Technique training tips: climbing & descending

What goes up must come down. Follow these climbing and descending tips and fear of hills will be a thing of the past

Going up!

Love them or hate them, you are going to come up against some testing hills throughout your sportive.

Sadistic organisers love to challenge participants, often multiple times throughout the route, so it’s probably a good idea to prepare for a big hill or two.

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Climbing is all part of the challenge of cycling, and while some riders enjoy it more than others, it’s never easy. There are, however, a few techniques you can use to iron out the lumps and bumps a little, and make your ride to the finish that bit easier.

The five Ps: Preparation is key
It’s never a good idea entering a sportive blind. Click online and get a profile of the route so you can prepare yourself. Find out where the big hills are, and pace yourself accordingly. Preserve your energy levels so you keep plenty in reserve for the big climbs.

When riding in large numbers, it’s always good to get to the front, that way you won’t get boxed in by slow riders and you’ll have plenty of ‘slippage room’ if you are one of the slower riders yourself. Be careful not to use up too much energy trying to start the climb at the front of the group though.

Pace yourself
Don’t be a hero and go all guns blazing for the first few hundred metres of the climb. Chances are you’ll quickly tire, and when the rest of the group catch and pass you you’ll struggle to keep up.

Pace yourself, don’t worry about others around you. There will be better climbers than you. So what? Focus on your breathing and pedalling and getting up it. Remember, you might have another 30 miles left to ride. Don’t empty the tank.

If you are struggling, break the climb down into sections. Climb to that next lamppost, or the next bend. Once you get there, set yourself another target, like the hole in the hedge 50 metres away. The climb will soon tick by.

Try and keep to a steady cadence, 
somewhere around 80rpm is fine. Don’t grind too big a gear, as this will cause your legs to burn and give up. Keep to a consistent pace if you can. Sudden fluctuations can be detrimental as you end up expending big amounts of energy for little return.

When climbing, it’s best to sit upright with your head up, looking forward. This will help you stay relaxed and aid your breathing, as your chest is more open. If you’re starting to run out of puff, avoid panting. Deep, belly breaths are far better as you are able to fill your lungs with more air.

Going doing

With big climbs come big descents. It’s very important for your safety as well as others, to be able to descend confidently and competently.

Now confidently doesn’t mean you have to fly down the hills as fast as you can, taking unnecessary risks and without regard for yours or others’ safety. It means being in control of 
what you are doing.

These are quite important when riding. Wherever you are looking, is where you will end up. Look further down the road to keep an eye out for oncoming hazards, such as potholes, road debris, slower riders and cars. If you spot something, don’t just gawp at it, adjust and move. The golden rule: only look at where you want to go, not where you don’t.


When you need to check your speed, use both brakes at the same time. Controlling your mass at high speed needs to be spread over as much braking surface as possible. Using 
both brakes will reduce the risk of locking a wheel. Remember, it’s all about control. When approaching a corner, reduce your speed before you turn in, not during the corner.

Try to stay light on the saddle, allowing your arms and legs to soak up the bumps and keep you more stable. This will also enable you to manoeuvre the bike underneath you, making small adjustments as you take corners or change your line in the road.

It might not be the intuitive thing to do, but it’s best if you can keep your legs moving as you descend. This is not to make you go faster, rather to keep the blood pumping round your legs and ensure they don’t feel like blocks of wood when you finally do need to press hard on the pedals again.

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