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Ten tips for hill climb glory

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Early autumn is the time of year for a uniquely British type of time-trialling event. Hill climbing is a brutally hard and gloriously difficult test of late season form, very simple in format – the fastest rider on the day wins. It’s highly accessible, offering a great way to dip your toe into competitive cycling without the need for a race license or specialist equipment, and most cycling clubs run friendly ‘turn up and ride’ events throughout September and October.

Road bike cyclist races up hill during cycle race as spectators cheer

Hill climbing is also steeped in history. The Catford CC Hill Climb claims to be the oldest cycle race in the world, tracing its origins all the way back to 1886, while illustrious names such as Chris Boardman, Malcolm Elliott and Brian Robinson have carved their names on to the British National Hill Climb trophy over the years.

Road bike cyclist racing up hill

There is no secret formula to success in hill climbing. Simple physics applies here – it’s all about power, from the bottom to the top – but there are a few tips we can share from those who excel in the fight against gravity. Be prepared though, hill climbing is not called the ‘pain cave’ for nothing.

Preparation is key

Specific training in the form of riding hills at high intensity will improve your power. But remember, in the words of Greg LeMond, it never gets easier, you just go faster!

Know the course

Hill climbing is all about emptying yourself over the whole course, so take some time to recce the route. At club events you simply turn up and ride, perhaps paying a few quid for the privilege. Arrive early enough to ride the course and assess what gearing works best. You want to be able to time your effort, being completely empty at the finish line, not 50 metres short.

‘Open’ events are more widely advertised, require pre-entry and usually attract a larger field. Talk to other riders and even ride the course with them – they should be a good source of information on everything from wind direction to the condition of the road surface.

Warm up and stay warm

A hill climb usually has riders setting off at one-minute intervals. Standing around at the start line waiting for your turn isn’t ideal, so try to stay warm by turning the pedals right up until you’re ready to go. Some riders use rollers or a turbo trainer, but riding up and down the nearest incline is enough to keep the blood flowing.

Shed the weight

A hill climb is a fairly short effort, ranging from 60 seconds up to about 20 minutes. Remove any unnecessary weight from your bike, and from yourself. Pumps, saddlebags, water bottles and cages can all be stripped off the bike, while wearing the lightest clothing and emptying your pockets will keep your weight to a minimum. Every gram counts.

Cake time? Not yet…

You can also do yourself a favour by eschewing the cakes during hill climb season. Hill climbing is all about power-to-weight, so save the sugary treats until the race season is over. They’ll taste a lot better when you know you’ve earned them too!

Lose some pressure

Reducing the pressure in your rear tyre will help you with traction on the really steep hills. 70psi is plenty if you’re grinding up a 15% slope.

Control your adrenalin

Don’t overcook it early on. Adrenaline at the start can push you into the red, so pace your climb. Ensure you have an empty tank at the very top, not halfway up.

A clean bike is a fast bike

A well-lubricated and smooth-shifting drivetrain will ensure every single one of your watts is converted into uphill speed.

Learn from the race

There’s no getting away from it – a short, sharp effort up a hill is going to hurt. But you’ll start to learn where your strengths lie and also what areas of your riding you need to improve on. Struggling on short sprints out of the saddle? Power dropping off after 5 minutes? Armed with this information you can target your training and become a stronger rider in the long term.

Enjoy it…if you can!

Hill climbing offers a great introduction to competitive cycling without the need for specialist equipment – it really is just you and the bike. As a result they’re very friendly, welcoming events with a great camaraderie between competitors. Everyone there is racing mostly against themselves, aiming to better their best, and folks support each other during their effort. Embrace the pain and you could just be hooked!



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