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It’s climbing season and our senior writer is looking to improve without leaving the office basement

There’s so much to catch the eye during the mountain stages of the Tour de France. You have the stunning panoramas of the Alps and Pyrenees, the not so stunning sight of inebriated blokes chasing down riders in garish Borat mankinis and the best climbers in the business going toe to toe.

A less striking detail, though one I’ve been drawn to in recent seasons, is the climbing technique of much of the peloton these days. Just watch and see how often they get out of the saddle to climb. It’s not as common as it once was.   

Going up downstairs:
Going up downstairs:

Team Sky riders, in particular, are the biggest exponents of seated climbing. Chris Froome, arguably the best climber in the world, has been known to put in his biggest accelerations sitting down – remember how he jettisoned Alberto Contador on Mont Ventoux last summer? Pretty much the only time Bradley Wiggins got out of his saddle during his 2012 Tour triumph was to climb off his bike at the end of stages. There are still exceptions – Cadel Evans is constantly jumping around and wrestling with his bike – but it’s a less efficient way to climb, according to Wattbike’s Eddie Fletcher. 

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Eddie, “there are times when you need to get out of the saddle – maybe to use different muscles or to make that last push over the crest – but most people are very inefficient doing so. You become very quad dominant and it’s expensive in terms of physiological effort when balanced against what you gain from it. Sitting down allows you to use your legs in their entirety and use fewer muscle groups – as you’re not using your upper body – and lower gears and higher leg speeds allow your cardiovascular system to cope better. A lot of people think they are effective climbing out of the saddle but it’s my view they’ll be better climbers sat down.”

It’s something I’m trying to take on board, to get the best out of my Wattbike climbing workouts this month. The first session was just horrible – just look at the table opposite to see the numbers I had to achieve – and a mistake to have done at lunchtime when I still had half a day to sit at my desk. Eddie calls it “probably the most brutal session” he gives to his riders, something I wish I’d known beforehand. 

Thankfully they’re only once a week sessions, such is the stress they place on the body and the recovery required. The gears are high to replicate the gradients and gravity of road riding and through the four-week programme, the gears increase (with cadences gradually slowing). It’s this over-gearing that is so demanding on the body. Eddie says it’s necessary to ease your way into the programme – if you start on super-high gears with low cadences, the body just wouldn’t be able to recover quickly enough. As with all Wattbike sessions, you can cram into an hour what you’d manage in three out on the road. 

So far I’ve found it very difficult, particularly towards the end of the workout, to maintain the position I’d have on the road. My head and shoulders drop, I rock and roll in the saddle and I slip onto the drops – any position to keep the power on track. Though I can do so, the figures I can achieve on the Wattbike bear little relation to what I can achieve on the road, where your bike position is much more restricted. 

“There’s no point in just bashing it out if your technique and position on the bike are falling to pieces,” says Eddie. “Control is essential so I would rather you do seven or eight quality reps than 10 average ones. Keep on the hoods and try to replicate as far as possible the position you’d climb on the road.”...

Eddie Fletcher's Summer Training Tips

It is more than tempting at this time of year to train on the road – and I’ve nothing against you doing that. In the summer my riders train less on the Wattbike than they would do in the winter but I tell them they should still be doing two sessions a week indoors even in the warmer months. Why? Because the Wattbike guarantees a quality session. The key is to be flexible – this is the British weather we’re talking about and unless we’re in the middle of a sustained heatwave, there are always a couple of days a week when the weather isn’t perfect. Take advantage of that by opting for indoor sessions. And even if the weather is good I tell them to think about the benefits and control they’re getting from training on the Wattbike. It can also be extremely sweaty work training indoors in July and August, so another tip would be to invest in a fan – it’ll be the smartest purchase you’ll make this summer.

Whitney's Workouts

20-minute warm-up, then 8-10 reps x 3 minutes with 1-minute active recovery between each. Adjust air resistance/magnet to achieve Functional Threshold Power (FTP) during intervals. Do once a week (replaces any Wattbike workout). 

Format: Cadence/air resistance/magnetic resistance on Wattbike Pro

Week 1:

100rpm/4, 95/5, 91/6, 86/8, 81/10+M4, 81/10+M4, 86/8, 91/6, 95/5, 100/4

Week 2:

95rpm/5, 91/6, 86/8, 81/10+M4, 76/5+M6, 76/5+M6, 81/10+M4, 86/8, 91/6, 95/5

Week 3:

91rpm/6, 86/8, 81/10+M4, 76/5+M6, 70/9+M6, 70/9+M6, 76/5+M6, 81/10+M4, 86/8, 91/6

Week 4:

86rpm/8, 81/10+M4, 76/5+M6, 70/ 9+M6, 70/9+M6, 70/9+M6, 70/9+ M6, 76/5+M6, 81/10+M4, 86/8

Sessions according to Wattbike’s level 4 Sportive training plans:

www.wattbike.com/sportive4

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

After early cycling flirtations with the Tour de France on childhood holidays, John Whitney fell for it hook, line and sinker in his mid-20s as an escape from the more sedate sports of his youth. As a classically trained news reporter, he snagged his dream job as a cycling writer straight out of college and is now fully immersed in the industry and wouldn't have it any other way.
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