Hill climbs are some of the most historic and well loved bike races in the UK as well as the US. In fact the oldest continual bike race in the world is claimed by them to be Catford Cycling Club. The first Catford Cycling Club Hill Climb was held at Westerham Hill on August 20th 1887!
Hill Climbs in the US tend to be longer than ones in the UK for the simple reason that there are bigger hills in the US. Evans Hill Climb for instance is 11 miles long and takes place on the highest paved road in the country -14,264 feet or 4347 meters above sea level.
So how should you train for a hill climb using your power data?
I wrote this article with Mike, our MD, a cat 2 bike racer and coach. He won stage one of the Thruxton Three, a hill climb against some very experienced Elite opponents.
- 1 Know the hill
Check out the hill, see how steep it is, how often the gradient changes and most importantly how long you will be riding for. This way you can train for the specific effort. You will need to find a hill near where you live that emulates the competition hill.
If you are doing a typical UK hill climb then you are looking at an effort from as short as 2 minutes up to maybe 30 minutes depending on how strong you are.
- 2 Train for the specific effort
Let’s say you are doing a climb that you estimate will take you 5 minutes. This is not a long time compared to other road cycling events. Most of the time you will be in zone 4, 5 and maybe 6 towards the end. Zone 4 being lactate threshold, 91% – 105% of FTP around TT power; 5 being VO2 Max 106% – 120% of FTP, you can typically hold this for between 3 and 8 minutes and 6 being anything above 120% of FTP you will only be able to hold this for 30 seconds max.
- 3 Suggested hill climb training program
Mike has come up with a simple program designed for someone who rides around 4 or 5 hours a week at medium to high intensity with no health concerns, probably between 25 and 35 years old.
You want to be doing intervals up your race hill or race hill mimic with relatively long recovery periods between efforts. Work out your max power up the hill for the time you will be racing. Then for your interval efforts ADD 10% to that power number and subtract the race time by 10%. So if you can hold 350 watts for your 5 minute race then your interval efforts will be 385 watts for 4.30mins. Do 4 or 5 interval efforts in a session with a low intensity warm up, riding in zone 1 and 2 out to the hill works. The recovery between intervals can be as long as you feel necessary, up to 10 minutes of active recovery (zone 1 – around 50% FTP).
- 4 Judge your effort
Using the power data on your head unit in the first third is really helpful because it will stop you going out too hard and blowing up, this is very easy to do!!
Make sure you are at around target average power for the first third. It will feel too easy, but last thing you want to do is crumple into an exhausted heap half way up.
In the middle third you will start to feel the effort and you will probably stop looking at your head unit so often. By the end of this middle third you will really be starting to feel the effort and this leads us to the epic final third.
- 5 The last third
Between you and someone who on paper is as fit as you or fitter, this is where the race is won or lost. At this point you need to be burning your candle to the very end, mining that pain cave deep. You don’t want to empty the tank too soon, but you don’t want anything left at the end either! At this point your competitive nature takes over. You might need King Leonidas from 300 in your head shouting “SPARTANS! Prepare for battle! For tonight, WE DINE IN HELL!!”
Don’t have a power meter but want one? You can order a PowerSense factory fit to your crank through our website here