For years non-climbers have been rushing to the front of the pack before 5-10 minute hills with the plan to drift back as everyone passes and then hang on to the back of the group as they crest. This is an amateur move as the speed of the pack naturally picks up as you approach the hill and trying to move all the way to the front is a waste of energy.

You do need to find the ‘Heart’ of the pack before the hill so that you can take advantage of the pack’s momentum as they climb. Position plus Steady Rhythm are 2 tactical factors that can successfully carry you over the TOP of the hill:

  • Before the Hill: Stay off the front during the ride, protected but in touch with the ‘heart’ of the pack. As you approach the base of the hill pack position is critically important. Choose a spot just behind the ‘HEART’ of the pack (riders that usually crest 1st). Do NOT get boxed in so choose an outside line (away from the curb) behind the head of the arrow. Let the ‘Base of the Hill’ sprinters go. Watch and prepare for the surge that will happen closer to the top.
  • On the Hill: Concentrate on relaxing to produce a steady, calm and smooth power train rhythm. Do not try to match gear ratio or cadence with other riders. Select a gear that will carry you up the 1st half of the hill at an efficient cadence of 85-95 rpm. A gear that will allow you to SHIFT UP to increase speed into the 2nd half of the climb (if you have to choose outside gears, i.e. 39/13 it is better to stay in your big chain ring to avoid shifting front and rear at the critical moment). If at first you find yourself under geared (spinning too fast) don’t panic. Relax, spin and let the pack momentum carry you up the 1st part of the climb.
  • Wait for the hill to come to you: Do not apply any more effort at the bottom of the hill than you did on the flats leading up to the base. It is your natural instinct to attack the hill at the base but you need to do exactly the opposite i.e. Relax, Spin, Stay even with the tempo of the ‘heart’ of the pack and wait for the demands of the hill to come to you. You will know when it is time to apply your power (strength + speed) at which time you need to focus fully on your ‘Seated Power Climb’ technique.
  • Of prime importance is ‘Maintain optimum cadence’. It is better to over-shift uphill and pass through your regular cadence i.e. Shift to 100rpm, as you drop to 80rpm shift again to 100rpm (reverse this technique for the descend). Apply only as much power as you need to stay with the group – preserving energy for cresting. When applying power you cannot simply ‘spin’. Push down hard on the down stroke AND remain calm with good rhythm.
  • Two most common climbing errors are waiting too long before downshifting on the way up and not up-shifting soon enough as you crest. You are aiming for optimum cadence and relaxed power. During the early stages of the climb use your NPHR climbing techniques i.e. don’t ‘stomp on your pedals’ – yet. Keep your thighs relaxed. Your power is coming from a combination of your core, hip flexors and pedal stroke. Grip the handlebars wide and soft – play the piano with your fingers. Sit upright to allow deep (stomach) breathing. Shrug, to relax, your shoulders. Do not pant – breathe deep and easy. Do not talk – even if spoken to and especially do not grunt or groan.
  • Once the speed kicks up you must choose a gear that will hold your cadence around 85rpm and start pushing harder on the down stroke – staying relaxed with good rhythm. Stay seated – do not stand unless you know that you can stand and finish the hill. If you have to stand then
    go into a ‘No Power Standing Climb’ i.e. change to the next bigger gear, smoothly swing your body forward to a standing position and immediately concentrate on creating a smooth and relaxed powerful 75 -85 rpm rhythm keeping your body relaxed and projected forward (do not bob up and down). Use only your legs for power & continue your stomach breathing. Standing or seated you must keep your momentum going at pack speed or faster while reserving a burst of energy for cresting. This is best achieved with climbing rhythm rather an explosive power.
  • Once over the crest keep turning the pedals, without over spinning, for as long as you can even if this means ‘soft pedaling’ to turn lactic acid build-up into ATP – that burn you feel is the
    fastest and most efficient form of energy available so use it. Reach for water bottle only when recovered.