Hill performance

“That Lance” was quoted recently as saying about the TdF, “…impossible to win without doping because the Tour is an endurance event where oxygen is decisive” & there was (rightly) lots of negative reaction. Part of the statement though, strikes a chord with me – the bit about oxygen being decisive in endurance events – & so for my insight…

Do you fly up hills on your bike? (whether it’s a Brompton or whatever) Do you wonder why your effort seems so ineffective in comparison to others? There are lots of variables that affect our ability to get up hills comfortably & there are many theories as to what you need to do to improve (eg lose weight, buy a lighter bike, ride the bike more, harden up, etc). For me, some years of cycling club riding gave me plenty of opportunity to witness those riders who could “disappear up the road”, especially on big or long hills. On the flats or smaller rolling hills maybe I coped & kept with riders of an assortment of body shapes & sizes? Throw in the longer hills & there was still an assortment of rider sizes, but once the toughest of hills came along then probably the first up were the “weight weenies”? (can’t be sure from where I was on the road?). Time trialling was an enjoyable thing (sort of) but illustrated how some riders had astounding performance. What was their secret?

A few years ago I gained my insight after coming down with a virus. Just a bad ‘flu it seemed but once back on the bike it was a real struggle; no speed, no power, so tiring? Tests were inconclusive for some time & probably confused by previous heart surgery & abnormal heart wave patterns? An early diagnosis was erratic electrical signals controlling the heart muscles & I was fitted with a Pacemaker. Later a heart ultrasound measuring heart chamber sizes & blood volumes indicated my weakened heart muscle pumping less blood between chambers. Time for the Pacemaker to be retired & exchanged for a Defibrillator. All very complex but from my layman’s understanding of it, blood from the heart gets pumped through to the lungs where it picks up oxygen which then gets delivered to the muscles through the blood flow. For me the lessened blood flow & an electrical signal restriction of my heart rate results in reduced oxygen to the muscles & leads to earlier fatigue when my load increases via hills, headwinds, etc. For others: more blood, more oxygen, less fatigue? Some people are blessed (genetically)…

So, how’s my hill “performance” post-virus? Hmm… definitely slow on long hills but I’ve come to relish my Brompton, Ralph. If I slow down before I’m fatigued, put Ralph into my super-low Alfine 11-speed first gear & then just pedal slowly, look at the scenery & keep going (until I feel like stopping/walking?) then the hill disappears. Maybe “almost normal” & with my limited blood oxygen supply, if I operate at a level where the muscles are satisfied then riding’s good! I recommend it for everyone!

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