Take hold of the short, sharp inclines
Mastering power climbs
Power climbers, such as the Classics specialists, are usually bigger powerhouses who can hammer away on the flats, too. They can handle many repeated efforts on shorter climbs. They tend to outnumber pure climbers. That said, many great all-rounders, such as Chris Froome, Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde, have also managed to excel on the short climbs as well, proving that with training, it’s possible to up your game on any grade or terrain.
Although we often see superb power climbing demonstrations on the great murs and bergs of Flanders, we mostly encounter hills at home that are relatively smooth and well-graded. On these rises, you can focus much more on getting the power out effectively and less on traction. You should ride mostly out of the saddle if you’re going all out on a power climb. Brace your legs from your trunk to get the maximum power efficiency. The upper body is an area often neglected by amateur cyclists. Yet, most pro riders put in a great deal of upperbody and strength work year-round without bulking up. By improving your core and upper-body strength, you will take advantage of a full-body effect on the bike, which helps to spread the workload greatly. If you wrestle and bob your way up a short, steep climb, a significant amount of power almost evaporates with every wasted action, which adds up significantly after a few climbs. If you bob too much, you should reach for the weights.
To the fore
Being close to the front of a group on a short climb is essential. Gaps can open up quickly. There is little time to make up ground and get around other riders. Plus, the hammer will often go down over the top of a shorter climb, which makes for a bubbling lactic bath of a chase if you’ve lost ground.
Even if you think you can’t stay with a group on a power climb, you should get as close to the front of the pack as possible heading to the hill. This positioning will allow you to sag throughout the climb and, ideally, slide back on over the top. Get into position ahead of time to avoid putting yourself into energy debt before you even start going up.
If you are suffering through a bunch of sharp rises, hold on for a slight lapse in pace or a slow corner that will allow you a moment to recover and return to the group if you do lose contact. Do what you can to hang in there.
On shorter power climbs, you will nearly always use larger gears, compared with long climbs, to maintain speed before, during and after the rise. If you know the climb, then judging your gearing is much easier. Always remember that if it’s steep and the gas is on full burn, you will quite probably be stuck with whatever gear you select for the duration of the climb. Play it safe: keep things one gear lower than you think you can handle. Also, factor in your accumulated fatigue. If you don’t know a climb, try to find out what lies ahead from other riders. Play it safe with gearing. Changing on and off the big chainring under pressure could drop your chain, so it’s often wise to slip to the small ring and a smaller sprocket, just in case.
“The hammer will often go down over the top of a shorter climb, which makes for a bubbling lactic bath of a chase if you’ve lost ground.”