Training for the hill climb season
In a previous blog post I talked about the 3 types of ‘autumnal cyclist’. Here we take a look at arguably the hardiest of them all – the Hill Climber. Why do I say that? Well here are guys willing to push themselves into and over the red for anywhere from 2-10 mins plus whilst attacking some ridiculous gradients up and down the country. From a short 2 minute climb in South London to Mytholmroyd’s ‘longest continuous gradient in England’ – the infamous Cragg Vale in Yorkshire that can take from 14mins to 30mins to climb! These mad cyclists may well race twice in a day or even four events in a weekend. In order to do this, they will undertake specific hill climb training workouts.
A Hill Climb is a unique beast, and like all other branches of cycling, has its own specific challenges. There are dedicated hill climbers who build their seasons round these events, as well as road, time trial and club men who enter for the ‘craic’ and a chance to really test themselves.
There are some key parts to successful hill climb racing, that are the ultimate extrapolation of many key cycling traits.
Weight – both of the individual and the bike
1. BIKE – hill climb bikes are often very unique things, built to save weight in EVERY possible area. There is no weight limit and bikes can be as little as 4.5 kgs! They may have:
• Cut down handlebars and shifters
• The lightest wheels possible with lightweight skewers
• Limited gearing, usually a single ‘big ring’ and limited climbing gears suited for the event. Some guy even race on ‘fixed’ gears
• Trimmed ANYTHING extraneous including cable ends, saddles, bar tape (better still is none at all), shorter chain (if you are only on the ‘little front ring’ then a few links can go), no Garmin or other onboard computer, no water bottle, no stem cap and even no helmet. You won’t do much damage if you fall off going up a hill at 6mph!
Take a look at a typical hill climb bike
2. RIDER – power to weight is key, so the least weight (all round) is optimal BUT this isn’t only for the super competitive mountain goats weighing 60kg or less. Anyone can do it!
- Slim down as much as possible
- Empty your bowels before a race!
Choose your events. If you are targeting the National Hill climb then you need to be looking to replicate the specific distance/time/gradient in training. If not, be choosy. You may be powerful but not a lightweight rider so go for the longer events like the Cat & Fiddle in Derbyshire or Cragg Vale in Yorkshire. If you are a lightweight mountain goat then head for the super steep stuff, such as the Rake in Ramsbottom in Lancashire.
So let’s say you have done all the above. Lets carry forward the assumption from our last blog on Cyclo-cross training that you have come out of the summer with some decent base fitness. Now is the time for focussing on some KEY Hill Climb training sessions to enable you to really work you top end and go into the red. Which is what’s needed for going flat out up hills!
The below sessions work across the spectrum of events from short explosive climbs to the longer events.
What is different to CX is that we are not (most people anyway) looking to repeat the effort in a short period of time, but get out one FULL ON ALL OUT effort. So the training is targeted here to help achieve this with 2 sessions below:
Short / explosive power
This session may be over 70mins long but there is just 10mins of HARD work. A solid warm up leads into 3 x 20 secs sprints to waken you up. A stepped recovery section leads you into the first of 3×3 min blocks at 140% of FTP. This simulates an all out typical length of a hill climb in the UK. It’s a brutal hill climb training session, full on from the gun and will have you on the edge. Enjoy a really good recovery period and repeat twice more.
Hill climb tabatas
A variation on some sessions used to ‘pull’ FTP up. What is great about this hill climb training workout is that it’s 4x4min intervals. With 4 mins way above FTP as ‘overs’ and ‘unders’ that are just under FTP. The result is 4 mins of really tough work that will be above FTP and be simulating the type of power output experienced in a hill climb. It’s arguably more manageable mentally but you still have to repeat 4 times!
Stepped Hill Climb
This hill climb training session looks to simulate a slightly longer hill climb, or one where the gradient may steepen. After a solid building warm up you have just 2 intervals to focus on. Four steps, decreasing in length but increasing in effort from 110% of FTP to maximum (maybe 150% ++ of FTP). This will hurt and you get a massive easy rest before repeating just twice but this is real quality work.
I hope this simple guide is helpful towards your hill climb season. Why not contact me on 07917 617988 or email email@example.com and we can discuss some specific plans to help you not only meet your hill climbing goals but your whole season.