Roger Rilling talks strategy for bicycle racers who want to tackle “the climb” more effectively.
To many the act of climbing is a big concern when it comes to riding or racing with a group. Unless you are a pure climber, more than likely you are going to need to use some climbing strategies to stay with the group and out of the red zone. In this article I will discuss one way to garner better results with less effort. Say good bye to the old days of stress, you have the Sag on your side.
The Sag is a skill I picked up after years of suffering up climbs when I just did not feel quite up to the challenge at hand. The main principal is simple, remove yourself from the pressure to allow your body to set a rhythm, then optimize on your power savings by closing the well margined gap at the end of the climb. Notice that I use the phrase “well margined”. This is a tactical skill after all, not a magic trick.
When approaching the climb of concern, position yourself about two thirds of the way back in the pack of your choice. A few important things should be considered at this point:
- How strong are the riders around you?
- Who out of the group you’re in will be able to finish the climb with the group?
- Are you in a group that you can honestly stick with?
- Do you know the strengths and weaknesses of those around you? Are you thinking about them?
The first question is very important, you have to know, within reason, how strong the people are around you. There is no sense in giving Lance some breathing room…unless you’re on fire; he is going to beat you to the top.
The second question is almost as important as the first: how many of the riders around you are going to get dropped from the pack when the climb really starts? You will need to know how many people are going to get dropped so that you can correctly position yourself two thirds back in the group. At times, riders will go into a climb with 30 guys and position themselves around 20th. Although this follows the 2/3rds rule, a group of 30 riders do not usually crest a mountain together; thinking logically at this point in the game will save you a lot of energy! When a group is 30 strong, the climb is not significant enough for the group or the real pace has not been set yet. Most groups on a real climb are 10 or less, keep this in mind.
Time to check your ego! Putting yourself in the red zone at the base of a climb to stay with a group that is out of your level is not smart. The only thing you are going to get out of this is a waste of energy and some bad feelings. When you are ready to be with the next group on the road you will know it. I promise you will meet your goals much faster by progressively moving to faster groups than if you kill yourself every time the road tilts up. Simply make sure that you are being honest with yourself when you are getting in a group.
Once you have settled into a group it is time to start thinking about the skills of those around you. In the event that over half of the riders are small with a lot of snap, you might want to think twice about attacking them on the steep stuff! Simply analyze those you are with and you will be better prepared to make a move or use the Sag.
Now that you are on the climb, with a good group, analyzing the riders and the road, it is time to use some tactics. As the riders settle into pace, one of two things is going to happen. One, an attack is going to come usually from the back or side. Two, the main riders are going to start going blow for blow with each other trying to get some space. You are looking for the second scenario. At this point is where you hold back, even if you are one of the riders pushing the pace, find a good spot and simply ease up a little. This will allow the others in the group to feel as if they have won the battle; most of the time when this happens, the pace will ease ever so slightly. This is what you are looking for, stay calm and settle into your own rhythm allowing a small gap to open. Make sure that you do not allow the group to gain too much time on you and try to keep them in sight (switchbacks can be your enemy at this point). When you approach the top, slowly start to ramp your speed up and get yourself back into striking distance after your little break. Now you have a choice: you can attack the group before making contact or simply sneak back into the pack and finish inside the group.
At the end of the climb you will find that you have saved energy and still obtained your primary goal. All too often riders like to go blow for blow when it is just not necessary. Remember that you do not always need to attack in order to play offense.