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Preparing for the Tour's 'grim' mountain climbs

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Geraint Thomas | 16:07 UK time, Sunday, 8 July 2012

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

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    Having watched last year's Vuelta it was no surprise to me to see Froome outgun Wiggins on the first mountaintop finish at this year's tour. Such a shame he punctured on the first stage here. If Wiggins wants to win a tour he'd better make sure he does it this year because Froome is the better grand tour rider in my opinion and should leave Sky to lead a team asap. Great to see a Brit win of course but when the best rider is working for the second best it kind of makes a mockery of the whole thing. If Froome was working for another team he'd still have a great chance of overhauling Wiggins. Anyway with 2 big TT's this might end up being the most boring tour of the last few years. A Wiggins procession if he can keep in his teammates wheels.

  • Comment number 2.

    What has surprised me is how surprised the commentators have been by Froome. I'm a casual cycling fan but his class was so obvious at the Vuelta. He'd definitely have won that Tour if he hadn't been waiting for and trying to help Wiggins up the big climb on the decisive stage when Kobo won it. I realise you couldn't possibly comment on this Geraint but I'd have felt pretty guilty if I was Wiggins. Anyway good luck for London!

  • Comment number 3.

    A boring Wiggins procession to Yellow is exactly what i will take come Paris.

    We Brits are in the most luxurious position of our lives with regards to cycling.

    Dominating the velodrome, dominating the sprints in Cav and now have numbers 1 and 3 in the GC for the tour.

    I agree Froome should probably move on from Sky but not for at least 2 more years where he can gain vital experence of being in such a well oiled team like Sky.

    These are years to be cherished as a British sports fan.

  • Comment number 4.

    Before the Vuelta team Sky were waiting to see how Froome performed before they offered him a new contract. Obviously sky weren't expecting that performance from him either. It's a dangerous route to go down tho, only offering a new contract based on the last chance. It can lead to the sort of pressure David Millar was under at Cofidis and also I would imagine cost Sky a pretty penny in paying Froome a lot more than they would have before the Vuelta.
    It's not completely surprising that Froome has done so well, but still one good performance at the end of last year doesn't necessarily lead to the kind of awesome riding we are seeing now. I agree though that Froome will probably move on in the next couple of years. But this tour is a perfect storm for Wiggins anyway. With Contador and Schleck Junior not here and a couple of big TT's. Combined with not many uphill finishes!
    How do you get through a hard day Geraint? What makes you keep going? Take last year when Brad had crashed out, you had no GC to ride for yet still put your body through hell. Very impressive!
    All that being said I'm loving the team sky success.
    Long may it last!

  • Comment number 5.

    I wasn't complaining Wirral, but I do think the tour lacks excitement this year compared to the last few. No one really expects Evans to put time into Wiggins with such a great team round him - do they? Just imagine if Andy Shleck, a clean Contador and Kobo or Dominguez were here too. I want Wiggins/Froome to win but I'd love to see a genuine contest. Also I'm a little afraid that Sky are doing a Man Utd./Chelsea/Man City (choose your era) and using their vast resources to create a team nobody else can compete with. No offence Geraint, we'd all take the money, but as a spectator having one team so dominant might not make for the greatest spectacle. Also Murdoch is a ... !

  • Comment number 6.

    Sam, it wasn't one good performance, it was one awesome grand tour. He also beat/matched Wiggins in the TT at the Vuelta. I agree with both of you, it's great to see Brits winning, I just wish it wasn't Sky and it's a shame the most talented guy is working for the biggest name. No disrespect intended to Wiggins he's a great guy, fantastic pro and wonderful rider, I just believe Froome is a better GC rider and if he was at another team we'd have a really great tour to look forward to.

  • Comment number 7.

    I take it the people above claiming Froome is the better rider missed yesterday's test? He lost big time to Wiggins. Not as much as the other CG contenders, but a lot.

