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Quick question on the difficulty of climbs in a GC

Old 08-29-19, 07:03 AM
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Quick question on the difficulty of climbs in a GC

Alright so, I've noticed that mountain stages in the Vuelta always seem a lot more daunting than those in the Tour de France and the Giro. Looking at the final climb of stage 13 in this year's Vuelta, Los Machucos, there are several parts of the climb +15%, some maxing out at 25(!!)%. Longer climbs are less steep (below 7%), but shorter climbs are usually nearing 8-9%.

In this years TdF, everyone was going on and on about La Planche des Belles Filles and how tough the climb was, but it never surpassed 14% on the steepest parts. Long climbs were generally below 7% as far as I remember. (please correct me if I'm wrong though)

The Giro is somewhere in between. You've got some short parts above 12%, combined with long climbs averaging more than 7%.
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Old 08-29-19, 07:11 AM
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I got winded just reading your post. Don’t think I’d last long on a 15 to 25 percent grade.
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Old 08-29-19, 07:16 AM
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Originally Posted by DavidRangde
Alright so, I've noticed that mountain stages in the Vuelta always seem a lot more daunting than those in the Tour de France and the Giro. Looking at the final climb of stage 13 in this year's Vuelta, Los Machucos, there are several parts of the climb +15%, some maxing out at 25(!!)%. Longer climbs are less steep (below 7%), but shorter climbs are usually nearing 8-9%.

In this years TdF, everyone was going on and on about La Planche des Belles Filles and how tough the climb was, but it never surpassed 14% on the steepest parts. Long climbs were generally below 7% as far as I remember. (please correct me if I'm wrong though)

The Giro is somewhere in between. You've got some short parts above 12%, combined with long climbs averaging more than 7%.
So what's your question?
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Old 08-29-19, 07:30 AM
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A. There were some climbs in this year's TdF that averaged 8-9%.

B. Extremely steep ruling grades don't necessarily make a climb daunting. They could only last very short distances.

C. Yes. Sometimes the Vuelta has incorporated climbs with nasty grades, like the Angliru. Many of the riders don't like it. One year there was a lot of griping after the Angliru stage that was ridden in horrible conditions. Cold and wet, IIRC. One rider stopped just short of the finish line and turned around in protest. Can't remember if was disqualified. After the stage some riders went on record as saying that it's stupid to do such a steep climb. Ruling grade on the Angliru is in the 20s.
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Old 08-29-19, 07:55 AM
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Vuelta climbs might be steeper. Do they ride as far and as long as the Tour?
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Old 08-29-19, 08:17 AM
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I have always found the notion that the essence of cycling is climbing a hill to be well, frankly, sickening. The only thing worse than slogging up an unreasonably climb is watching some other schlub do it.
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Old 08-29-19, 08:30 AM
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Originally Posted by DrIsotope
I have always found the notion that the essence of cycling is climbing a hill to be well, frankly, sickening. The only thing worse than slogging up an unreasonably climb is watching some other schlub do it.
What, this doesn't look like fun to you? lol (go to about 31mins)


On the flip side, getting to descend for 30mins without having to pedal like I did on this same ride was pretty cool
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Old 08-29-19, 08:54 AM
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IIRC, the Pyrenees are younger, sharper and steeper than older, more worn-down ranges like the Alps. Pyrenean climbs tend to be steeper as a result. No mystery.
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Old 08-29-19, 09:19 AM
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If I had a dollar every time I have heard Phil Ligget talking about "the round-shouldered Pyrenees".

The assumption is always that the Alps are "easier", despite the fact that the alpine scenery looks so much more dramatic, none more so than the Col d'Iozard.



I think what it is is that the Alps have better-paved, better-maintained roads, that are not as steep. While the Pyrenees roads are older roads, not as well-maintained or designed, with inconsistent grades and very steep sections.
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Old 08-29-19, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by DavidRangde
The Giro is somewhere in between. You've got some short parts above 12%, combined with long climbs averaging more than 7%.
Different races are different. Their routes also change from year to year. France seems to have more flat area than Italy as well (entirely based on my dated recollection of the geography of both countries, may be false)


Originally Posted by DrIsotope
I have always found the notion that the essence of cycling is climbing a hill to be well, frankly, sickening. The only thing worse than slogging up an unreasonably climb is watching some other schlub do it.
Sorry you feel that way. My rides tend to seek out hills (although I live in MI where you sometimes have to work to find one). In terms of racing, the fun parts to watch are typically associated with hills. Either going up, down or through switchbacks. Watch a bunch of guys ride in a peloton across the flats for hours? Boooooring.
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Old 08-29-19, 11:11 AM
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Inserting too steep of climbs can often cause lots of points (aka sprint) contenders to DNF due to time cuts.

