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