    Anyway, even if we were to agree that Froome is the better rider - that's the sort of thing that makes the Tour. Young up-and-coming rider serving dutifully behind team leader, their time will come. Ullrich and Riis...Hinault and LeMond... brilliant stuff to watch. Can we not just enjoy a great tour (and let's face it, it's far more interesting already than the majority of the 2000s were...) with two Brits doing well? The mountain stages should be *electric*. Not a procession by any means - people have to attack, and attack hard. If they don't...that's their 'fault', not Sky's.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great to see Chris Froome getting the respect he deserves.
    Contrary to others, I think he's in exactly the right place to develop. Team Sky is so strong, that he could get tremendous support as team leader in another grand tour (sooner, rather than later).
    Also I don't believe Sky will make the same *mistake* as last year's Vuelta, and should say Nibali attack and Wiggo not be able to follow, Froome will be allowed to go off and ensure the tour win for Sky.
    Lovely problem to have.

    p.s. Good luck G

  • Comment number 9.

    I take it Hank that you didn't watch last year's Vuelta or the mountain top finish a couple of days ago. The Tour should be about endurance and climbing not TTing. One TT is enough for any tour, two is one too many. Your point about serving time is a fair one, it's just a shame that Wiggins has already cost Froome one Grand Tour and now we will miss the spectacle of watching Froome try to gain the minute or so he would need to overcome any losses in the TTs. I hope I'm wrong and that we do get the fireworks as well as a brit winner but I fear this tour is all but over barring accidents.

  • Comment number 10.

    Speaking as someone who has been a cycling fan and participant since I was 12, I am now 55, it's so depressing to see anyone complaining about an English tour leader and a boring Tour. Far from it, this is a good game of chess that's going on and Sky are playing their mind games with BMC. It's brilliant to watch and to have two British riders in the top 3 on GC, two British riders finishing 1st and 2nd on a stage, three British stage winners in one Tour so far (and we're only just getting to the halfway point) is magnificent. Agree that Chris Froome is a GT talent of the highest order and I hope one that will step into leaders shoes as time moves on. There's still a long way to go, Cuddles is a magnificent fighter, no more so than when he is backed into a corner and Nibbles will cause a few problems yet. It's a fascinating scenario that is unfolding. How can anyone say this is boring? Have you watched cricket recently, that's boring!!!!!

  • Comment number 11.

    Froome is an exciting rider, and having watched the Vuelta last year agree that he did unexpectedly well. He was "let go" on a couple of stages though, which wouldn't be the case now that people know he's a GC contender. Perhaps he could've won the vuelta, but we'll never know. If he was that convinced that he was a regular GC contender, he could easily have left sky last year - that he chose to stay says to me that he knows he isn't quite ready to win - talent in the legs isn't enough, it is also in the mind that races are won, and he is very inexperienced at winning. I don't think he would win the tour this year with another team.

    I don't agree with him needing to leave sky. It was the same with US Postal. A number of riders left to pursue their fortunes elsewhere, and ended up never winning anything. The professionalism of the team is vital - and given the Vuelta, the Giro, i think there is planty of scope for sky to have multiple GC winners in their squad (as US Postal did with the likes of Popyvich, etc.). Froome is best staying put.

    Does the best guy always win? Andreas Kloden is an interesting case - probably a better rider than all of his team mates, top 5 in the tour regularly, but never a winner, and never allowed to ride for himself. No idea why not, but perhaps he didn't want the pressure of being the out front guy for all the others to go at.

    Wiggins is a proven winner, can cope with pressure, and knows how to handle himself. Totally understand why sky have him as their main man.

  • Comment number 12.

    I personally do not see Froome leaving. He's only turned 27, and cycling for a well funded, well organised team and is comfortable. Wiggins is probably not going to be the team leader beyond the end of next season, but i certainly hope he makes use of this fantastic chance to remain on the podium. the next few mountain stages will really tell. Wiggins needs to use his team mates well to control tempo up the climbs to discourage attacks from serious contenders, but i see this causing Wiggins himself a good deal of strife. he is certainly doing to have to dig deep.
    it's actually very heartening to see this as a problem, showing that there is a certain amount of depth even if the worst should happen and BW falters. could be a similar situation to the 996 tour, where the strongest rider in the team had to ride for his leader and sacrificing his GC chances somewhat (but Still finishing on the podium, where i see Froome potentially)

  • Comment number 13.

    Otter, if Wiggins retires this year then yes, Froome is in the right place but I'm not sure the reigning TdeF winner will want to retire. I'm afraid however that if Evans/Nibali attack then Froome will stay with Wiggins to pace him back and limit the losses hoping Wiggins can get it back in the TT. It looks like Evans would need 3 minutes plus between now and the final TT to stand a chance and I don't think he's in the shape to do it.

  • Comment number 14.