It's theorized this is why Sagan has managed to win so many TdF points jerseys. Avoids elimination and exhaustion by being able to make it through the mountains stages and nick points all along the way instead of being a sprinter whose only hope is to nail it on pan flat stages.
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Old 08-29-19, 11:48 AM
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FYI...The specific climb mentioned by the OP is not in the Pyrenees. It's in the Cantabrian Mountains in the north central part of the country. The other notorious climb that has been used in La Vuelta--the Angliru--is also not in the Pyrenees but rather Asturias, which is west of Cantabria. There are a lot of ranges in Spain besides the Pyrenees. In fact, Andalucia is the country's single most mountainous territory and contains the country's two highest peaks.

Spent 7 weeks touring Andalucia BITD. While most of the climbs are not high in altitude, some of the grades will put hair on your chest. Some of the worst grades are the roads leading up to ancient hilltop towns that were built up high for defensive reasons. Saw one grade sign of 16%. Even with a 22x34 low gear I had to walk part of the way into the center of one town. Fortunately, there now often bypasses so that if you don't want to stop in a town you don't have to climb up, ride through the town and then descend back down to keep on your way.
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Old 08-29-19, 01:02 PM
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As a general rule the difference between Italy and France is historical. France was/is a large country run out of the center (Paris). This meant troops had to be able to reach the outskirts of the country fast to defend/attack. That's why slopes are 7-8% max, as that's the maximum gradient horses can pull cannons/provisions.

Italy used to be a bunch of city states (Roma,Genoa, Venezia, lots of smaller ones). They wanted to make it as hard as possible to invade, so they created roads with a gradient of 9-10%.

And in the US/Canada, roads have 4-5% gradient, that's ideal for the trucks.
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Old 08-29-19, 03:04 PM
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What does it matter? Doesn't everybody have to ride the same route?
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Old 08-29-19, 05:35 PM
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IIRC in one of his books Phil Gaimon was asked about what the toughest climbs were. He said that, for pros (as opposed to us mortals), the climb didn't matter. Any pro could ride up pretty much any climb without too much difficulty*. What made it tough or not was the competition you were racing against and how fast you had to go in order to keep up.

*I think this might have been written before the stage on the Angrilu that @indyfabz lists above.
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Old 08-29-19, 06:48 PM
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Originally Posted by aplcr0331
As a general rule the difference between Italy and France is historical. France was/is a large country run out of the center (Paris). This meant troops had to be able to reach the outskirts of the country fast to defend/attack. That's why slopes are 7-8% max, as that's the maximum gradient horses can pull cannons/provisions.

Italy used to be a bunch of city states (Roma,Genoa, Venezia, lots of smaller ones). They wanted to make it as hard as possible to invade, so they created roads with a gradient of 9-10%.

And in the US/Canada, roads have 4-5% gradient, that's ideal for the trucks.
I'll assume you know what you are talking about, and that is pretty interesting
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Old 08-30-19, 08:20 AM
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Originally Posted by OBoile
IIRC in one of his books Phil Gaimon was asked about what the toughest climbs were. He said that, for pros (as opposed to us mortals), the climb didn't matter. Any pro could ride up pretty much any climb without too much difficulty*. What made it tough or not was the competition you were racing against and how fast you had to go in order to keep up.

*I think this might have been written before the stage on the Angrilu that @indyfabz lists above.
This is true, even for a well trained amateur with the right gearing these climbs would be difficult but doable. In my video above I was doing about 200w on a 34-32 setup on the rental bike I had, which in any other scenario would be endurance level for me, but with the temps around 90F and being so far above sea level, I was struggling and just grinding it out when it was 12%. With some more time to adjust to altitude and such I might have had an easier time with that. For pros for whom 300w is no big thing, even the HC climbs, in non-race scenarios, are a walk in the park.

I did another climb (cat 2 classification) a lot more fresh and early in the morning (only a few mins from my parents' home) and if you go to about 29 min I'm having a much easier time with the double digit gradient with the 34-32 setup, I wasn't as maxed out so I could get the cadence and corresponding power up. It's also funny how my HR suddenly jumps at the 30min mark, I'm pretty sure it happened on another ride where I pass a certain altitude

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Old 08-30-19, 08:28 AM
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One thing to note about pros vs. joes on climbs is the shift in which energy system each person is using or able to use.

A joe may take over an hour on a climb. As part of a ride, they won't be able to throw ftp power at the climb.

A pro may only take 20min on the same climb. That's a lot different energy system than the joe likely going at "tempo" or "SS".

The energy systems get even more drastically different on shorter climbs like Cat 3's. A pro likely to go sub-10min on the climb, and a joe likely pushing 20min+ and grinding out at maybe ftp. But likely SS or tempo.

