Unleash Your Inner Power Climber
Bikes Etc|March 2017

Short,steep and savage–power climbs are the bane of many British cyclists’ rides. Master them, though, and you’ll supercharge your roadriding prowess…

Steve Thomas

Mentions of climbing in Britain once led to howls of laughter from unsuspecting foreign cyclists –after all, our highest peak, BenNevis, is just 1,345m above sea level, hardly a match for the Alps. Yet, as any cyclist who’s ridden here –British or otherwise – will attest, our roads are far from flat.

Sure, we may not have 20km twisted epics like those seen on the Tour de France, but what we do have in profusion are shorter, anaerobic-demanding, sub three-minute blasts, which are romantically referred to as power climbs. In reality, these relatively short ascents haunt our roads, waiting to crush unsuspecting cyclists with their ruthless inclines, and their challenge can be spirit breaking to the unsuspecting or ill-prepared.

Throughout our windswept land, these killers lurk around almost every other corner, and are unavoidable. For many of us, our daily rides are laced with such climbs, but rather than endeavour to profit from how they might make us better cyclists, most of us simply learn to endure them through gritted teeth.

However, whether it’s during a group ride, a solo commute, or even a race situation, learning to outwit and master the perils of these climbs, will make for major performance and morale gains.

You need only watch the Belgian Spring Classic races to see that these short stretches are not simply the pitch of those skinny freaks of nature known as climbers. They are open to all callers, and with a blend of physical, tactical and technical attention they can – like any stretch of road – be tamed.

And the great news is that many more of us have the natural physical tools to deal with the intense anaerobic demands of a power climb than the aerobic endurance of a longer climb.

Power climbs are much easier than long climbs to make trained performance gains on. Why? Because on these confined, steep slopes even small gains can make a big difference.

ENDURANCE CLIMBS VS POWER CLIMBS – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

So what’s the difference between endurance climbing and power climbing? In simple terms, the length of the climb. With endurance climbing, which takes place over greater distances, you generally need to find your rhythm and settle into the ride – much like the Alpine epics you see during a typical Tour de France.

These monster-length grinds can last for almost an hour at a time (even for a top pro), and they rely heavily on power-to-weight ratio, as well as putting great demands on lung capacity and the ability to suffer beyond all reasonably humane limits.

Power climbs, on the other hand, use up a lot of energy intensively in a short space of time – with the exercise often being repeated frequently. Such climbs features heavily in races like the Tour of Flanders, and this – cobbles aside – is the kind of climbing most of us come up against on our everyday rides.

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