Everyone knows about the Tour De France but Spain’s La Vuelta is developing a rep as the race with the sickest climbs – we asked Cannondale-Drapac's rising climbing star how best to attack crazy gradients...
When it comes to riding a bike up a stonking great hill, 23-year old Brit Hugh Carthy is already forging a solid reputation, finishing last year’s la Vuelta and mixing it up with the best after taking a string of jerseys and the overall win of another Spanish stage race – here’s how he recommends you become your own King Of The Mountains...
1. Find Your Own Personal Rhythm ‘Getting the right gearing is important – you can be labouring up a climb in too high a gear,’ says Hugh Carthy. You do see a lot advice about how to ‘spin’ your way up climbs with an ultra-high cadence, but some pro climbing specialists, including Carthy, seem to disprove this. ‘I’m quite low cadence when I climb – I tend to churn a gear but that’s my preferred style. You’ve got to find what’s comfortable because what works for one rider doesn’t work for another.’ And if all else fails look to change your gearing set-up. ‘These days you’ve got no excuse not to get up any climb with compact gearing and big cassettes.’
Break it down into bite-sized sections of road – if you’re thinking: “19km to go; 18km to go,” you’ll lose motivation
2. Break It Down Into Chewable Chunks ‘Someone told me when I started cycling: “It’s just a road – it's passable,”’ remembers Carthy. He says the strategy for conquering a climb is the same whether it’s a 20km one in the Pyrenees or a ten-minute one at home. ‘Break it down into bite-sized sections. If you know there are steep ramps then get over one of those, recover on the flatter section, then go over the next one. Do that and the climb goes quite quickly – but if you sit there thinking: “19km to go; 18km to go,” then it will take forever and you’ll lose your motivation.’
3. Clock Up Consistent Miles In Training Want to be better at riding a bike up hills? Then you need to be better at riding a bike, full-stop. You don’t need to be hitting the pro’s crazy mileage (Carthy can ride 300-400 miles a week, and on a training camp will do 1,000 miles over a fortnight) but there’s no substitute for time in the saddle. Carthy works in different training zones to make sure he isn’t doing too much of one thing, but he keeps his training consistent throughout the year. Consistency is the key – set your mileage target at a realistic level, not so demanding that it wears you out and that you can stick to it. ‘It’s not so much about recovery, it’s more about not overdoing it and getting the right balance,’ says Carthy.
4. Include Some Short Blasts In Training Riders like Carthy will train for tough periods in a race, on challenging climbs, but doing efforts based on their threshold pace – the point at which you go from a sustainable effort, to an unsustainable one. ‘You can train your climbing efficiency by riding above threshold and then below it, just to simulate what you do in a race when you have to speed up for a bit or slow down briefly.’ So, don’t always ride according to what you can manage – take advantage of climbs to give yourself short, sharp tests and then practice recovering from them.
Attack the climbs – it’s nice to get to the top and feel that taste of blood in your lungs!
5. Get The Fuelling Right ‘Don’t get hung up on power to weight ratio if you’re an amateur rider – it’s not worth it, eating salad and feeling hungry all the time. You’ve got to get the fuel down you – proper food before the ride, during and after – don’t pig out on bacon and sausages but it’s better to over-fuel a bit than under-fuel as long as it’s good food,’ says Carthy. But when it comes to the climbs don’t make the mistake of trying to eat during one, or just beforehand. ‘Carbohydrate drinks with added electrolytes – you can use them on a climb and not get indigestion or be throwing it up. It goes down nice and easily and gets into your system quickly.’
6. Attack When It Kicks Into A Savage Gradient It can be really bad for morale when you’re already on what you think is the climb and you look up to see an apparently vertical road rolling out ahead of you. So spare a thought for the riders in the Vuelta this year facing leg-shredding gradients of 31%. But Carthy says the trick here is to avoid psychologically crumbling. ‘Don’t be afraid to go hard, it can make the climb easier,’ he says. The thing about savage gradients is that they rarely last for very long, so get stuck in! ‘Part of the challenging of cycling is hurting yourself – like when you get back from a ride and you’re pretty smashed. I like that! It’s good fun to go hard on a climb and race your friends up it, and it’s nice to get to the top and feel that taste of blood in your lungs. Just attack the climbs and enjoy it, you get fitter doing that!’
WHAT NEXT? Got a few minutes? Watch this 3D mapping video of la Vuelta’s route as it winds through every day’s racing, including Stage 17’s Alto de los Machucos, with its sections at 31%
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.