Climb faster now! Back to basics?

In 1986, Bernard Hinault raced the Clásico RCN in Colombia. “[It] is terrifying,” he said. “Every day you’re in the mountains, climbing to unbelievable altitudes. It was a difficult race and we never stopped climbing. The landscapes are enough to make you dizzy.”

Hinault won the final time trial, held at an altitude of 2,600 metres, in which he beat Lucho Herrera, the overall winner. Hinault complemented the great climbing of the Colombians, but later could not resist a little jab when he noted that the riders who were beating him in the mountains in Colombia were “crucified” on the flat in that year’s Tour de France.

Similarly, as preparation for his Tour ride in 1984, Laurent Fignon also raced in the Clásico. He wanted to prove that his win in the 1983 Tour was not, as he said, a “fluke” and was looking for some tough riding in the mountains. “The event was perfect preparation because it all took place at over 2,000 metres above sea level.” It is difficult to assess the value of this preparation, but Fignon dominated the Tour in that year and won five stages.

Ride. Hills. Lots

The message seems to be a basic one: if you want to go faster up hills, ride more up hills. Climb, climb and climb some more.  It will never get any easier, but you will go faster. Eventually. As Jonathan Vaughters said: “I see so many people looking for that secret technique or training method that will make climbing painless and suffer-free. This will never happen. Climbing is painful, period. The sooner you just accept that and stop looking for ways around it, the better you will learn how to climb.”

This appeared to be the accepted wisdom, but this may well be not the case at all. In the latest issue of Bicycling, a reader writes to Chris Carmichael ‘The Coach’: “I’m used to long climbs, but I just moved to an area with lots of short, steep hills. Any tips on acclimatizing?”

One would have expected Carmichael to answer something like: “Er, go ride the short steep hills. Lots.” Instead, he suggests a series of gym exercises, then intervals (at which point your author’s eyes glazed over at the mention of intervals), which can be done either on the bike or on a stationary trainer. At no point did Carmichael suggest that the reader actually do any climbing.

Getting complicated

Clearly your author is missing something here. Carmichael, a former professional racer, has had – as we all know – a spectacular coaching career, including coaching some Texan who won the Tour seven times (and spent a lot of time training in the mountains before racing in the mountains). Carmichael’s book on riding less now to go faster later was even reviewed right here.

Clearly, your author – who can claim no particular coaching expertise or even riding prowess, but just an affinity for old school training – has been labouring under the impression that the short, steep hills he has been riding in his own neighbourhood would help him go faster up those same hills in the future. This appears not to be the case. But who has got time for gym routines and complicated intervals when there is riding to be done?

It is back to the drawing board, as they say. In the interim, in case you (dear reader) missed it, here’s an old post on climbing like Bernard le blaireau Hinault himself – and don’t forget to check under the Climbing Skills tag on the menu above to see other posts on suffering in the mountains.

Hinault, Fignon, Herrera, and Beat Breu and Robert Millar at the Tour in '84. Pure class.

4 thoughts on “Climb faster now! Back to basics?

  1. If your goal was to make me curious about what Carmichael says, you’ve succeeded. Give us readers a bit more so we can compare the old school regimens you’ve cited to Carmichael’s regimens and whether or not your being sarcastic about going back to the drawing board.

  2. I still think, be as light as possible, and strong as possible, then smile while climbing, especially while passing your opponents. And climb, climb, climb.

  3. I wonder if Chris’ full training regimen included any other forms of ‘preparation’ – they clearly worked for that Texan bloke, so I’m sure they’d work for Joe Average…

  4. My belief is that preparation for climbing should mostly depend on your goal. If you want to win a race, then prepare methodically and with precision — in the gym, on the bike, whatever it takes — the goal is the win, not the actual riding of the bicycle. If you want to ride for fun and maybe have a chance at beating your friends up a hill, then ride more, because riding itself is the goal and you’ll get more enjoyment from the whole effort.

Comments are closed.