I’m not a climber. I’m not built for it. While I’m slim for my height, I’ve got nothing on pure climbers. I’ve raced against pure climbers in the hills and regardless of how deep I dig, I am always caught on the back foot. I have however developed effective strategies to deal with pure climbers. As a rider with a decent amount of power my skillset allows me to catch the climbers if given the proper course. How can a power rider get the best of the feather weight? Tactics!
Heavier riders have distinct advantages leading into a climb they can take advantage of. I always make every effort to be the lead rider going into a climb. I can use my larger frame to move through the pack effectively. Riding in the pack to conserve energy until the time comes to move up helps heavier riders rest a bit before the big effort that is to come. Stay sheltered while moving through the group. Climbers will let you through, as they don’t have much of a choice when you are able to physically push them out of the way.
Once near the front, grab a wheel a few riders back. This allows the heavier rider the stay in the wheels as long as possible before making a charge. Any slight hesitation in the pack is your queue to make a move. No need to make an all out attack. Keep riding tempo and you will naturally move to the front if there is any hesitation in the group. If the group doesn’t hesitate you will still be in a decent position heading into the climb.
At this point you may find yourself at the front or near the front at the foot of the climb. The goal now is to drift back in the group as little as possible. Select the easiest gear possible you can hold for the entirety of the climb. You NEVER want to grab an easier gear on a climb, this is climbing suicide. Tempo and rhythm is the key to not blowing up. Let them get away, if you can hold a good consistent pace, you may be able to ride your way back to them.
As the pure climbers dance away keep spinning and focus on breathing. Hold any wheel you can. Allow someone else to pace you up the climb. It’s okay to lose a wheel if you are still in the lead group. Know that it’s better to not shift at all than grab an easier gear. Grab a heavier gear near the top of the hill but maintain your cadence. This allows you to accelerate over the top of the climb. If everything goes to plan you will be near the back of the front group heading into a more gentle grade or a decent. This is where power and descending play their part.
Heavier riders descend faster than whippet climbers, it’s simple physics. Plus, most climbers are simply terrible at going down hills. Decent descending takes practice and steel nerves. For those willing to put the time in and take the risks involved, it will pay off. Done properly, a heavier rider with good descending skills will find themselves back at the front of the group by the foot of the descent. This is when it’s time to drop the hammer and the climbers. A select group of stronger riders may form. It’s up to you at this point to utilize your strengths as a rider. Whether it’s through the use tactics or à la pédale, time to go for the win.
The importance of positioning, gear choice, and descending skills is paramount to those who can’t climb. This is especially true if the course finishes after a decent or a flat run in. If the course finishes on a summit there is little heavier riders can do against the climbers. The only option is a strong attack from well outside the beginning of the climb. Pedal as hard as you can and hope the climbers don’t catch you by the finish. It’s a long shot but as they say, you have to be willing to lose to win. I hope this was helpful for those of us who have a tough time on the climbs. Stay safe out there, and as always, keep the rubber side down!