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Cycling expert explains strategies for getting faster

Climbs and descents make or break cycling races, according to cycling coach Robert Panzera. In his upcoming book, Cycling Fast (Human Kinetics, May 2010), Panzera covers hills and all elements that can make a cyclist faster, from conditioning to nutrition and key skills.

Panzera says even small climbs make a difference the closer a cyclist gets to the finish line.  “Climbs are additive, meaning a 200-foot gain in elevation may not seem like much in the first few miles, but near the finish, it can seem like a mountain.” He advises cyclists to take special note of hills toward the end of the race because these hills split the race into two groups—the leading group going for the win and the chasers trying to pick up the remaining places. In Cycling Fast, Panzera offers 10 tactics for managing hills and staying in the lead:

  1. Be near the front for corners that are followed immediately by hills. “This helps you prevent being gapped,” explains Panzera.
  2. Shift to easier gears before approaching hills. “This prevents dropping the chain off the front chainrings when shifting from the big front ring to the small front ring,” he notes. “Quickly go around riders who drop their chains.”
  3. Close gaps on hills immediately, but with an even, steady pace. “Once the group starts riding away on a hill, it is nearly impossible to bring them back,” Panzera warns.
  4. Keep the pace high over the crest of the hill, because the leaders will increase speed faster than the riders at the tail of the group.
  5. Relax and breathe deeply to control heart rate on climbs.
  6. Dig deep to stay in contact on shorter climbs. “Once a group clears the top, it is difficult to catch up on the descent,” says Panzera.
  7. On longer climbs, ride at a consistent pace that prevents overexertion.
  8. Always start climbs near the front. If the pace becomes too fast, cyclists will be able to drop through the pack and still recover without losing contact with the pack.
  9. Hills are a good place to attack. “Know the hill's distance and location in the course before setting out on an attack or covering an attack by a competitor,” advises Panzera.
  10. Try to descend near the front, but not on the front. Being near the front, as opposed to the back, gives cyclists a greater probability of avoiding crashes.

Panzera also advises noting all the descents before a race begins. “Long, straight descents may require work to stay in the draft, and twisty or narrow descents may require technical skills,” Panzera says. “If the descent seems technical in review, it will definitely be technical at race speeds.”

Cycling Fast covers the latest information on new high-tech racing frames, training with a power meter and heart rate monitor, and coordinating tactics as part of a team. Readers can learn how to periodize training and use the numerous tips, charts, and checklists to maximize effort.

For more information see Cycling Fast.