The Cobbled Classics are behind us and thoughts turn to the Alps once again. We are down in the south west of France this week getting some warm(er) weather training in over Easter. It's a great place to cycle with good roads and stunning scenery. However it is generally flat with no significant hills. So how do we train here for the Alpine events of the summer?

We work on core strength and flexibility as part of the Propello Training Programmes in all of our 12 week blocks. Strength and flexibility is key to you being able to deliver a sustained effort on a long climb, to maintain a good riding position and prevent a sore back.

Riders climb the Galibier on the 2014 Marmotte.
Riders climb the Galibier on the 2014 Marmotte.

If you have entered an Alpine event you will have a number of climbs that last for 40-90 minutes. Even in the hilly parts of the UK finding climbs that last that long is impossible so how do we prepare our bodies for this type of sustained effort?

The first thing to incorporate into your training is some Functional Threshold Power (FTP) work to develop your best one hour pace. In our Sportive and Super Sportive Main Season Training  Programmes we have two turbo workouts that directly target improving our threshold riding and hill climbing.

Propello Hills workouts are designed to improve your ability to pace a hill climb and will significantly improve your low cadence, high muscular force endurance riding. We start the session at a solid tempo pace in a hard gear at around 70rpm cadence, gradually increasing power or speed over the next three intervals to finish the last interval at our strongest pace. We then recover and go again for another hill for a total effort of around 50 - 75 minutes. These workouts improve both climbing fitness and teach you about pacing a hill climb effectively. The aim is to start steady and finish strong - the opposite of what we see a lot of the time!

We then introduce some classic threshold workouts, starting with 2 or 3 sets of 20 minute intervals at just below FTP pace. In week 2 and 3 we reduce effort and recovery time whilst increasing intensity to 105% of Functional Threshold power by the end of week 3. Threshold workouts bring massive gains in endurance capability.

Both of these workouts will improve your ability to sustain the type of effort that is required to scale a mountain col. It will improve your FTP and your lactate accumulation tolerance by training the body to adapt to hard sustained efforts.

A natural climber on the Col d'Izoard.
A natural climber on the Col d'Izoard.

On the road you should incorporate over geared sections to your rides. Here in France we have some ideal sections of road where we can put in a consistent over geared effort for up to 20 minutes. Choose a gear that is 1 or 2 gears harder than you would normally use and aim for a cadence of around 70-75rpm. Make sure that you have thoroughly warmed up as these sessions can be hard on the leg and back muscles.  Start by introducing 5 minute over geared intervals with 3 minute recoveries and aim to build up to 15 minute intervals with 6 minute recoveries.

Some people deliberately ride into a headwind to simulate the effect of a hill but personally I find these sessions soul destroying. I would much rather push a bigger gear with a slight tailwind and at least feel like I am flying!

You don't need hills to train to climb although if you live in the Alps you have a massive advantage. With the right type of specific training you will significantly improve your hill climbing through targeting the same type and duration of effort that you will need to climb well. We can trick the body into hill climbing adaptions with a training programme that simulates the specific demands of climbing, is periodised to stress the body progressively and has enough time for adaption and recovery.

Rob Wakefield is a fully qualified Level 3 Cycling Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches and founder of Propello, a cycling focused health and fitness business delivering Performance Training Programmes and Bespoke Coaching to cyclists anywhere in the world.

All cyclists who are looking to improve their speed, endurance or strength will benefit from a structured training programme. Propello Training will improve how your muscles, lungs and heart work and will enable your body to transport and utilise fuel effectively - making you faster and stronger for longer.

Click here to learn more about Propello.