Just thinking aloud.......
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Old 08-30-19, 10:40 AM
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I really have no experience with this, but I would think that the altitude of the climb would make a huge difference. Going from sea level to 5000 feet with an average grade of, say, 7 % would be a lot easier than doing the exact same climb from 5000 feet to 10,000 feet, right?
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Old 08-30-19, 01:21 PM
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Extreme climbs like the Zoncolan or Angliru are mainly there to create interest and headlines. Races are rarely won or lost on these climbs, or at least no more often there than they are on other, less extreme crux moments in a given stage. At the Tour, every single rider is the best their team can offer for that role and every single rider is peaking for the season (if not for their career). Every day at the Tour is absolute brutality. This is not the case at the Giro or Vuelta, even though they are enormously tough races. The riders make the race, not the course.

Also, it's worth remembering that even the disregarded Mt Washington auto road in the hills of New Hampshire is harder than pretty much anything in a Grand Tour:
https://dsjansen0.tripod.com/Global_Climbs.html

And that's nothing compared to some of the really big stuff in Hawaii, Columbia, Ecuador or something like Onion Valley Road in the Sierra Nevadas. If you talk to pros who have done it, one of the toughest races in the world is the lightly regarded Tour of Quinghai Lake, which has an absolutely brutal course profile and takes place at altitude.

Also, the "official" second hardest climb in the world is in Taiwan, hardly a cycling mecca:
https://pjammcycling.com/

Last edited by Hiro11; 08-30-19 at 01:34 PM.
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Old 08-31-19, 03:53 PM
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A little off topic but if anyone is interested in viewing some pretty good YouTube videos of cycling/climbing the series called the Col Collective is pretty good. Always makes me want to ride.

Col Collective on YouTube
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Old 09-01-19, 01:41 AM
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Yeah, check out the Vuelta 2019 Stage 7 highlights and finish. It ends on a climb and a breakaway of four of the surviving elite climbers were in a climber's equivalent to a "sprint". It's just brutal and painful to watch.

On the plus side, those toothpick mountain goats are more likely to survive to the finish of a GC by avoiding the insanity of flat stage rat packs and field sprints. This year's Vuelta has claimed a lot of mass collision victims. Heck, the entire season has wrecked a lot of elite racers. The shorter, flatter stages designed to please TV fans with short attention spans are endangering a lot of racers. Probably not intentional but the unintended consequences of trying to "fix" something that wasn't broken. Kinda like how football helmets and heavily padded boxing gloves inadvertently led to more head injuries.
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Old 09-02-19, 10:49 AM
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the hardest question i've had to answer as a cycling racing fan that doesn't relate to breakaway tactics was "if these guys can climb mountains why are those short hills in classics a big deal"
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Old 09-02-19, 10:51 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat
Yeah, check out the Vuelta 2019 Stage 7 highlights and finish. It ends on a climb and a breakaway of four of the surviving elite climbers were in a climber's equivalent to a "sprint". It's just brutal and painful to watch.

On the plus side, those toothpick mountain goats are more likely to survive to the finish of a GC by avoiding the insanity of flat stage rat packs and field sprints. This year's Vuelta has claimed a lot of mass collision victims. Heck, the entire season has wrecked a lot of elite racers. The shorter, flatter stages designed to please TV fans with short attention spans are endangering a lot of racers. Probably not intentional but the unintended consequences of trying to "fix" something that wasn't broken. Kinda like how football helmets and heavily padded boxing gloves inadvertently led to more head injuries.
Is that really why flat stages exist? Most people who follow cycling I know will be more likely to skip the flat nailed-on sprint stages than any other.

Also the shorter stages these days are almost always mountain stages, they're designed (not that I really agree with this) to encourage active racing from the start rather than a controlled breakaway and attacks only on the last decisive climb
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Old 09-02-19, 11:12 PM
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Some of the climbs in the Vuelta can be more intense than the ones in the TdF, but they don't always require as much overall energy as the massive climbs like the Madeleine, the Tourmalet and especially the Ventoux. Those mountains are brutal in their own way because of their sheer length and because of the altitude and potential for high winds in the open areas.

By the way, don't count out the Giro d'Italia for super-intense climbs. The Mortirolo and the Zoncolan are rated by most veterans as the two climbs with the hardest grades in any of the Grand Tours. And the Stelvio is another one of those relentless high-altitude climbs like the Ventoux (but without that hellish stretch of 8k at 9.6% average grade). And there was one climb in the Giro in the early 2000s (2004 or 2005 I think) that supposedly was 17k long at an average grade of 9% with a maximum of 14%. I can't remember what it was called and I questioned the accuracy of the TV commentary regarding those numbers. They just don't seem right! It also finished on gravel. The riders were definitely laboring like crazy for most of the climb, so maybe those reported numbers weren't off after all.
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