    As to a boring tour - we've only just begun. Sky have lost one of their key climbing domestiques, so in some of the long alpine and pyrenean stages, they won't have a big team to defend against repeated attacks. BMC have Teejay, Nibili is a dangerous attacker, and who says Schleck won't start causing trouble? He's so far back that he has to go for broke, probably from a long way out.

    Sky can afford to loose time to some of these ahead of the final time trial, but i don't think it will stay as easy as it has been so far for sky. Without having to work together, other teams can gamble on sky having to defend, and so work against Wiggins in alternation.

    I think this tour promises to have some hugely exciting stages to come.

  • Comment number 15.

    Wiggins stamped his authority on the race with his margin of win in the time trial. Froome is an up and coming rider - it does take time to get a team leader position. You cannot just point at one race ie last year's Vuelta and say Froome is a better rider than Wiggins. Wiggins has had many more top results than Froome (I can't be bothered to list them but you can go on Wikipedia if you like). The Vuelta was the first time Froome demonstrated he could really be one of the top riders - lets hope he continues on that route - looks like it from this Tour

  • Comment number 16.

    'I take it Hank that you didn't watch last year's Vuelta or the mountain top finish a couple of days ago.'

    Every stage of the Vuelta and the Stage 7 mountain top finish, yes. I seem to remember Froome putting 2 seconds into Wiggins on Saturday, and Wiggins putting 35 into Froome yesterday. Froome is *clearly* the better rider, right?

  • Comment number 17.

    "Every stage of the Vuelta and the Stage 7 mountain top finish, yes. I seem to remember Froome putting 2 seconds into Wiggins on Saturday, and Wiggins putting 35 into Froome yesterday. Froome is *clearly* the better rider, right?"

    Don't want to butt into someone else's argument (but I'm going to!), but isnt that overly simplistic Hank? The 2 seconds the boy Froome took out of Wiggo were only over the last 50m or so when he was actually allowed to be unshackled from Wiggo? - and he seemed to do it with impressive ease. And no, I don't believe Wiggo was only concentrating on Evans - he couldn't quite go with Evans and only just managed to get back onto his wheel when the gradient evened out near the line.

    Still agree that Sky have to concentrate on Wiggo though as the most likely (at this stage!?) to win yellow.

  • Comment number 18.

    Hi G,

    It's a shame we don't see you in the Tour this year, any thoughts on riding the Vuelta after the Olympics or do they overlap?

    Couple of questions running through my head.

    1. As Brad is now in his 30s, and Chris is still a fairly young guy, do you see Chris staying around at the team in the hope that in a year or two the team will be turned around with Brad to support him instead for a tilt at a GC?

    2. Do you feel that Cav needs more protection in the peloton on the flat stages, after two crashes cost him any chance of a couple of stage wins?

    3. Any idea if you will be riding the Tour of Britain this year?

    All the best,


  • Comment number 19.

    @ Mattlehagi

    I think your reading too much into the vuelta result. Froome didn't ride the tour so one can only assume his training regime was to peak for the vuelta. Wiggins only rode the Vuelta due to the broken collar bone he sustained in the tour. Through his recovery he would have only lost form. With the benefit of hind sight brad should have supported Froome in the Vuelta, but to a certain extent they were into the unknown with Froome as he had never shown that sort of performance before.

    With regard to this years tour, Sky know better than to let competition from within the team ruin there chances, and Froome himself has dismissed a challenge. The role of team leader is not picked on sentiment as you implied. Brad is the most experienced and the most in form rider, having won the Paris-Nice, Romandie and Dauphine this season. On top of that, this tour favours a time trial specialist, alla Wiggins. Yesterdays emphatic result alone justifies the team selection. Also Froomes surge of pace on stage 7 doesn't mean he can maintain that pace for an entire climb and take massive amounts of time, but what a weapon it is to pick up stages. No doubt if the unthinkable happens and Brad runs into trouble Froomey will step up. Its a great position to be in! Froome knows his chance will come eventually, but with all the attacks that are going to be thrown at Sky in the next two weeks they need unity to fend them off. I think thats exactly what have.

  • Comment number 20.

