By Adam Fivehouse, USA Cycling LII Certified Coach
No other climb in North America can rival the sheer beauty and challenge of Mt. Evans. Climbing close to 7,000 feet from Idaho Springs to the summit – the length, the gradient and the altitude – is a daunting task for even the most seasoned of riders.
Here are some tips to help you in your preparation
INTERVALS: Don’t be afraid to go hard! As we get closer to ride day your focus should shift to increasing the intensity of your training. This is the key to building your speed on the climb. For a climb as long as Mt. Evans, you should be focusing on longer tempo and lactate threshold intervals. Build up the length of your tempo intervals (85-95% of threshold heart rate) as long as 60-90 minutes. Most riders will be maintaining this intensity on event day. Also, work on building longer threshold intervals (95-105% of threshold heart rate) of 8-10 minutes in length with recovery periods half the length of the interval. These efforts will really help to push your fitness higher and will prepare you for the steeper sections of the climb.
CADENCE & GEARING: Being able to maintain a steady and consistent cadence on a climb is crucial. You have trained your body to produce power at a particular cadence and that is where it is going to be most efficient. If your cadence begins to drop off as the road turns up and you find yourself limited by the gearing on your bike, you have several choices. Your best option is to look into expanding the gearing by either outfitting it with a larger cassette or a smaller crank to help you keep the revs up. If this is not an option, you must focus more of your training on riding at the lower cadences that you will experience on the climb.
ALTITUDE: It’s inaccurate to say that there is less oxygen at higher altitudes. Rather, the partial pressure of oxygen is lower at altitude. This creates an issue for the human body in that we absorb oxygen in the lungs based on pressure gradients. The lower the pressure, the less the lungs can bring into the system. The less oxygen, the less power we can produce and the slower the speed. This makes it harder to recover once we have gone into the red. Unfortunately, we can’t totally eliminate the effects of altitude but we can better prepare for it. In the weeks leading up to your Mt. Evans ride, the more time you can spend training at altitude (above 7000ft.) the better your body will adapt on race day. You will still have to be careful and pace your effort on the climb but you will be better prepared.
PREPARE MENTALLY: If possible, kill two birds with one stone and train on the course. This will help you mentally prepare by dealing with the altitude in advance and getting comfortable with the course. Look for landmarks (signs, turns, changes in gradient) and breakdown the climb into segments. 27.4 miles is a lot to take on all in one chunk. Focus on making it to the next landmark at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be above tree line and looking at the summit.
ENJOY THE VIEW: Don’t forget to take in the spectacular views as you tackle this feat of human endurance. It will help take your focus of the burning in your legs, if only for a moment!