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9 Tips for Climbing Like a Pro

This August, sixteen teams of the world’s top cyclists will take on the thin mountain air of Colorado to race in this summer’s major stage race: The USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

The USAPCC is a race that favors the climbers, with lung-busting ascents of high mountain passes. Even the valleys between some of the mountains are at higher elevations than the highest summits in the Tour de France. And the races only time trial? Yeah, it’s 16 kilometers up Vail Pass with 1,532 feet (467 meters) of elevation gain.

CTS-cycling-v1CTS and Strava are Challenging you to go out and climb the same total elevation gain as the pros, but we’re giving you one extra week to get it done. Do you have what it takes to climb 39,577 feet (12,063 meters) between August 18th and August 31st? Prove your love of climbing and give your training a serious boost by summiting as many mountains and doing as many hill repeats as necessary to earn the Challenge finishers badge. Join the CTS Bucket List Challenge.

Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach has some tips for helping you to accomplish your goal and conquer climbing like a pro.

1. Prioritize elevation over speed.

When you’re trying to accumulate a ton of elevation gain over the course of 1-2 weeks you have to be careful with your energy output. Focus on reaching summits, but don’t focus as much on the KOM Leaderboard. Go for the KOM or your personal bests outside the Challenge.

2. Start easier than you think you should.

If you’re fortunate enough to have long (20- to 60-minute) climbs in your area, don’t charge the bottom of the climb. This burns a ton of energy and spikes blood lactate, meaning you’ll slow dramatically well before the summit.

3. Eat on the descents.

On a day with multiple big climbs, eat and drink on the descents. Athletes often struggle to eat and drink during the exertion of climbing, and that can sometimes mean going long periods without calories and fluids. Eating as you go over the summit gives you a little time to get the food/fluids into your system before your next big effort.

4. Mind your core temperature.

Exposed climbs, slower speeds, and tailwinds conspire to bake riders on long climbs. When core temperature goes up, power and performance drop dramatically. Unzip your jersey, pour water over your head/body, and/or soak your jersey in a creek.

5. Sit and stand.

There’s no one perfect climbing position on the bike, nor is there a perfect cadence. Standing allows you to use your full bodyweight over the pedals, which is why steep sections are an appealing place to stand up.

6. Shift up a gear when you stand up.

Cadence typically slows down when a cyclist stands up on a climb. To maintain momentum and take advantage of the ability to use your full bodyweight, shift up 1-2 cogs on your rear wheel as you get out of the saddle. Be sure to shift back down when you sit again.

7. Pick a few days to go big.

Though the climbing challenges often last a few weeks (the CTS Bucket List Challenge is 14 days), it’s better to stack a few days with a lot of climbing so you can take it easier other days. Spreading the climbing evenly over the entire challenge duration leaves you more vulnerable to missing your goal.

8. Plan your weekends.

Most climbing Challenges incorporate at least two weekends, and this is when athletes put in their biggest rides. Work with your family to plan a 2-3 day block of big rides; planning ahead reduces everyone’s stress level and helps maintain your family’s support for your sporting goals.

9. Do the hardest climbs first.

When you’re planning a long route with lots of climbing, aim for the biggest early in the ride (after some time to warm up). Just like with interval workouts, you want to do the hardest work when you’re the freshest.

Jim Rutberg is a Pro Coach for CTS and co-author of several books, including “The Time-Crunched Cyclist, 2nd Ed.” and “The Time-Crunched Triathlete”. For information on personal coaching, training camps, and Endurance Bucket List events, visit http://trainright.com or download the FREE “CTS Endless Summer” report with tips and strategies for building endless summer fitness.