    @mattlehagi - the fact that Froome won the mountain top finish ahead of Evans and Wiggins tells us nothing about Wiggins but a lot about Evans. Think about it. Froome's done a lot of hard work for Wiggins all day and somehow he finds enough energy to go for the stage win. Wiggins isn't interested in stage wins and he's not interested in expending energy if he doesn't need to. So he lets Froome have the win. All Wiggins has to do is finish at the same time as Evans. He had no motivation at all to follow Froome. Evans, on the other hand, had every motivation to try and get a few seconds back from Wiggins, but he wasn't able to. Yes, Froome is a very good rider, and hopefully the health problems that resulted in his patchy form previously are now behind him, and yes, he probably could contest the GC at some point, but he has yet to prove that he can pull out the right sort of performance consistently (over a season, or even two, not just over one race, even if it is a Grand Tour).

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Geraint,
    Thanks a lot for this blog - really interesting to get a technical insight into what climbing is like and how you prepare for it from a rider's point of view. As much as I enjoy the early stages of the Tour, it's always the mountains that peak (no pun intended) my interest. It's almost always where the race is won, and it just looks like the hardest thing you can do in sports. Last year the Galibier was insane (it looked like the moon or something by the time you were at the top) and I don't know who I felt sorrier for: Andy Schleck for not quite getting enough time to hold Evans off in the time trial after one of the all-time great solo mountain breakaways or Thomas Voeckler for losing the race even though he managed to hang on to yellow that day with an unbelievably gutsy ride, which everyone wrote him off being able to do. Also can't believe how much climbing they make you do! Last year the number of hors categorie climbs was nuts! But a really good insight into why, if you're preparing for the track, then climbing is a no-no! Must be a bit gutting to watch the race from afar this year, but the Olympics will be here soon - all the very best of luck, sir!!

  • Comment number 22.

    Mattlehagi .... Froome is good but the Vuelta and saturday do not a GC make. Look at Wiggos season so far .. Paris nice, Romany, Dauphine .... Also tt is a big part of any tour and rightly so ... Its why they call it the race of truth for nothing. Froomes time will come. Really exciting times and great 10 days ahead...

  • Comment number 23.

    In recent years its unusual to have such a time dominant rider in Yellow after 9 days.

    But ....

    11 more days of racing, Team Sky way out in front, Bradley in the Maillot Jaune almost 2 minutes up on Cadel, one climbing domestique already out, one domestique required to nurse the world's best sprinter through the climbs, sprint finishes to contest unless Sky suddenly decide to send Cav home, Cadel and Vincenzo and new found friends to gang up against Team Sky.

    It is not a forgone conclusion that Team Sky can keep Bradley in yellow for the rest of the race. There will be big attacks with Team Sky needing to control the race from the front with little help from other teams.

    As to Chris Froome he is a domestique, a wonderful talent but a domestique. He just has to concentrate on doing his job, he's not leading the team and yesterday seemed almost unaware that he's potentially on the podium. Its a big jump from being an awesome talent to being a team leader and potenial winner. He is in a winning team, learning all the time and Bradley won't be there for ever.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm riding tour route right now ( Let me tell you from experience, those climbs are tough. Several km at 10% plus is no joke. Having ridden stage 14 (we are riding 1 week ahead of the pros) can't wait to see them tackle the Col de Peguere.That will sort the men out from boys!

  • Comment number 25.

    This tour is far from over ... Remember Voekler in yellow last year.... Fought hard in the mountains but lost time in the end. Contador dropped in the mountains and he is a good climber. We will see after several days who has prepared the best. Evans and Wiggo will slug it out all the way to the last TT I am sure as they are both in great shape. Lets see how Froome ends the tour ... If he makes top 5 gc then he is surely a future team leader somewhere.

  • Comment number 26.

    Am I the only person that finds Evans infuriating?
    If I had him constantly leaching off my back wheel I think I'd loose it & slap him.

  • Comment number 27.

    Froome will lead Sky at some point I would imagine. He knows his current role is to support Bradley in this current outfit. He knows that if he does this well, shows excellent form then Sky will have no qualms of having him take over as team leader at some point. Sky is a superb team, which benefits hugely from their track pedigree and Brailsford knowing what's what in cycling. They are so well prepared that they will continue to be a force in the future as people will want to move to them.

  • Comment number 28.

