In this article we already explain some tricks to successfully overcome mountain passes, both uphill and downhill. But we want to go deeper into the climbing aspect, this time to climb long-distance mountain passes by bicycle.
That you always suffer on a long and hard climb does not have to worry you too much. It is something that every cyclist has to assume. In the ports, everyone suffers, be it the best climber in the peloton or the biggest sprinter. On the uphill, there is an extra drain on energy, because we have to move forward with the bicycle against the gravity of the slope.
However, the best or worst work on factors such as training, weight control, pedaling technique or the management and reserve of forces end up making the difference between some cyclists and others.
To be a resistant climber and to crown the longest and highest passes without too much trouble, you will have to improve all these facets, paying special attention to the last one: properly manage your forces.
What do we call long distance ports?
For an occasional or amateur cyclist, a pass can be very long if it is 4 or 5 kilometers long. However, for someone who competes that same distance, it can be considered a small limit and will overcome it without too much trouble.
If we talk about cycling outside the competition, a port considered long distance would have to have 8 km or more with a moderate slope (5-7%). If we take into account the average speed and the time of ascent that is used to crown it, between 45 minutes and an hour pedaling on the bicycle. They are rises that demand a great physical bottom or resistance. Therefore, they must be tackled with a different tactic than the rest.
Tricks to better climb a long pass
A very practical method to successfully crown a large mountain pass is to divide the ascent into parts or zones. This will allow you to better manage your energy deposit, reaching the last kilometers with reserves. Mentally fragmenting the climb will make it easier for you to find the most efficient pace of climbing. That is, with the one that advances more while consuming less energy.
A good trick is to consider the climb in four parts, rolling from less to more
You can divide the port into four parts: approach, base, intermediate zone and final zone or top. In each of them you must manage your forces in a different way.
They are the kilometers prior to the beginning of the ascent, flat or with a slight slope. Here we recommend keeping a lively rhythm, but not too strong or explosive. The intention is that you reach the first ramps with enough inertia to adapt the development and your pedaling to the slope without suddenly getting stuck.
In a port of 8 km they would be the first two, approximately. It is a key moment of ascension. You have reached the first hills and horseshoe curves with force, but you must not trust yourself. Act intelligently and reserve that extra energy, since you will need it later.
Adapt your pedaling cadence progressively to approximately 70 rpm and try to keep it around that value. If you don’t have a cadence meter, you can mentally count the number of strokes per 15 seconds and multiply it by 4 to find an approximate number of rpm. What you should bring is an odometer or a stopwatch installed on the handlebars to see the time while you count the pedaling.
Intermediate area of the port
We take as an example an 8 km port. The second part of the ascent is the intermediate zone, between kilometer 2 and 6. In this phase it is very important to maintain the same rhythm adopted in the previous one. In this part, wear and tear will begin and you will have to save as much energy as possible, without actually relaxing.
Roll sitting without making sudden movements. Do not get up from the saddle to change the rhythm unnecessarily, as this will force you to use more forces. When going through curves, opt better for the outside, since the slope is smoother than inside. They are small details that, together, will allow you to reserve energy for the final ramps.
Arrival at the top
If you have maintained a moderate but constant pace in the intermediate area of the port, you will already have 75% of the objective completed. The hardest part is missing, the last 2 or 3 kilometers uphill. It is an effort of 10 minutes if you go up to a speed of 12 km / h.
If you want to pick up the pace, do it better near the top rather than at the base or middle area of the pass.
You will have already expended forces in the preceding zones and you will have to adapt your rhythm and cadence to ride as comfortable as possible, keeping the little energy you have left. If you start to roll slowly or get stuck with the pedaling, it is time to raise a pinion or two to keep your legs agile and not lose too much speed.
On the other hand, if you have saved your strength in the beginning or middle part and you think you can accelerate the pace, do it. But avoid doing it abruptly. First, because you will need those forces for the descent and finish the route and, second, because it is possible that with the change of pace you will discover that you are not going as well as you thought and you end up paying for that loss of energy.
In any case, if you want to accelerate the safest thing is to do it near the crown and not at the beginning or in the middle of the pass.
Other tips: hydration, development and heart rate monitor
Do not forget to hydrate before, during and after the ascent. Not drinking enough fluids will make you sweat more than necessary and accelerate muscle wasting. At lunchtime, however, we recommend doing it between 15 and 20 minutes before starting the port if you are going to eat solids such as a bar or a piece of fruit. On the other hand, substances such as gels, of rapid assimilation, you can take during the ascent to quickly replace the lost energy.
Choosing the right development is another important point. If you find that you go up more comfortable with smoother gears, but you still roll stuck even with the large sprocket, you should install an extra crown or a smaller chainring. The option of a 50/34 in conjunction with the 11-32 11-speed cassette (for a road bike) is one of today’s best options for climbing mountain passes, but there are other variants. In this interesting article on Cycling and Performance you will be able to find out in more detail what type of development is best for you.
Finally, if you don’t mind spending extra, getting a good heart rate monitor will allow you to better manage your efforts. It will allow you to identify the pulse zones in which you must move to avoid falling into overexertion and fatigue.