I stand up; even if its just for 5-10 seconds, it changes the muscles you use and relives the pressure on the bits you’re sitting on!
Don’t get drawn into riding at another persons speed, it might feel OK for a minute or two, but after 30-60 mins, it’ll be another story if you’re riding a bit to fast. Don’t forget to eat and drink, you’ll be burning a lot of energy, you need to keep fuelling the engine!
Finally and the most important thing to do when climbing a big Alp. LOOK UP! enjoy the scenery, remember, you chose to take on the challenge of riding in some of the most spectacular scenery you will see, so ENJOY it, when you get to the top and you will, remember to tell yourself, you did it with your engine and your legs, give yourself a pat on the back.
Now, what goes up, must come down. Anybody can descend. all you need to do is RELAX and remember, the bike doesn’t want to fall over. That sounds silly, but it’s true. In the same way as I suggested you climb at your own pace, never try and descend at another persons speed if you don’t feel comfortable. Follow the lines of a good descender by all means, but don’t take risks, that usually ends up with somebody going straight to the scene of the accident; not good! Braking is obviously important and I find the best way to do this is to move your weight into the pedals, and move your bum slightly behind the saddle, this moves your weight backwards and helps keep the rear wheel more stable, then when you brake, brake with one good consistent pull of the levers, don’t constantly drag the brakes, they’ll get very hot and become less effective. When you arrive at the corner, you should be travelling at the speed you will take the corner, release the brakes put your out side pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke so the inside pedal is up out of the way so it can’t hit the floor as you lean the bike over. Turn into the corner and look where you want to go, not at the turn, but as far up the road as you can.then as you exit, stand the bike up and pedal away. after a few turns you should start to find a good rhythm. One last thing, we sometimes ride on open roads, so for your safety and the safety of others in the group, stay on the correct side of the road!
Richard Gambling, HotChillee Ride Captain.