Cyclist - - Climbing | Performance - Words JONATHAN MAN­NING Pho­tog­ra­phy DANNY BIRD

Moun­tains are a cy­clist’s neme­sis but, as we dis­cover, any­one can boost their climb­ing abil­ity in a month

About 45km west of my front door stands Rut­land’s alp. There are no chalets along its flanks, no whistling mar­mots in its mead­ows and no snowy peaks. But there is a proper switch­back – a real zig fol­lowed by a gen­uine zag.

Stock­er­ston Hill is a 1.6km-long cat­e­gory 4 climb, ac­cord­ing to Strava. It’s not the long­est or spiki­est hill by any means, but it is a su­perb bench­mark for a mis­sion to see how far I can im­prove my climb­ing abil­ity… within one month.

Ev­ery sum­mer for as long as I can re­mem­ber I’ve ar­rived at the start line of a se­ri­ous event won­der­ing whether I’ve done enough to ac­tu­ally make it to the fin­ish. I want this year to be dif­fer­ent. I want to laugh in the face of con­tours, grin at gra­di­ents and at­tack as­cents. So how do I go about un­leash­ing my in­ner Quin­tana?

It’s Fe­bru­ary, and by chance I find my­self rid­ing through the flat­lands of the Fens along­side Ital­ian ex-pro and vet­eran of nine Grand Tours, Mat­teo Car­rara. I ask him how he trained for the moun­tains, and in flam­boy­ant fash­ion he re­veals how he would build power on the flat: se­lect a high gear, stay seated and pedal hard for five, 10, 20 min­utes, he says. And then he demon­strates, ac­cel­er­at­ing to­wards the hori­zon.

So for my next few out­ings I in­tro­duce bouts of high-gear pedalling, un­til a friend asks me what I’m do­ing and I’m stumped for an an­swer. This, I re­alise, is the nub of my prob­lem. Pretty much all of my train­ing knowl­edge has been gleaned by os­mo­sis, picked up when I wasn’t look­ing for it, ab­sorbed when I wasn’t pay­ing at­ten­tion.

Titbits of fact and fic­tion mas­quer­ade as ex­per­tise. Have I got up climbs de­spite or be­cause of my ap­proach? Now, as the voiceover says in film trail­ers, it’s time to get se­ri­ous. I’m go­ing to ex­plore the realms of physics, biome­chan­ics, nutri­tion and train­ing pro­grammes in a quest to make climb­ing hills and moun­tains easy. Well, eas­ier.

The pull of the Earth

On any ride, three fac­tors sap a cy­clist’s en­ergy: rolling re­sis­tance, air re­sis­tance and grav­ity. On the flat, it’s

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