The Uphill Battle

Tips for improving your climbing, from a true man of the mountains.

Suffering is an intrinsic part of road riding, and your ability to go on suffering when your mind and body are at the limit forms the foundation of any attempt at riding uphill for a sustained period of time.

To help you master the art of the ascent, and achieve this month’s Rapha Rising Strava challenge of 4,600m elevation gain, we asked Phil Deeker for some words of advice.

Phil is the ride leader of Rapha Travel’s Cent Cols Challenge (CCC), a trip during which participants attempt to ride over 100 mountain passes in only ten days. It is one of the hardest tests in amateur road cycling.

This summer, Phil is riding ten CCC trips back to back, with only three rest days between each trip. By the end of October he will have completed 1,000 cols in 100 days of riding. Clearly, Phil is the perfect man to offer some tips on how to find your focus when the road starts to rise:

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1. Accept the simple truth: you are alone.

You can hide in a bunch on the flat but on the up, you’re on your own. You can draft a fast wheel downhill but when you ascend, that same wheel will only tempt you to push too much until you snap. You will, eventually, always be on your own. You will feel every part of your body and must fight against the plea for mercy. You will ask yourself some searching questions but most of all you must learn to confine any negative thoughts to a tiny little box and search instead for something positive to help your body pump blood and oxygen to your screaming muscles.

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2. Assess your legs.

Listen to them as they flush out any stiffness from a previous climb and be patient. In the end, they will acquiesce to your determination and respond accordingly. They will collaborate more willingly on some occasions than others but they will collaborate nonetheless.

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3. Find a rhythm.

A regular breathing pattern, as relaxed as possible, is essential. You could be climbing for anything up to two hours, so you need to find the cadence that best suits both your lung power (cardiovascular capacity) and pedal power (muscle capacity).

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4. Throw some moves.

As I climb, I continuously make checks: I check my arms and shoulders; my back; my legs, knees and feet; and my head. My movements must be smooth, measured and effective. I’m looking for the right dose of effort without risk of injury, knowing that my ego will be pushing me to test my limits (again).

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5. Stick to a strategy.

Even if I don’t know every trick a climb has in store, based on distance alone I should be able to think up a plan for how I’m going to ride it. Usually the same one. I prefer to start off well below my climbing threshold for several reasons. These are: a) I need time for my (ageing) body to feel comfortable in climb mode; b) I love to finish a climb, however long, riding harder than when I began it; and c) my secret competitive ego (be honest, we all have one) prefers to let others head up the road on the lower slopes and then pass them as the top approaches. And if I never catch them? Well, I can just pretend the only battle was against myself and allow my ego to escape intact.

Soar on Strava

Conquer climbing with Rapha this July. Sign up to our Rapha Rising challenge on Strava and attempt to ride as high as the pros by climbing 4,600m - the equivalent of one of the hardest days in bike racing. Whether you finish in one day or in three weeks, ride up.