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By Chris Carmichael, Carmichael Training Systems
Rather than a display of frequent and vicious attacks on the final climbs to the finish of mountain stages, we’re seeing a much more controlled style of racing in the 2004 Tour de France. The leaders set a fast pace on the final climb and then wait until the last 750 meters to really open the throttle and surge for the finish line. Accelerating from an already high climbing pace is very demanding, but something you can prepare for.
During Lance Armstrong’s preparations for the Tour de France, we spent time specifically focused on what happens when you approach a mountain summit in a race. Whether it is a summit finish or just a mountain pass you’re covering during a stage, the pace goes up in the last kilometer. In order to finish with the group you have to be able to match that acceleration. If you want to attack that group or finish at the very front of it, you need to deliver more power over that distance.
CTS HillAccelerations develop the power you need to handle the surges at the top of climbs. When Lance does these, they are usually incorporated in a long ride in the hills or mountains. He’ll climb at a fast and steady pace until he is about one kilometer from the top, and then begin accelerating. The point is not to get out of the saddle and attack to gain all your speed in the first 75 meters and then hold it; rather, you want to stay seated, increase your cadence, then shift into a harder gear, increase your cadence in that gear, shift again, and keep gradually accelerating until you reach the top. By the time Lance reaches the final 100 meters of the climb, he’s at maximum effort.
You can use HillAccelerations to improve your ability to stay with the leaders or put pressure on other riders over climbs during group rides or races. Since amateur athletes have less time to train than Armstrong and the pros, I would add more structure to the workout when I apply it to your training.
Find a climb which lasts four to eight minutes, and that you can climb at a steady and sustainable pace. Be careful not to choose the steepest climb you can find because you’ll have to expend so much energy in the first part of each interval that the quality of the second part will suffer.
As you approach the summit of your chosen climb, start accelerating about 500 meters from the top. The total duration of the acceleration should be less than 90 seconds. Try to stay seated for the majority of the acceleration, but feel free to sprint the final 100 meters in or out of the saddle. Recovery between HillAccelerations should be 10-15 minutes. Novice riders should try to complete four HillAccelerations in a session and use a shorter climb for the first part. Advanced riders should choose a longer climb and increase the number of accelerations to six to eight. As you get more experience and power, you can also start the acceleration further from the summit, but I don’t recommend exceeding 1000 meters. If you’re strong enough, gradually accelerating as you reach the summits of climbs puts pressure on riders in the group with you and helps control the race by discouraging attacks. It’s worked for Armstrong over the past few mountain stages, and Ivan Basso is running out of opportunities to get away from him in the mountains.