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Why do I climb well,relatively speaking, but suck so much on flats???

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Why do I climb well,relatively speaking, but suck so much on flats???

Old 06-25-13, 03:36 PM
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Why do I climb well,relatively speaking, but suck so much on flats???

I understand that there can be several factors at play. For example, a person that mostly cycles in hilly areas will probably be slightly better at said hills than someone that is always cycling on flat geography. Additionally, some might have a physiology that is conducive to ascending. Even professional cyclists are known as "climbers", "time trailers", "all around", etc...

In my case, the difference is quite drastic. This past weekend, I went on a group ride that could be deemed mid-level. I.E. not the best but not the worst bikers either. It was all I could do to keep up with the group on flats. I was trying extremely hard not to show how much I was struggling. I'm not even sure the group was really even trying that hard.

When the road tilted upward, I excelled. It was as if the script was flipped. I easily made it to the top while everyone else struggled to make it. For perspective sake, I'm speaking more of rolling/short/steep hills than true climbs. They're usually .5-2 miles at about 5%. Occasionally, steeper but rarely over 10%.

Again, I know that there are always going to be slight variances from rider to rider. I'm just confused as to why the variance is so extreme for myself. I could see how a good "flat" rider might not climb well but it would seem that a decent climber would somewhat thrive on a flat surface. Or if not thrive, at least be average.

Thoughts?

P.S. One quick, related, question. Say you go all out to top a crest. You dip into the red, are anaerobic, and really struggling when you get to the top. At the top, there is a slight downhill for, say, 300 meters before you begin another climb. Do you coast for 300 meters or do you continue to pedal in an extremely light gear? My instinct is to coast but I've read that the pedaling will clear out lactic acid in your legs much more quickly.
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Old 06-25-13, 03:43 PM
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Relatively low absolute power, relatively higher power to weight = climber.

The best climber by a mile in my group (and that sure isn't me!) struggles to keep up with the rest of us on the flats, but when the road turns uphill -- buh-bye.

It's because on the flats, you are battling mostly aerodynamics, and pure power rules. On climbs, you are battling mostly gravity, and power to weight rules. If we want to keep him reasonably in check for a hill, we have to shag him out on the flats leading up to it.
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Old 06-25-13, 03:44 PM
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you don't have enough power to push yourself through the wind at higher speeds but have enough power/weight ratio to climb well. How skinny are you?
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Old 06-25-13, 03:50 PM
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If you're really skinny/light, you will find it easier to hang with a pack on steep climbs vs flat hammering speeds.

Climbing is power:weight ratio whereas flatland riding is power:aerodynamic ratio. Which is why some big 250+lbs guys are hellaciously fast on flats, but slow as rocks on climbs.

In my last Half ironman where there was no drafting to confound the riding speed, I found myself leapfrogging back and forth with the fastest amateur woman in the race, who probably weighed 100-105 to my 145-150. I consider myself a pretty decent climber with good power:weight ratio (I usually create big gaps on hammerfest climbs), but with her light weight, she clearly had even better climbing ability than I did. She'd pass me on the climbs pretty readily, and I'd come back and pass her just as fast the moment things flattened out or went downhill. I used a powermeter as well and held very steady wattage on all terrain, so I know it wasn't just a matter of me mispacing it. I was actually very surprised when she passed me on the first climb since I blew by her so fast on the flat that I assumed I'd never see her again.
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Old 06-25-13, 03:52 PM
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My first thought is: You're probably fairly light.

You've got good power to weight (watts/kg). But, not as good a power to drag ratio. Things you could do address this include: building more muscular strenght and endurance, assessing your position on the bike to see if you could become more aerodynamic, learn effective sheltering techniques if riding in groups.

You're not alone. The strongest climber in my regular weekly group can't hold onto my wheel on the flats, if I start to really put an effort in. I've got plenty of power, but, am heavy. He's of pretty light build and trying to gain muscle mass as hard as I'm trying to loose weight.
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Old 06-25-13, 03:55 PM
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Are you Andy Schleck?

Oh, nevermind...he sucks at everything now.
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Old 06-25-13, 03:59 PM
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As others mentioned, higher power/weight than your group plus a couple of other potential factors:

1. Drafting is important on the flats. If you aren't comfortable riding close to the wheel of someone you will be working harder than necessary.

