Become a Better Climber While Riding on Flat Roads

If you live in a vertically challenged area, which most people in Ontario do,  you do not always have to option to train your climbing on long, challenging climbs.  But thankfully there is a way to improve your climbing while riding on flat roads which are in abundance here in our lovely province.

Improving your climbing while riding on flats has to do with the relationship between time trialling and climbing.  Climbing and time trialling both require a cyclist to be able to put out high power for an extended period of time.  For an example of this similarity, think about how most General Classification riders are good climbers and solid time trialists.

But an even better example is Tony Martin.  The Panzerwagen is indisputably the best time trialist in the world at the moment having won the World Time Trial Championship three years in a row.  He will probably make it four in a row in Spain this September.  His ability to maintain a high power output for an extended period of time translates into a strong climbing ability, only held back by his size.  If you want to see this ability in action you only have to look back to Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France where Martin soloed to victory for 60km on a very mountainous stage.

Climb and time trialling both require good threshold power.  Your threshold is the intensity at which your body can no longer keep up with the production of lactic acid which then begins to build up on the muscles.  Its recognizable, without a heart rate monitor or power meter, when there is a noticeable change in breathing as your body screams for oxygen in order to flush the lactic acid away from your muscles.

When you are climbing or time trialling you are working at your threshold or just below, a point at which it hurts but you can maintain the power output for an extended period of time.  So basically if you want to improve your climbing (or time trialling), just ride at your threshold.

If you want to improve your climbing but live in a flat area, just do threshold intervals.  Look for a flat, straight road with minimal interruptions like stop signs or traffic lights, you need to stay on the power.  Its a good idea to have about a 15km stretch of road to use just to be safe.  This workout is best done with a power meter but a heart rate monitor will do just fine.  Make sure you know your zones (found through simple tests and a little math).

Now that you have your road you can start some threshold intervals.  All you have to do is ride at threshold for 20 minutes.

Depending on your level of riding you might need a little more challenge.  Try doing a second 20 minute interval with 20 minutes of rest in between.  Or work your way up to 40 minutes.

I just finished one of these workouts today, did a 25 minute interval at threshold, and I must say that it really leaves the legs feeling warn out.  After going that hard for that long, it felt like I was dragging myself home the rest of the ride.  My main goal was to go for a Strava PR on a longer local segment.  I easily smashed my old PR and kept on going.  If you want to see the Strava file here it is (

If you are tired of all this reading, here is a video that explains basically the same idea but with different words from former pro Daniel Loyd and the Global Cycling Network.

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