    As Qcumbor implies, Evans has never attacked in his life, he's like a limpet that just hangs on to the back wheel. Evans won last years TDF because of his ITT abillity and Wiggo has now proved that he is more than a match for Evans in that department. Evans' only hope is to hitch a ride on someones back wheel on a day when he (and whoever attacks) believe that the Sky boys have done too much work chasing down other attackers.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think dismissing Wiggins as an inferior grand tour rider to Froome is frankly, crackers. Given that the teams are all at the mercy of the organisers with regards the route, the make up of stages, no. of TTs etc... Surely what makes a better grand tour rider changes with every tour? I don't seem to remember anyone doubting Miguel Indurains' talent because he needed 4 team mates in train to drag him up the mountains so he could stick 2 minutes into his rivals with every time trial. Also, Froome himself ( And others) said that time-trialling is the hardest thing you can do in cycling and as far as that goes, it wasn't a flat TT by any means.
    Wiggins has shown enough this year to justify his favourite billing and if that means he needs a bit of a pull up some of the more savoury peaks to win, so be it.

  • Comment number 30.

    Froome is a top bloke, with great perspective on his life. Until the Vuelta, he was uncertain of his future with Sky. After, he could have joined other teams, but stayed with Sky knowing he'd be Wiggins's wingman initially... and if he continued his own progress, he'd become Sky's top dog in a couple of years.

    He knows how important the tream element is, and he'll be riding for Wiggins over the Alps and Pyrenees. He's probably a slightly better climber than Brad, but his best chance of being on the podium is probably going to be to work with Wiggins covering the attacks. The whole Sky team though is doing a brilliant shift, and hopefully they can keep it up.

  • Comment number 31.

    Geordie Owl and Qcumbor.

    Why all the Cuddles bashing? Cadel Evans is one hell of a rider. He won the world championships on his own, it was he who attacked out of the last corner at the top of the summit finish in the stage that Froome won, he is a tremendous descender and a very, very, clever rider. He doesn't give up and whilst he may have lost time to Wiggins and Froome in the TT, just look at his time in relation to Cancellara and others. That's not a ride that a wheelsucker could produce.

    If you want to look at a limpet, watch Joop Zootemelk following Eddy Merckx -- mind you, that took a lot of doing.

  • Comment number 32.

    @ 19 Steven Pirks.
    Good points well made.
    I wasn't implying sentiment in the Wiggins leader issue by the way, rather money - household name, Olympic champion etc. worth more to Sky as TdeF winner than SA English Froome.
    As to the relevance of the Vuelta, time will tell (starting tomorrow) but at least back then, and apparently last Thursday as well, Froome was the far stronger climber.
    I guess I was just expressing my fear that this tour might not be very exciting due to the lack of real competition for Wiggins, and my frustration that the guy who looks most capable of beating him and giving us an exciting tour won't get the chance. Anyway I hope you're right and I'm wrong and we do get a genuine challenge and some great stages between the GC guys, here's hoping!

    Two other talking points.
    Sky + bag loads of cash = Perfect tour for Wiggins ... discuss.
    The Vuelta is a more interesting + challenging tour than the TdeF. I'm not saying more important or harder to win, just tougher and more interesting racing.

  • Comment number 33.

    To be fair to Cadel he seems a more likeable man now he has the monkey of winning Le Tour of his back, remember how pushy and defensive he was in the past few years!

    I know he can be a wheel-sucker, a la Indurain, but he did actually take the initiative a lot more during the climbs last year. Granted he won't/can't attack like Contador or Schleck but he does have the pedigree to cause problems still.

    Nibali is surely the man to watch, Menchov also might fancy a kamikaze attack in the Alps but I think SKY will have enough with the TT prior to Paris.

    Was it at all expected that both Froome and Wiggins would decimate Cancellara's time yesterday? I think they can't expect a few dodgy questions in the next two weeks

  • Comment number 34.

    It's not going to be boring today or tomorrow! Brad will lose 10-15 secs today, 40-60secs tomorrow (no Sky team to lead him up the finish tomorrow); ok then boring for 3 days and then stage 16 and 17-where the Tour will be decided. He will lose the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees but by how much...under a minute, fine... more than 2 minutes,eek. I think he might well do it, but if you thinks it's all over you haven't been watching enough Tours

  • Comment number 35.

    i couldnt care what kind of tour it is and who is "leader"of team sky! just watching these phenomenal athletes attack with such passion day after day the most historic cycle race put on the planet is enough for me!!! all you who doubt bradley watch what happens in the mountains to chris froome this week,then the answer to why wiggins is team leader will be clear!!!!


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