I don’t enjoy climbing during a race. The majority of the time when you’re going hard uphill, even if it looks like it’s easy, it never is. It’s always just really, really hard! Ok, maybe I enjoy it 5% of the time, and that’s only when I’m not climbing full speed and I know I’m in good shape and can see other people suffering …
It takes a long time to get to the shape where climbing feels natural. You fight against it: how fast you want to be going, and the way your legs feel when going at that speed. When it all clicks together then there is a flow, for sure. Riding up a climb really fast is a cool feeling because you don’t often get it – it’s elusive. If getting into good climbing form was an exact science, you would just do it when you wanted to.
There’s always a whole bunch of stress before you hit the climb. You’ve got to get to the bottom of it at the front of the peloton. If you start at the back you have to be really good to get back to the front. That’s the first element I hate. And then you start the climb and there are always teammates of other guys setting a really hard tempo. They’ve only got to do four or five minutes work but you’ve got to keep going for maybe half an hour after they drop off … I’m always just second-guessing myself, looking around and thinking: ‘is everyone else hurting this much?!’
The good guys are just trying to break each other, basically. You’re all constantly teetering on the edge of blowing up. The whole time you’re looking forward to the finish, too. Even if you’re at the front by yourself you’re just thinking ‘I can’t wait to not have to feel this pain any more.’
For me, making an attack is always an instinct thing. Occasionally you’ll have a planned spot, but you just sort of know the right moment to go. As much as climbing is physical, there’s also a mental aspect to it.
I won the Tour of Utah after attacking super early on a climb. In my head I was saying to myself, ‘don’t go now, it’s way too early!’ but I had a bit of momentum, and before I knew what I was doing I was away and committed. Some days you have the legs where you don’t slow down, and that was one of them. The nicest thing about that stage was that there was a downhill to the finish so I could actually enjoy it for a little bit. There’s not many times when you know you’re going to win a race ten kilometres before the finish.
I’m always impressed by the big guys who can climb. I grew up as an Ullrich fan. For pure climbers, I liked Iban Mayo – the way he raced was … then again, it was a different era and I think they could do shit like that more easily.
George Bennett [Lotto NL-Jumbo] is a good example of the modern climber. Now WorldTour racing is so difficult, the pure climbing guys get smashed for the first few years of their career because the rest of the racing is so hard. And if you look at George he’s had a really slow progression and his results have just got better and better [Bennett won the Tour of California in May].
Climb 4,600m between 1-23 July and receive a Rapha Rising roundel.