Pacing Hill Climbs

Michael Guilford Coaching, Level 2, Level 2, library, Riding




When watching events pro racing events, with stunning climbs and sustained power efforts by pro cyclist, its easily to be overcome by the amazing power to weight ability of pro cyclists.

However, what can you do to improve your climbing performance without even gaining 1W in FTP W/kg ability?


What events is this particularly useful for:

  • Time Trials and Hill Climbs
  • Sportifs
  • Road Racing
  • MTB racing

Events Demands

What are the key demands for each event with respect to hill climbs

  • Hill Climb- maximise average speed
  • Time Trials and MTB- maximise average speed in context of the whole race
  • Sportifs and Road racing- reduce exertion during hill climbs in order to maximise effectiveness of tactical manouvres

What does pacing refer to?

pacing technique is the way a rider decides to use their effort during a race, to travel at a certain speed (mph).

Why is pacing important?

The effort applied by the rider will have a physiological response, which in turn causes fatigue. During races this will affect the riders ability at other points in the race

Similar to many aspects of cycling (and other sports), the natural tendency of a rider is to apply a less than ideal technique.

Example This is an extract from a road race:


Key Observations

  • The speed of the run into the climb is higher than the speed exiting the climb
  • As the gradient decreases speed rapidly increases
  • The power increases suddenly at the start of the climb
  • Cadence may drop during the climb
  • Heart rate (physiological response) will reach its maximum at the top of the climb or shortly after
  • Small fluctuations in speed/cadence can cause large spikes in power during the climb

What else is going on?

  • Feel- the start of an effort usually feels easier, this is due to a time lag in physiological response.
  • Tactics/group riding- during a race/group ride, pacing is often affected by visual and aural cues.
  • Technical aspects, sudden changes in gradient and road surface may require free wheeling or acceleration

What’s the goal of pacing a climb?

  • Reduce the physiological response and fatigue
  • Increase average speed (in some situations)
  • Improve tactical advantage

Why do small changes of speed increase power?

Its Newtonian physics relating potential energy and kinetic energy. the derivation is lengthy but if you want to work it out you can from these equations F=ma, P=F.d and P=E/t.

Simply, on a climb the power needed to sustain your speed is proportional to the gradient, gear and speed.

How can you improve hill climb pacing?

Cycling training is becoming embroiled with high level ‘science’ fed down from pro teams, I feel this is overwhelming for most cyclists and results in a shift of focus onto less relevant areas of cycling.

So, simplify your training, forget about power to weight, FTP, MMP, and focus on what you are actually doing in training and racing.

  • Prepare- plan how you want to race/train
  • Do- do it
  • Review- reflect on how it went


Key areas to think about, with regards to pacing, when planning your training:

  • Pedalling technique- due to the high level of exertion, pedalling technique can help to reduce fatigue as well as improve mental focus
  • Cadence- in training using a challenging cadence (very high and very low) can help to improve your ability to smooth out the pace. However, i think 60-80% of training should be focused on high cadence.
  • Observation- how do you see the climb and what affect does this have on your pace? In races riders will often respond to a steeper gradient by working harder.
  • Position- when climbing in a group position is important particularly at the entry and exit to the climb, think about the context of the climb and where you want to be in the climb
  • Body- think about how your body moves or doesnt move, whether you are in or out of the saddle, and your upper body movement. Pulling the shoulders down towards the bars could suggest, you are working the front side of your body harder than ideal.
  • Changes of pace- see what happens when you do accelerations on climbs in training. Try doing this at different points on the climb. How can you change other elements to improve your response to changes in pace.
  • Feel- how do you expect the efforts to feel?

What to think about before and during races:

  • Entry and Exit- how do you want to enter and exit this climb?
  • Tactics-  what is the tactical context of this hill climb ? What is the result if you work hard or less hard?
  • Techniques- how can you use techniques to improve the effectiveness of tactics? e.g. dropping back through the group, gearing and attacking
  • Feel- how did the efforts feel


  •  Get a detailed outside opinion of what you are doing- ideally someone who is analytical and process focused
  • Record thoughts and information
  • Expectations- for TT disciplines, pacing can make relatively large gains 0.5-2%, for other disciplines gains are likely to be most noticeable in the way you feel when racing and training.


Veteran MTB XC rider, top 15 national ranking.


In previous performances this rider has struggled with hilly courses, particularly maintaining lap times throughout the race. Often complaining of fatigue and cramp towards the end of the race.


  • efficiency- build aerobic efficiency and technical efficiency
  • tactics- plan tactics for race and stick to this plan if possible
  • pacing- improve pacing of hill efforts, in turn improving consistency of lap times


These are two key sessions for this rider:

Hill climb efforts–  A large volume of hill climb efforts, e.g. 3 sets of 5 1min efforts, these are designed to bring the rider gradually to muscular fatigue, this requires tactical preparation and awareness throughout the session.

During the 1st session the rider had large peaks in power at the start of each efforts with a large drop off throughout the effort. The first effort was a maximum effort, where the rider was instructed to try to maximise power.

In the second session the rider was instructed to accelerate more smoothly, the average power for each effort was similar however the rider was able to complete more reps and maintained power for each effort throughout session.

hill reps 2

Session 1


hill reps2

Session 2

Race focused endurance– hill efforts are put into context during race focused sessions. The race focused sessions are 15min efforts round a technical loop, in which various pacing strategies are applied. This helps to get a feel for the context of hill efforts, and also how they will feel towards the end of a race.

Technique– this MTB rider has excellent MTB skills in a training environment, but how does this relate to racing? In order to maintain a smooth effort on climbs, riders have to use their skillappropriately, doing amazing kick-hops over roots and rocks maybe skilful, but is likely to be inefficient.

Tactics– we worked through a plan for some of the races, which included looking at the course, conditions and field amongst other things. Then the rider made a tactical plan for the event, including how the plan might b changed based on new information (e.g. the entry list).


I review and analyse key training sessions and races. This rider trains with power which means I can see exactly how the rider is expending energy in training and racing.

I also carry out race observation and coached training sessions to glean first hand information from the rider.

Pacing and physiology- one of the things this riders is aiming to improve is the steadiness of hill climb efforts. Due to the rest periods in XC races, it can be difficult not to push too hard at the start of efforts. With this rider he aimed to keep the peak of 1min accelerations below 550W while aiming to sustain over 380W for repeated efforts

Tactics- most riders respond to tactics in an ’emotional’ flight/fight response, this is due to the psychological response to the surroundings. One of the things this rider is working on is try and take control of these natural responses in races and make tactical decisions rather than impulsive responses. One of the key things for climbs is not to pace based on feel during the 1st third of the race, as this can result in over exertion.