2. Having a good aero position is important on the flats. If you aren't comfortable riding in the drops, or have a relatively upright position you will end up doing more work than those who are more aero.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:00 PM
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you're spending too much time on the shag.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:03 PM
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There are two key metrics to measure cycling performance - power to weight and power to frontal area. Power is the same in both cases and usually expresses as the functional threshold power (FTP). Some riders find it is easier to generate a higher FTP going uphill versus riding on the flat or slightly downhill. Many times skinny riders are great climbers but lack the FTP of of larger riders who are favored in flat terrain. However, if you are skinny, you should be able to easily hide in the pack and no see much wind so your situation does not seem to make sense so there must be something else going on.

You may be going all out on the climbs burning matches and then struggling with recovery on the slight downhills and flat sections of the rides. I would just stay with the group on the climbs and relax.

I do not coast descents after climbs and if fact do just the opposite. I maintain power over the top and shift into a bigger gear to keep power on for the descent. Of course, if the descent is steep, I tuck and coast.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:17 PM
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I have the same problem. In the grand scheme of things I'm just a skinny guy who's not very strong. My power/weight ratio is only good because my weight is so low. I can get away with that on the climbs, but not on the flats or especially when it's windy.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:22 PM
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I'm one of those big guyw who can haul ass all day long on the flats and suck at climbing. I am 6'2" and right now weigh 255 lbs. My GF has trouble even riding at a steady pace some days on the flats. SHe weighs 145 lbs. Even gust of wind or slight uphills rollers slow her down. She can't jump out of the hole very quickly either. She just kills me when we get above %6 gradient.

Weight has a ton on effect both positively and negetivly. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. I can coast for ever because with all my mass moving it takes a long time for it to come to a stop. The wind and mild terrain changes really effect me very little. But man do I have to power hard to get up the mountain passes. Kathy on the other hand walks up the mountains like she's on the flatlands and struggles every where else.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:24 PM
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yoda say, work on breathing techinques you must. do this, exhale and then fill your lungs at a 3:2 ratio, meaning empty your lungs in three breaths and fill them with 2 breaths. time each breath to match your cadence, ie, stay on beat. thsi will keep you from going anaerobic. works great.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:24 PM
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This thread has been a great read for me, because I've always had the same problem. I can't hang on a flat even moderately fast group ride, but as soon as the road tips up -- I'm gone. It's a nice "problem" to have though.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:47 PM
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You likely suck at drafting. Climbers will get dropped by time trialists if the TT'ers are going full out, but if you are getting dropped while the group is just motoring, then it is likely your drafting technique.
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Old 06-25-13, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by pdxtex
yoda say, work on breathing techinques you must. do this, exhale and then fill your lungs at a 3:2 ratio, meaning empty your lungs in three breaths and fill them with 2 breaths. time each breath to match your cadence, ie, stay on beat. thsi will keep you from going anaerobic. works great.
If only it were so simple...
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Old 06-25-13, 04:54 PM
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welcome to the climbers club. Waiting for people at the top of the climbs, but struggling to follow everywhere else. At 5'7 130lbs, I'm pretty much in the same club.

For the question about the top of the climbs, I usually try to give a good kick (even in the red) before it starts going down so I keep some speed.
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Old 06-25-13, 05:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Brian Ratliff
You likely suck at drafting. Climbers will get dropped by time trialists if the TT'ers are going full out, but if you are getting dropped while the group is just motoring, then it is likely your drafting technique.
I'm with you. Everyone's going on about high w/kg but low absolute power, but it sounds like group riding inexperience to me. You just don't see such a strong divergence between climbing strength and strength on the flats from someone who is climbing as well or better than the group they are riding with.

The best part about this answer, OP, is that you can work on improving your ability to draft in the group (confidence to get close, not open gaps, ability to determine where the wind is coming from and position accordingly, etc) and you'll find this gradually will solve itself. Isn't that nicer than supposedly having not enough power to hang on flats?
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Old 06-25-13, 05:09 PM
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Originally Posted by knoxtnhorn
...This past weekend, I went on a group ride that could be deemed mid-level. I.E. not the best but not the worst bikers either. It was all I could do to keep up with the group on flats. I was trying extremely hard not to show how much I was struggling. I'm not even sure the group was really even trying that hard.

When the road tilted upward, I excelled. It was as if the script was flipped. I easily made it to the top while everyone else struggled to make it. For perspective sake, I'm speaking more of rolling/short/steep hills than true climbs. They're usually .5-2 miles at about 5%. Occasionally, steeper but rarely over 10%.

Again, I know that there are always going to be slight variances from rider to rider. I'm just confused as to why the variance is so extreme for myself. I could see how a good "flat" rider might not climb well but it would seem that a decent climber would somewhat thrive on a flat surface. Or if not thrive, at least be average.

Thoughts?
more than slight variances for your avg rec rider ranges... more like huge...

