A guide to accomplishing your first alpine climb

Views like these are your rewards

Views like these are your rewards

The Tour de France and La Course by the Tour de France (womens version) is over for another year. The incredible exploits of Chris Froome winning his fourth successive TDF and Lizzie Deignan flying the flag for womens cycling hopefully inspiring even more people to challenge themselves psychologically and physically to give cycling up big mountains a crack!

It’s possibly one of the most fulfilling aspects of cycling to reach the summit of a mountain and experience those breath-taking views and the freedom of being removed from civilisation.

Here are a few quick tips to help you on your way.

The Parcours (the route)

Know your route! Make sure that if you are expecting a 15km ride with 7% average grade halfway through the ride, and when on the climb where are the areas where you can recover and where does it really ramp up i.e. where are you going to suffer!? Knowledge of the climb allows you to pace yourself.

Weather

Weather in the mountains can change rapidly and can be glorious over one side of the valley and in the other; you think you may need Noahs Arc. Living in the mountains year round there is only one website I trust and that’s YR.no . It's Norwegian so it must be good! 

Clothing

On the climb you will more than likely hot, sweaty regardless of the ambient temperature, but once you stop you may fell the chill at the top. A rule of thumb is as you climb every 100m you will lose a degree in temperature. It could be a scorcher in the valley bottom but up at 1700m for example it could be significantly colder and on the descent you will pleased that you brought those gloves and that coat, if anything just to keep the wind off.

When packing to leave, pack for the worst; overshoes, thermal top, coat, cap, gloves, leg warmers. At least you have it should you need it.

Fuel for the legs

Avoid that bonk (a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles).

The thing to do is keep topping up on your energy stores and staying hydrated little and often!

Another rule of thumb is to try and consume ~60g of carbohydrate per hour either from food or fluid, and 750ml of fluid per hour but this varies on conditions. Heat equals more fluid due to an increase in water loss through sweat.

Pace and fuel yourself correctly and you’ll avoid doing this!

Pace and fuel yourself correctly and you’ll avoid doing this!

The Climb

Okay so you’re on the ride and approaching that first climb. It doesn’t matter the size of the climb, big or small, go at your own speed. Don't try hang with people that go flying off, you’ll probably catch them later. Climbs in the mountains are inherently long, and starting at a comfortable pace where you can still chat is a good thing it’s all about good pacing. Let the effort come to you.

Cyclists have different techniques, are you a Contador; out of the saddle or a Froome; spinning a minute gear very fast, or maybe somewhere in between? Do whatever feels comfortable to you but also worth having the right bike set-up. More on that later.

As the climb goes on you will feel the effort but this is where knowing the route and the profile comes in handy, a steep bit here where it’s going to hurt a little and flat bit there where I can recover! Keep taking on water on the way up and a bit of solids, the climb could be long and hot.

You've reached the top, breath in the fresh air and enjoy that view you've earned! Time for a coffee!

Now the descent

DSC07766valais.jpg

The key is take it steady, get on the drops (gives more control of the brakes), and there’s a lot to take in, make sure you enjoy that view, you’ve earned it. Stay on your side of the road; the right, remember it’s the right had side if you’re in mainland Europe! We’ll cover the more technical aspects of descending in another blog soon. More than likely it’ll be a bit cold on the way down so put a coat on and maybe some gloves, you could be descending for a while. Onto the next one!

Chapeau!

Written by Jack & Tess Lawson

Tess Lawson from Kudos Cycling on her career decision to take a mechanics course at the UCI HQ's

It took a serious ski accident and major knee surgery to push Tess Lawson into her decision to try bike mechanics. She has not looked back.

A ski instructor and coach in the popular Swiss resort of Verbier, Tess found herself in hospital and out of action in November last year. It was the beginning of the ski season and there was no chance of her continuing her winter job.

“It gave me time to sit back and think about what I really want to do,” she said. “I utterly love cycling and wanted to be involved in the sport, but not necessarily coaching or working with athletes as I have done in skiing. I wanted to try something different and work with my hands.”

The former British national cross-country runner and competitive cyclist did not take long to decide to apply for the course at the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC) in Aigle, Switzerland. After passing the Level 1 qualification the first week, she has gone on to complete the Level 2 course.

Although she had no experience in the profession before starting the course, Tess had learned about bike maintenance from her four brothers, all of whom cycle. She realises that most women do not have that chance.

“My brothers taught me a lot, so I have always been able to maintain my own bike. But I know lots of girls who won’t go out riding alone because they need to be with someone who can help if they have a problem or even just a flat tyre.”

Improving the bike shop experience for women

She adds that bike shops can be intimidating places for women, with some old-school mechanics unable to take female customers seriously.

“I’ve had some bad experiences dealing with mechanics who don’t even look at me then just give my bike back saying, ‘yeah it’s fine.’ One shop even damaged my bike and tried to cover it up.”

Tess firmly believes that all customers - whether men, women, competitive cyclists or leisure riders – should get the same consideration and service.

“I utterly love cycling and would like to make it more approachable and accessible to other women,” she declares.

On graduating from the UCI WCC, she already has some workshop experience lined up in a shop where she will put into practice what she has learned during her five weeks in Aigle.

“It has been an awesome course,” she says. “I’ve been able to work on road bikes, mountain bikes and track bikes, and I’ve built lots of wheels."

"It’s been incredibly intense and an inspiring experience. And what an amazing environment to work in!”

She has many projects in mind which will be easier with her new mechanical know-how, not least to undertake a self-supported long-distance bike trip abroad. She is also involved in a new alpine cycling training venture.

“I would like to pursue a career as a race mechanic but at the moment I need to get more experience. I want to continue learning and come back to the UCI World Cycling Centre and do my level 3 qualification.”

Twenty-two mechanics have graduated from the UCI WCC’s course since it was launched in 2013. Tess Lawson is the second woman to follow the course after South Korean Audrey Ji Yeong in 2016.

For more information on a mechanics course contact us here