Preparing for the Tour's 'grim' mountain climbs
I am often asked how cyclists deal with riding in the mountains. So as the Tour de France heads towards the Alps, here goes.
To be honest, mountain climbs can be grim, especially if, like me, you are coming from the track - when you are a bit heavier than you would be when on the road. You are carrying a bit of extra muscle or a bit of fat.
When I'm preparing for the track I don't do any climbing during the year. I am either flat out on the track or riding fairly easy, so I never really touch my threshold power, which is what you climb at. When I'm not on the track, climbing is a lot more enjoyable. For a start I'm lighter, but I'll also will be more ready for them.
Getting into mountain-climbing shape is not nice. It takes a lot of hard training up and down mountains, but when you start to feel strong and are riding well, there's no better feeling.
Geraint Thomas was a member of the British team pursuit side that won gold at the 2012 World Championships with a new world record of three minutes 53.295 seconds. Photo: Getty
At this year's Giro d'Italia, I had to keep plugging away and slowly rode myself into it. Once in the mountains, you get used to riding in that threshold range again and you get into the rhythm of the race.
It is one of those things that definitely takes a lot of work and it is a shock to the system when you step straight off the track!
As soon as you start going uphill you know about it and struggle almost immediately. Prior to the Giro I didn't lose much weight; I could have and would probably not have struggled as much, but I wanted to stay where I was in preparation for the Olympic track races.
Mentally, I find breaking the climb up into sections helps.
For instance, if there are steeper sections, you focus on getting through that next 2km, for example. You then know if it levels off and you can recover a bit for the next 3km or so. Then you have another section.
I break down the whole climb into four or five sectors in my head - get to the next checkpoint and then on to the next one. I find it easier than counting down 12km, 500m at a time.
It's just a case of trying to keep a good cadence up the mountain but, especially in the Giro, the climbs are so steep you can end up grinding away up the mountain. For a one-off climb it wouldn't make much difference, but for a Grand Tour it's key to save as much energy as possible, and pedalling around 90-100rpm protects your legs a lot better than pedalling at 65-70.
I sit down most of the time as well. I think that comes from my track background because even when I am sprinting or leading out, I spend the majority of the time in the saddle.
The Tour climbs this year seem to be steeper than usual. I prefer the longer 'shallower' climbs, like the Alps that are around 7-8%, rather than the Pyreenes which tend to be steeper.
I do think about dumping my water bottles on a climb. It depends on the speed of the race at that point, how far into the day you are and how hot it is. Basically if I don't need it, I'll get rid of it because I don't want to carry any extra weight up a big climb.
In the Tour you'll have guys on the course with bottles, usually towards the top of the main climbs. This is because riders can be spread out over the course by 20 minutes so our two team cars can't feed everyone.