I’ve just spent a week scouting out climbs in Mallorca, and having spent some time gather data from my power meter I thought I would do a small write-up about my approach to pacing climbs using power zones.

If you find what I have to say useful, here is the software and hardware I use personally. Alternatives are available!

  • Stages power meter
  • Golden cheetah
  • Strava
  • Garmin 800

Strava is great for finding the climbs in the first place and analysing the gradient of the road at any given point. You can also make a guess at how long the climb will take roughly. Which is especially useful if you aren’t able to actually ride the climb before you attempt a serious effort up it. Which leads me nicely to the first step I take when it comes to a hill climb effort.

1. Know the climb

How steep is it? How long is it? What’s the KOM time on Strava? Do I think I can get anywhere near that (which helps gauge how long the effort will be)? Is it a consistent gradient or does it have steep ramps? A downhill? What direction is the road primarily? Check out Street View on the Strava segment. What’s the road surface like? Is it a busy road? Are there likely to be lots of cars at busy times of the day?

The more I know about the climb the better I can judge the effort.

2. Know yourself

I use Golden Cheetah for many things, but now after a bunch of decent efforts at vary lengths I have a pretty good indication of my power zones. Depending on the length of the climb I can try to figure out the maximum watts I can comfortably* hold. For example a climb of under 6 minutes I would probably just go hard and try to hang on. A full vO2 Max effort if you like. However, any longer and I will try to keep my watts in zone X, which will allow me the occasional small dig up a steep ramp or hairpin before settling back in to my zone X pace. I try to edge towards the higher end of the zone, but this is really the most important part. I often get giddy at the start of a climb thinking I can sit at a much higher wattage than I actually can; because it feels easy at first.

Golden Cheetah is great in that it gives you the critical power curve graph. As well as the Quadrant Analysis graph. So you can figure out at what cadence you produce the biggest sustainable power. I can then make sure I have correct gearing for a climb. It’s really important for me as someone who likes to spin their legs (90-110 rpm is where I get my best power) not to ‘stall’. As soon as a climb gets so steep that I can only turn at say 75 rpm my power drops right off and I slow to a crawl until the road flattens a little. However, if I had a gear that would let me keep spinning my legs I could maintain a much higher power and get up the climb quicker.

3. Know the weather

Before I do a serious hill effort I’ll check the wind, check if it will be raining and generally try and prepare myself as best I can. In the we don’t tend to have many hairpin bends on our climbs. So it’s usually smart to go out and tackle a hill with a favourable wind (if you’re chasing a KOM that is), however it’s always good to know if the road is going to be into a headwind. It all comes back to the power data though. Even if it’s a headwind I just need to make sure I ride to what I know I can sustain and ignore how fast I’m going, which in a headwind can be very disheartening!

Really it all comes down to doing some hills, blowing up big time, going as hard as I can for a given amount of time and then assessing what power I can actually maintain in a given zone for a given amount of time and riding the climb accordingly. It’s worked great until now, and I’m sure it’s what everyone who uses their power meter for serious training is also doing.