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27 August 2021

The Ultimate Guide To Hill Climbing


6 SunGod ambassadors share their secrets to climbing faster...

As cyclists, we’re no strangers to the masochistic joys of a good hill climbing session. Despite the inevitable suffering that comes with ramping up the gradient, we’re driven by the hope that the next climb will feel stronger than the last – climbing the segment leaderboard never hurts either! So as hill climbing season approaches in the UK, we’ve asked 6 SunGod cycling pros and ambassadors to share their tried and tested secrets for shaving seconds off those ascents…

Once you've got your men's cycling sunglasses or women's cycling sunglasses to maximise your visibility on your bike, the next step to improving your hill climbing is following our experts' advice:

1. Targeted pacing is key.

James Shaw: Pro Cyclist, Ribble Weldtite (@jamesshaw96)

James is one to watch, as one of the UK's best multi-stage GC riders, placing 5th at the Tour of Norway and Tour of Slovenia this year.

“Whether you’re climbing for fun, to take the Strava segment or win the race, targeted pacing is key. It’s all too easy to get ahead of yourself and spend too much energy too soon. If you go out all guns blazing from the start you’ll fill your body with lactate and it’ll come back to bite you. The biggest question to ask when deciding your pacing strategy is, can you keep up this pace to the summit? Factor in well-timed fuelling to ensure you can keep a sustained energy level allowing you to maximize all the training you may have done. Another consideration is whether you could go faster - always push yourself out of your comfort zone because never know, you may surprise yourself - you don’t want to spend your whole ride plodding away up the climb when the descent is waiting for you!”

2. Do your homework.

Nora Turner, Gran Fondo Rider & Blogger (@unicorncycling)

Nora runs one of the most successful cycling blogs in Austria where she documents her life balancing a full-time career with an action-packed racing calendar of Gran Fondos and Ultra events.

“Spend some time investigating the climb in advance when planning the route. I can also highly recommend getting the gradient profile onto your cycling computer if you have one. This way, you can set small goals for yourself instead of tackling it as one big climb which will help you to organize your energy better. For example, you could plan to eat another sports gel after the 800m section with 12% gradient, so you’re fit for the last kilometre up to the top. If you prefer to ride without a bike computer, check out the gradient profile ahead of starting and ask locals! Certain areas will signpost the climb with gradient and distance markers so keep an eye out for those too!”

3. Gearing.

Ed Laverack: 2 x British Hill Climb Champion (@edlaverack)

Self-professed hill climb Junkie, Ed is an elite level cyclist with over 6 years' experience racing UCI Continental level.

“Learning to use your gears effectively when climbing is essential, as is choosing the right gear at the right time. Gear ratios on road bikes are getting far wider nowadays. With 12-speed groupsets now on the market, you have smaller jumps between cogs, which can make for smoother climbing and gear changing, especially when on steep gradients. It's certainly not a problem to fit smaller gears to your bike to aid your climbing in this day and age, don't let people tell you differently! It's your bike and your style. It’s definitely a good idea to use gearing to your advantage on a climb, do your homework, find out what you'll be up against and practice on your local hill to see which setup works best for you.”

4. Breathe.

Matt Stevenson: Cycling Blogger & Photographer (@mattwstevenson)

Medic and cyclist Matt lives to conquer the climbs of the world, blogging as he goes...

“It sounds simple but my breathing is how I know when I’m either on the limit or in my comfort zone. Make sure you have a good position on the bike to open up your chest, maximising your potential lung capacity. Hold a wider stance on the handlebars, relax your arms and upper body and have a bit of flex outwards at the elbows to help you to actively open up your ribcage further without having to concentrate on breathing rate. Finally, keep your head up, looking up and towards where you’re riding to straighten out your windpipe and ease airflow. During climbing, your body needs to optimise its oxygen/carbon dioxide exchange capacity, so do what you can to make it easier for your lungs to do their job. Listen to your body, learn to read it and know where your threshold exists - soon you’ll find that sweet spot where you can hang out for most of the climb and make the best of it!"

5. Rhythm and alteration.

Yannic Laqua, Gran Fondo Rider & Photographer (@yannic.la)

Yannic is a photographer based in Germany, when he's not behind the camera he's pedalling the world's finest ascents...

“I start most climbs seated as my legs are still fresh and spinning super smoothly. I’m looking for a relatively high cadence that still feels natural for me. If the start of the climb is super steep, I’ll start riding out of the saddle to make sure that I’m not grinding up there with a low cadence that causes hyperacidity of the muscles. While making my way up the climb I’ll always vary between riding seated and riding out of the saddle, to use different muscle groups. And my golden rule - if I’m riding in a group and others want to go faster, I’ll just let them go and stick to my rhythm because there is nothing worse than exploding after the first half of the climb!”

6. Fuel well and right.

Marie-Louise Kertzman, Triathlete (@marielouise_adventures)

Mountain obsessed Marie-Louise has based herself in Italy where the carbs are plentiful and the climbs are high...

“Fuelling means eating regularly from the outset, even when you don't think you're hungry. Your legs will thank you later! If it's going to be a big climbing day, you might want to ensure it's tried and tested fuel that you know your body (and tummy) is happy with. As you're likely to be out of breath too, it's good to stick to the easier to consume foods - that may be a gel, or if it's a bar, think about opening the bar and breaking it in half so you can get it easily when you're on the road and it's time to replenish. At the end of the day, my pro tip would be to take something you love to eat. You'll be 10x more likely to eat it that way and be ready for the next climb!”

Nothing beats that heroic feeling of reaching the top of a climb. The satisfaction of another mission complete and the joy of the descent makes it easy to embrace the pain that went into the process. But climbing doesn’t have to be a fight for survival - it can be an opportunity to become a stronger rider. With a more targeted approach to your training, you’ll soon be embracing the inclines, soaking up the switchbacks and smashing the Strava segments – we’ll see you out there!