If you can climb reasonably well, then you should be able to go on the flat, in a group reasonably well. Climbing is about power/weight, but essentially it is power - same stuff you use on the flat. Most climbers I know are OK to good on the flat, not Cancellara good but have no problems staying in a group at most any speed.
If riders are struggling on the climbs you describe, they're gonna be pretty avg riders, and should not be difficult to stay with if you can outclimb them.
You may be psyching yourself out on the flats. You may be making poor gearing choices for the speed and terrain. If it's very loosely packed grouping, then you may be working unnecessarily. Is there some reasonable drafting going on? Or are you each having to plow your own furrow through the air?
If they ALL struggled uphill, then they're likely quite avg rec riders.
SO the Q goes back to you -what exactly made the 'flat' so hard? Run out of breath? Legs felt weak? Too much rubber band?
define what, on the flat, causes the issues. you might find you already have the answer and just haven't applied it.
or, in the very least, will have defined where work needs doing...
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Old 06-25-13, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83
If only it were so simple...
well it helps. but yeah, there is alot at play.
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Old 06-25-13, 05:15 PM
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What everyone else said about improving your pack skills. Also, if these are short hills, then we're talking about short-term power. You might consider working on longer power intervals like 2x20's.
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Old 06-25-13, 05:18 PM
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Originally Posted by generalkdi
welcome to the climbers club. Waiting for people at the top of the climbs, but struggling to follow everywhere else. At 5'7 130lbs, I'm pretty much in the same club.

For the question about the top of the climbs, I usually try to give a good kick (even in the red) before it starts going down so I keep some speed.
There's nothing about being a climber that means you should be struggling to hold the group on flats. I'm 5' 5" and 125 lbs, and can hold a wheel at any speed that my usual riding and training partners can. Again, it's about skill, experience, and a little bit fitness. But mostly the former. Also, being thin and light is less than half of being a climber. But that's another story.
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Old 06-25-13, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by pdxtex
well it helps. but yeah, there is alot at play.
Changing your breathing patterns will not prevent you from going anaerobic. Lungs are seldom the limiting factor in transporting oxygen to your muscles where it's needed. If it's helping it's probably because your technique is causing you to slow down a little and ride at a lower power level below your anaerobic threshold.
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Old 06-25-13, 05:21 PM
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Agree with the comment about drafting aggressively on the flats.

Drafting is HUGE. There's a local group that I ride with once every few months that I can hang with no problem and it sometimes even feels too easy and I start getting bored - but this is when I'm buried in the group.

Since I train solo most of the days, but still like the idea of having others to sort of ride with, I sometimes follow this ride with my TT bike but just hang off the back, over 4-5 bike lengths which is way too far for a good draft effect. I find myself absolutely dying just to keep that same group in sight, and I routinely get dropped on the surges when I'm doing this, whereas when I'm actualy in the group the surges barely even bother me.

Try it again, but this time bury yourself in the middle of the group and hug that wheel tight! I think you'll be surprised at how much easier it is. (This assumes you can handle your bike well enough and are comfortable riding in close quarters.)
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Old 06-25-13, 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by gregf83
Changing your breathing patterns will not prevent you from going anaerobic. Lungs are seldom the limiting factor in transporting oxygen to your muscles where it's needed. If it's helping it's probably because your technique is causing you to slow down a little and ride at a lower power level below your anaerobic threshold. .
and conversely, if you speed up your breathing to match your increasing cadence, then you are absolutely increasing you aerobic threshold. but yes, at a certain power output your body just wont be able to keep up with the oxygen demands (sprinting, steeeeeep climbs). but that being said, you shouldn't be going anaerobic on fast speedy flats....i dont at least. but breathing has everything to do with maintaining a fast pace. you can be strong as an ox with a great aero setup but if your breathing and cadence are out of wack then you will get dropped in a heartbeat. you didn't play a wind instrument did you?

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Old 06-25-13, 05:46 PM
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Originally Posted by pdxtex
this i will wholeheartedly disagree with. while yes, at a certain power output your body just wont be able to keep up with the oxygen demands (sprinting, steeeeeep climbs), you shouldn't be going anaerobic on fast speedy flats....i dont at least. but breathing has everything to do with maintaining a fast pace. you can be strong as an ox with a great aero setup but if you are breathing and cadence are out of wack then you will get dropped in a heartbeat.
If you never go anaerobic on flats then you haven't raced or ridden with a fast group. In any fast paceline the lead rider will be anaerobic.

I'm not sure how cadence got mixed in here unless your talking about breathing rate. Feel free to back up your theories with a citation or two.
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