Francesco Moser’s big gear hill intervals

Few people thought Francesco Moser would break Eddy Merckx’s 12-year-old Hour record when he did in 1984. But progress in sports science and new training methods — like this one — put the Italian ahead

For training to be optimal it must be specific. Cycling is a strength sport as well as an endurance sport, and training must reflect that.

Speed in cycling comes from many things, one of them being the amount of force you can apply to the pedals. Weight training helps to increase that force but not optimally, because the movements used in lifting weights, the muscle firing sequences and the forces you apply, aren’t the same as those used in cycling.

>> Subscribe to Cycling Weekly this Autumn and save 35%. Enjoy the luxury of home delivery and never miss an issue <<

Francesco Moser’s trainers were aware of this. They saw force applied to the pedals as one of the physical limiters in cycling. They wanted Moser to get stronger, but stronger in a specific cycling way. Their solution was to get Moser to do uphill intervals, at very low revs per minute in a high gear.

Moser lived in the mountains, so he had plenty of hills around him. He chose a long climb with a steady gradient, one that would take 20 to 30 minutes to climb, and he started riding up it as part of his training in a 53×15 gear, at 50 to 60 revs per minute.

He kept his upper body perfectly still while doing the intervals, which built core as well as leg strength. Core strength is crucial in all aspects of cycling, but it is especially so in a long time trial when the rider shouldn’t be moving his or her upper body at all. If they do it increases aerodynamic drag.

Then, when Moser was coping well with two or three of these big-gear intervals on his road bike, he made them even more specific to the Hour record by doing them on a road copy of the track bike he would use in the record attempt. This was a low-profile bike with upturned cow-horn handlebars and curved frame tubes.

And Moser rode in exactly the same position he used on the track going uphill, his legs turning slowly while he gripped the low race position on his handlebars and, again, kept his upper body perfectly still.

Moser broke Merckx’s record, doing 50.808 kilometres on the Mexico City track in January 1984, and he was so convinced of the benefit of big-gear hill intervals that he included them in his future road race training. He won the 1984 Milan-San Remo Classic and the Giro d’Italia, his only Grand Tour, in the same year.