As the Tour de France winds it's way around France and several neighboring countries, the terrain frequently dictates the challenges the riders and teams will face.
Today's stage is all about short, steep hills. These hills probably resemble some of your more local terrain. They're maybe 1/4 to 1 mile long, but they're anywhere from 4 to 12% steep. To overcome them, you have to apply some strategy.
The first thing to realize is that you're going to need to pre-shift in to an easier gear. Practice this on flat terrain first - you don't want to drop a chain off cogs, get them tangled, or shift in to a harder gear when you were intending to shift in to an easier gear.
Once you're in an easier gear, don't focus on the hill right in front of you - it will resemble a wall, and might be intimidating. Instead, keep your chin up, and focus on the FURTHEST POINT OUT on the road - often called the "Event Horizon".
With your chin up and your eyes focused on the end, arch your back, open up your chest, and pedal as if the bike was a front-wheel drive. PULL yourself up the hill, don't force it by pushing. When you pull, you'll use more muscles in your legs, and your power output will be more evenly distributed.
As the slope increases, you'll tend to tilt further forward, but this results in more fighting the terrain. Instead, think about how light you can make the imprint of the front tire on the pavement. Don't lift it up and pop a wheelie, but do think about how you can glide up the hill in a steady pace and cadence, without putting too much pressure on the front of your bike.
Eventually, you may need to stand, especially if the slope gets too steep, or the hill is just too long. But remember - climbing out of the saddle is inefficient, and you're doing it on borrowed time. Your cadence will slow down, and unless you're really powerful, or you're getting to the point where the slope may begin to ease up, then you may end up "hacksawing" (pedaling, but feeling like you're standing still between pedal strokes) your way up the hill, or blowing up completely, and being forced to dismount and walk.
Most of the hills in today's Tour de France stage are between 1 and 3 minutes long, but they'll be steep and hard enough to separate the riders. If your local hills are too much of a challenge right now, then you really should consider a training block of intervals at Cycling Center Dallas. Hills require some strength, and a lot of practice. We can show you how to be a stronger cyclist, on hills, and everywhere else you ride!
We hope you're enjoying the Tour de France, and your own cycling. If you want to improve your ability to climb hills, don't hesitate to give us a call or just drop by before an evening class. We'll see you out on the road!