It’s tempting to avoid riding up
hills but, with July bringing the opportunity to see the world’s greatest
cyclists in uphill action on the Tour de France, it’s time to go climbing, says
Sigma author and guest blogger Dave Hancock.
July is a month of mixed
emotions. We marvel at the pedalling ability and stamina of Froome, Quintana,
Contador, Porte et al. And we empathise with the domestiques as they
grind to an exhausted standstill on the last climb after working for their team
leaders all day. Most cyclists who have ever tackled a road marked by the
Ordnance Survey® with one or two black arrows will know the feeling of battling
against gravity. It’s tempting to stick to flat terrain but to do so may mean
missing out on far-reaching views. And, of course, the thrill of freewheeling
Stage 17 of this year’s Tour
includes the highest pass of the race, the Galibier, one of the toughest climbs
professional cyclists ever face. Topping out at 2,642 metres, the
17.7-kilometre climb has an average gradient of 6.9%, increasing to more than
9% towards the summit. On Ordnance Survey maps, two black arrows mean a
gradient steeper than 20%, or one in five. On the Continent, gradients are
expressed as a percentage by making y equal 100. There are steeper climbs in
the UK but they are nothing like as long as on the Tour. Cragg Vale in
Yorkshire is the longest continuous ascent at 8.5km but has an average gradient
of just 3%. Constitution Hill in Swansea has an average gradient of 20% and a
maximum of 22% but is just 0.3km.
Fortunately, this road over the Wales/Shropshire border doesn’t go over the big
hill in the distance!
| ||How to cycle uphill|
Forget about ‘dancing on the pedals’ and climbing out of the saddle as the best pure (pro) climbers do. They are invariably lighter, train harder and have more suitable physiques. It’s much better to stay seated, select a low gear and pedal smoothly and consistently. If possible, you want to maintain a high cadence – keeping the pedals turning at 50 revolutions per minute or more. To do so, and depending on how steep the hill is, you may need ‘low’ gears – a chainwheel at the front with the same number or fewer teeth than the largest sprocket at the back.Yes, it’s easier to climb on a lighter bike but before you spend a fortune on a carbon fibre machine consider how much cheaper (albeit harder) it is to lose a few pounds from your body weight. Tyres can also be a factor – wide, heavy tyres generally increase rolling resistance as do rough roads compared to smooth ones.
A hazy view of Church
Stretton from ‘Little Switzerland’
| ||Walk this way|
When the going gets tough, the tough get off! Don’t grind uphill to the point of exhaustion. It’s much better to get off and push your bike. Not only does this give your muscles and breathing an opportunity to recover but you can admire the views more easily. Even professional riders have been known to walk, most famously on the Tirreno-Adriatico road race in Italy in 2013 (mind you, this was towards the end of a 200km stage, on a gradient of 30% and following heavy rain that made the surface slippery!).
Chris Froome and Tour
de France cyclists
| ||Downhill (almost) all the way
After pausing to enjoy the views
at the summit, you can let gravity take over. Freewheeling downhill soon
dispels the discomfort suffered getting to the top and will set you up nicely
for the next hill! For a circular ride in Shropshire with some long climbs to
enjoy(!), I suggest Ride 13: A tour of Church Stretton area – ‘Little
Switzerland’ in my book More Cycle Rides in Shropshire. It’s just under
19 miles (30km) and includes many glorious views – some of which I saw at a
walking pace as my chain broke 10 miles from the finish!
Dave Hancock is a keen cyclist
and author of Cycle
Rides in Shropshire and More
Cycle Rides in Shropshire, both available from Sigma
| || || |