Riding in the high mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees can seem daunting, but if you follow our simple tips you’ll be eating up the elevation in no time!
Pace, Don’t Race
Following in the tyre tracks of the professionals on the famous roads of Europe for a week is great inspiration, but you don’t have to feel like you should race up the climbs like they do. On race routes you’re likely to see plenty of road graffiti designed to encourage the riders up the mountainsides and on the switchbacks you’ll see where the motorhomes park up for weeks. The sheer history of these roads give you a few more watts in adrenaline, but the key to climbing every day is pacing. Whether you have a power meter, heart monitor or just good old fashioned ‘feeling’ make sure you start easy and build into the climb. The tortoise and hare adage will see you pass a lot of riders near the summit of these climbs.
Don’t Stand On Ceremony
We’re not going to tell you how to ride, we each have our own style and preferred methods for getting through big climbs. But we would encourage you to stay seated for as long as possible when taking on long climbs. Using your core and glutes, the large muscles at the back of your thigh, will give you huge leverage to pedal and won’t tire as easily as your quads when standing. Whilst standing is powerful, you will use glycogen stores too quickly and suffer before you’re even half way up. Of course, Chris Horner and Alberto Contador may beg to differ so if you fancy yourself as either Grand Tour winner by all means give it a try!
Rhythm is a Dancer
Cadence is another factor that is very much an individual thing. Some of us spin faster than others – you only need to watch Chris Froome hurtling up a mountain with legs whirring twice as fast as his rivals to prove that. We always say a steady cadence of around 90rpm works the best for most of us; it allows enough spinning to keep a rhythm going without feeling like you constantly need to change gear.
Eat and Drink
This is harder than it sounds, with stunning views to distract you and your heart pumping hard it’s easy to forget to eat and drink. Nutrition and hydration won’t just get you through the day, it’ll set you up for the next one. Recovery only comes through proper hydration and fuelling. On Thomson trips our support vans will have a ready supply of real food, energy bars and gels to keep you topped up. You can rely on our staff to keep those bottles full too, just help us out by making sure they’re nearly always empty.
Gear Up (or Down)
Those of your riding our Basso rental bikes will not have to worry about this, but if you’re bringing your own ride make sure you have the correct gearing. The 11-speed drivetrain we use has a compact 50-34 crankset and an 11-32 cassette to help you spin up the steepest hills and then nail the descent on the other side. We’ve also included disc brakes for the first time on a Thomson rental bike making the Basso Diamante the perfect tool to accompany you on a Thomson Bike Tours trip.
Thomson Says Relax
Tension is not your friend in the mountains. It may not seem like a big thing, but if you grip the bars tightly all day you will use unnecessary energy and risk muscle soreness. Relax your shoulders, keep your back straight and ease your grip. The added bonus is you will open up your diaphragm which will aid your breathing. Being relaxed is also beneficial for descending, you don’t want to be stiff on the bike and grabbing fists full of brakes. You should aim to glide through the corners.
Stages into Stages
The best tip we can offer is not to worry about the length of climbs. Breaking a long ascent into chunks can make the climb seem more manageable and a lot of cycling is in the mind! Our ride groups will mean that you will be riding with riders of a similar pace and always with experienced ride leaders. So whether you’re ticking off the landmarks until the challenge is bagged or counting the seconds for the KOM, seeing the climbs as lots of small sections is the best policy.
There’s nothing especially frightening about any of these climbs if you tackle them in the right way. But setting your own pace and following the tips above you can conquer any climb you want to, then sit back and enjoy the views from the top and the descent on the other side!