SEG Racing Academy and Tacx give riders a chance to prove themselves in the SEG Performance Challenge. It consists of three different major and iconic climbs where participants will have to pace themselves to the top. During the total six weeks of this challenge, we will educate the riders on how to become a better and faster climber. In this article, we’re going to learn you all about pacing.
In this particular challenge it’s actually not about how much watts you push, but how fast you are. Those two may sound as cut from the same cloth, but there is a big difference. It’s simply not about the power you push, but also about where to push your power. This means you need to have a proper pacing strategy to convert your power in the fastest time possible. For the right pacing we need to take three factors into consideration. Pacing is about the physical capabilities of the cyclist, the layout of the climb and the mental task at hand. Let’s tackle these concepts one by one to get you on that KOM spot.
Working principle of your energy
Your body needs energy to produce power to the pedals. The energy coming from nutrition gets mostly converted into useless heath, about 80%, and only around 20% will be used as mechanical energy to keep the pedals going. That 20% is coming from two main energy pathways; the aerobic and anaerobic energy system. Through the aerobic system the energy is converted into mechanical energy with the presence of oxygen. This energy is produced by the more aerobic so-called slow twitch muscle fibres. The anaerobic energy system can produce energy without the presence of oxygen. The fast twitch fibres are capable of producing a lot of power but are exhausted quite fast. The aerobic muscle fibres produce less power but can sustain this theoretically for an unlimited amount of time as long as you keep feeding the engine.
You may wonder what this has to do with your pacing strategy on a long climb? Well, for that we need to take one more step. So the energy a cyclist produces can come through two different pathways. One that can go on forever and one for only a short amount of time. The amount of aerobic energy a cyclist can produce is called the critical power and is expressed in a certain wattage just like your FTP. Critical power is actually strongly related to FTP, but is just below this number because FTP is the power output one can sustain for exactly one hour. The other energy system can be quantified in the joules that can be produced above this critical power and is called the anaerobic work capacity. A cyclist that is somewhat more of a climber and less of a sprinter has a high critical power and a lower anaerobic work capacity in general. Whereas for a sprinter it’s the other way around.
Smart use of your energy
Now let us return to pacing. The anaerobic work capacity can be considered as a barrel full of joules. How big this barrel is, is dependent on the characteristics of the cyclist. However this barrel can be emptied in one big effort of about a couple of minutes, but can also be poured over little by little. This is especially interesting because when you put out wattages below your critical power, this barrel will slowly fill itself again. The more you empty it, the harder it gets to refill it, but taking a short rest on a flat section does mean you will replete some joules to put to use on a steep section. That’s why knowing where your capabilities lie, means you need to save some energy for the steep sections or keep on pushing a more steady pace.
Layout of the climb
You need to know beforehand where the steep sections are and how long they will last. But there is also something else at hand here. The profile of a climb is also important to know because mathematical models show that spending more energy on a steep section and less on a flat section results in a faster time. Spending the same but steady power output on both the steep and flat section is consequently slower. However when coming from a steep section that transitions in a more flat part, it is important to first gain speed and then take your rest. Therefore always save a little bit of energy right after a steep section, like at the top to accelerate first and then take your rest.
The last factor, but certainly not to be underestimated, is the mental part. Riding uphill on the limit simply hurts. Therefore your body is constantly checking consciously and unconsciously how hard are you pushing, what is left in the tank and how long this ludicrous will continue. When the outcome of that equation is negative, your body just screams to stop. With a so-called negative split, in which the first half is slightly slower than the second half, you increase the intensity little by little and prevent getting to much negative thoughts too early in the race. Starting at a fast but more conservative pace and saving some energy results in a better mental state. The only thing you need to make sure of is that the tank is completely emptied at the summit.
So in knowing what your capable of, a proper reconnaissance of the climb and having the experience will all result in faster climbing times without pushing more watts. Good luck!
Photo credits: Petros Gkotsis