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How to crush a KOM challenge with these 5 climbing tips

Ride uphill with more confidence, speed and strength by improving your ascending skills

by Molly Hurford

Every cyclist has a love/hate relationship with hill climbing. It’s painful, it’s exhilarating; it’s hard, it’s a challenge; it’s slow, it’s powerful. Every cyclist who hates hills will also admit to wishing he was better at climbing them. The bad news: it takes a lot of work. The good news: there are ways to be more efficient that can make it feel (a little) easier. And with Hill Climbing Championships happening for the first time at Sea Otter Canada this July—with on- and off-road options—it’s time to start getting serious about your climbing.

Photo: Molly Hurford

On Thursday, July 4, Hill Climbing Championships will showcase racers charging up the 7.6-km-long climb on Pretty River Road. Over the 7.6 km, you’ll climb 215 m at an average of 5.5 per cent, including a short 14 per cent section.

Then, on Friday, July 5, prepare to go off-road. Race up The Grind at Blue Mountain to try to snag the KOM and QOM. In 2.6 km, you’ll climb 237 ms of switchbacks and singletrack before emerging by a chairlift as the trail opens up to a gorgeous view of Georgian Bay that almost makes the climb worth it.

Find out more details about the biggest bike festival in Canada and sign up for both events at seaottercanada.com, but first, check out coach (and current Grind KOM holder) Peter Glassford’s best advice for beating his record.

Ride hills

It turns out that you only get good at hill climbing by…climbing hills. Bummer, but it’s almost impossible to emulate the suffering of a tough climb on flat ground, so seek out hills around you on training rides. “Training-wise, I would try to work on repeating a similar length hill to the one you’re planning on racing,” says Glassford. Too often, riders opt to just train on the hill closest to them, versus finding one that actually fits their racing needs. A 30-second climb might help if you’re racing cyclocross, for instance, but it won’t get you ready for the Leadville 100 MTB race. Train for the hill you want to crush. If you’re planning to do the Hill Climbing Championships up Pretty River this July, you should be doing longer threshold efforts first, then shifting to shorter, intense efforts so you’re prepared for that 14 per cent popper toward the end of the course. And if you’re planning to crush it on the mountain bike this season, you should be practising your climbing while on your mountain bike (preferably on trails) when possible.

Practise standing

“If you can’t stand up and pedal hard really well, you won’t do well going up a hill like The Grind,” says Glassford. “It’s too steep, there are too many pitches.” The same is true for most climbs: being able to stand comfortably and use your upper body to keep momentum going will make you a much more dynamic climber. Unfortunately, most of us only practise standing when we’re on our stationary trainers in the winter, so we don’t get to practise feeling the bike move beneath us.

READ MORE Find more power by pedalling out of the saddle

Move around

When you’re sitting, don’t be afraid to move around on the saddle to find the best climbing position. Often, it will be farther forward on on the saddle. “Slide up toward the nose to get in a better climbing position, to be a bit more forward on the bike—especially on the mountain bike,” says Glassford. “If you’re climbing a lot, you can even set your bike up so the seat is set slightly farther forward.” (This is a great tip if you’re planning to try The Grind KOM Challenge at Sea Otter Canada!)

Shift smoothly

“The smoother you can shift on a climb, the better you can climb up it,” Glassford says. We’ve all had that ‘stuck in the big ring’ moment, as well as the ‘crap, I shifted too early and now I’m spinning like an idiot’ moment. But if you practise smoother shifting, you can actually shift while climbing, before the pitch gets too steep to handle. “If you’re on a climb, stand up and go harder for a few stokes to accelerate, but ease off for half a pedal stroke as you actually shift,” Glassford says. (You don’t need to accelerate first, but if you’re trying to maintain a pace, like during the Hill Climbing Championship race, it’s helpful.)

Get used to breathing hard

Climbing isn’t always going to be comfortable (let’s be honest, it’s never really comfortable) so getting used to the harder effort that it takes to pedal uphill is incredibly important. “A lot of people will never go that hard in training, but if you want to get better at climbing hills or win the Hill Climb Championship, you have to get used to that hard breathing so that when you hit an incline, you don’t start panicking, because that will just make your breathing even harder.”

About Sea Otter Canada: Sea Otter is coming to Blue Mountain, Ontario, from July 4 to the 7. This festival is no ordinary bike event. It features 12 rides and races, with six on road and six on dirt, plus hundreds of bikes and gear available to demo at the massive expo that will feature dozens of top cycling brands. Sea Otter originated in Monterey, Calif., and has emerged as the largest cycling event in the world. Now in its 29th year, the Sea Otter Classic attracts more than 75,000 cycling enthusiasts and 800 plus brands. Visit seaottercanada.com to learn more and for registration—get your Expo pass and sign up for races early.