Training in America to Climb in Europe

How a Queen City cyclist is preparing for Dolomites

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  • Start with a comically huge base
  • Then, pile on the intensity after race season is all but over
  • Your stationary trainer, in a big gear, for 2+ hours each, is your best friend
  • What is it about “hill repeats” that you don’t understand?
[/content_box] [dropcap style=”default”]I can’t say [/dropcap]

that cycling in Cincinnati, Ohio is like being in any other flat-ish city in the midwest. While there are no mountains to speak of, there are some decent grinds. The featured image in this post is the view of downtown Cincinnati from atop Devou Park, which is just over the river in Covington, Kentucky. The trouble is, they’re all rather short. Half a mile here, a mile there. 5%, maybe the occasional double digit ramp, but it’s all over much too soon. If you have great sprint capability, you’ll be making hay. But if you’re training for the Furkapass, you’re better off on the trainer mashing 70 rps’s in your 53 x 18.

For 4 hours.

And hey, I’m committed, but not to the point of brain freeze.

[callout]I used to live in Kansas. Seriously. The land of Dorothy. You have to be creative to learn to climb, sometimes. Like riding into the headwind in a monster gear. Or doing seated big-ring repeats over the overpass. Or packing up and driving 7 hours after you leave work on Friday to hit a real, honest-t0-goodness mountain. 2 days in a row.[/callout]

So here’s how we’re going to hit this:

3 week Intensity Blocks, 1 week “easy.” Sorta.

The 3 day Haute Route Dolomites Compact will feature 2 days, back to back, of over 14,000 feet of climbing.

That wasn’t a typo.

Fourteen. Thousand. Feet.

Per day.

For two days.

And that’s just the “compact” version of the event. The full bore Haute Route is like that for an entire week.

My goal is to be able to complete both epic days where my climbing power is mid Zone 3. There’s no way I’m going to be able to do 14k of climbing at or over threshold. Contador I most certainly am NOT.

In order to do this, with a full time job and a blog to write, that means my training has to be WAY over threshold, and my long weekend rides have to be AT threshold while climbing. And I need to do a lot of climbing. More climbing than Cincinnati affords.

The training plan has been:

  • Start base building in late 2014
  • Continue until Efficiency Factor reaches at least 1.4, hopefully by start of spring racing
  • Continue base building, but enter Cat 4 road races. Stay efficient, learn to draft!
  • After road race season, continue to increase FTP with participation in weekly 16km time trial series. Full-on. Nothing held back. I have a PR goal to set before heading off to Europe of 24:30. As of this writing, my best is 25:01.
  • 3 week building blocks all the way through to late August. Oh, that blessed fourth week; wouldn’t call it “recovery,” as there is still hard stuff in it — just not nearly as much. Steady diet of hill repeats, VO2 max intervals, and sprint repeats. Making liberal use of videos by The Sufferfest, often back to back and mix n’ match:



Angels (the new version is harder than their “classic” version)
Angels is 4, 8-minute climbs, all of them over threshold. I try to do them near VO2 max (Zone 5) if I only run through it once. If I do it twice, I can mix it up: Do the first hour just over threshold, and for the second viewing, try to keep each of the resulting 8 climbs in “sweet spot,” zone 3.8 – 4.2. 

ISLAGIATT (It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time)
This is my favorite of all Sufferfest videos. (“Favorite” is a bizarre word for a video that, the first time I tried it, brought me to within a heartbeat or two of puking over the side of my bike.) A 2 hour race simulation that includes lots of ferocious climbing. If I do it on a weekend, I’ll warm up with an hour long ride outside that includes one of the toughest climbs in the area, about 1.5 miles at around 8% average.

2 hours of pretty much everything from climbs to high intensity VO2 madness

9 Hammers
Vo2 max intervals, 3.5 – 4 minutes each. 9 of them, natch.

64 sprints. I swear, this is the only Sufferfest that I regularly fail to complete, or to at least not “cheat” on by cutting back on a sprint. Or 5. God, it’s hard.

The Downward Spiral
The name of the game when climbing for hours is endurance. The Spiral is intervals designed to help you stretch out how long you can go.

Extra Shot
Since most of the videos are only an hour long, and 2 hours is about all I can stand on a trainer, Extra Shot gives you 20 minutes over threshold to tack on to a previous training video.

Simulate the Real Deal

CRITICAL: “4 Clmbing Weekends.” Travel to the highest peak in the eastern US: Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina. That’s a 7-hour drive from Cincinnati, but it beats flying to Switzerland. Incrementally build intensity over 4 weekends of back to back climbing. Final climbing weekend is 4 weeks prior to Haute Route, with a full simulation of 14,000 feet per day for 2 days, requiring multiple ascents of Mt. Mitchell. (3, to be exact.) As of this writing, there have been 2 climbing weekends, both of which had one ascent per day, and the first day started with sprint intervals while climbing.

Are we having fun? Or what?


Mt. Mitchell, North Carolina is the highest point in the eastern United States at nearly 6,700 feet. From a bike-friendly motel located almost halfway down the ascent, I’ve launched a couple climbs. There is a 3-ascent weekend coming up as of this writing.

Next post: we’ll break down the 4 climbing weekends, which serve as both appetizer, training, and full-on simulation of the event — at least in terms of vertical elevation gained.

See you on the road…

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Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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