Grinding or spinning at Threshold

Just did Alpe d’Huez. Thought I’d give it a go at about 95% of my threshold (200W) and see what happened. Well the wheels came off after about an hour leaving me to struggle to the top barely making Z2 power. Does grinding away at 50-60rpm (I was on a 48-11 gearing) adversely affect performance as opposed to the 85ish I normally do on flatter efforts. Or is my threshold perhaps a little optimistic. Other factors: I’m not used to the heat or any sort of altitude as I’m from NW England and live virtually at sea level. Also due to COVID restrictions it’s the first time I’ve done a climb like that in 4 years. TV. I are enough 100g CHO before and on the climb.

1h at sustained 95% of FTP is threshold PL 8.8 workout. If you haven’t specifically trained TTE at Z4, then it is pretty good effort, regardless of cadence, I think.


Spin it for sure. Grinding wears out your legs whereas spinning is a game of your endurance fitness. Last time I did it (on Zwift) i averaged 86rpm.


More recent than me; the last time I did the Alpe was in 2013, which was long before I started structured training or had a power meter. It was the day before and the day of the Marmotte; I PB’d the first day. I think you climb at a cadence what your comfortable with; for me back then it was 63rpm but I wasnt flat out as I had the event the next day, not that it stopped the next day from being a 30min longer 1h 40min grovel :joy:

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Couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately spinning at 83 rpm would have put me at about 143% of my FTP :anguished::anguished:

Thanks for all you supportive replies. No I’m a bit recovered I’m feeling a little better about it. It’s a long time since my legs went like that.

Well, one assumes you would have shifted accordingly, maintaining the same power but at a higher cadence.

Which of course assumes you have such gearing available.

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I live at sea level where it’s super flat, so almost everything is done at 80+ rpm. The first time I ever took a trip to the mountains, I quickly learned that my 25 tooth rear was not the tool for the job! Even short climbs caused my cadence to dip so far that I was OOS most of the time gasping for breath, or taking a break on the side of the road contemplating how I could possible be THAT bad. The next time I visited, I rented a bike with more appropriate gearing for me (a triple) and it was ridiculously easier thanks to the gearing allowing me to increase cadence. Since then, I’ve learned to get on Zwift and simulate climbing in harder gears and build my ability to climb at low cadence, but just having the right gearing on that second trip made a massive difference.


I should add, if you’re going to start doing low cadence/hi tension drills, take it easy at first and focus on your technique. I screwed up a knee trying to do too much too fast.


Any time I have athletes who are doing long events with long sustained climbs or steep climbs, I tell them that their results are going to come down to three things: pacing, fueling, and GEARING.

Trying to do Alpe d’ Huez on 48-11? :skull_and_crossbones:

Yeah, that’s gonna cause some massive problems.


As someone that successfully grinds long climbs, taking advantage of your glutes is trainable for those of us with sub-compact gearing and 2.8-3W/kg. This article came across my radar this morning:

and I for one train using my glutes on flat rides. It works for me, and transfers to climbing.

Sorry I meant to say 31-34. It still caused me problems The chainring was 48/31 with a Miche 12-34 cassette. The climb obviously affected my cognitive abilities as well

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Thanks I’ll have a detailrd look at that when I get home. I often read about people feeling their glutes " firing" and I have absolutely no idea what they are talking about

I’ve read that too and have trouble understanding the term “firing” - or feeling it! What I feel is driving the pedal stroke from my “seat” and hamstrings, instead of quads. Unlike that article above, I’ve done these seated on the flats, and not standing.

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It’s not super apparent like doing a bridge and squeezing your glutes for a couple minutes with out a break. IDK when it started but, a number of years ago it seemed like everyone was chirping on and on about riding with a “neutral back”. Often that meant the rider would sway or arch their low back so that they were pushing their belly button towards the top tube way too much. When you over do this the quads get more isolated (work more) which probably means less work from the glutes. Easing off on that arching technique and even going slightly the other way seems to take pressure of the quads and engage the glutes. I’ve heard people say “roll your hips under you”…picture a cats back as they sit. It’s rolled the opposite of what the neutral back people said. When you roll maybe move back on the saddle ever so slightly. The result is less quad pressure. If power stays the same the glutes are getting engaged.

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We have a 35 minute climb in town. I used to have to kind of grunt out certain sections of it only having a 29 large cog on the back. I got a new cassette with a 32 on the back and then proceeded to take 5 minutes off my best time by being able to spin more.


Bike manufacturers are criminal when it comes to gearing. I get so frustrated for people around here where we have some legit mountains and they buy a bike that comes with a 53-39 and 11-25. At least many come with some options for compact or sub-compact chainrings but they’re all still afraid to put a 32 or 34 on the back… but what a world of difference it makes in your riding!


Absolutely. When I got my first road bike 13 years ago the gearing was 50/34 with an 11-25. This for an unfit 54 year old who hadn’t ridden a bike since being a child. If I hadn’t done some reading and got the shop to change the mech to a long cage MTB one (9 speed) and the cassette to an 11-32 I suspect I would have given up. Incidentally the shop wasn’t happy about doing it
On my main bike now I’ve got an 11-36 with a 48/32. Makes a massive difference


Normaly you will find a self selected cadence for a given effort, often it is a bit lower on a climb then on flat roads, but I would say everything under 70 starts to really sap the legs over longer durations… I probably wouldn’t be able to hold near TH for 45-60 minutes at 50-60 Cadence.
But you shouldn’t forget that even if the Alp isn’t at that high of an altitude it still goes up to 1860 meters, which will probably impact your ability to produce power and lower the Threshold, especially if you are living at sea level. So that 95% of TH are creeping to TH or even a bit above.

I made the mistake going with a 50/36 and 34 in the back on my Big event on Saturday, and it wasn’t optimal on the later ascents because it forced me into relatively low cadences, I really wished for the 34/34 gear…


Dropping this commonly used site here in case anyone wants to see how much distance they are covering per crank rotation. I’ve found it useful in the past, especially for steep climbs. You can see how much further you are going per crank rotation and make a better informed decision on gearing and whether it’s worth spending the money on different gearing.

You can select metric and other options, too. You may be more familiar with the term rollout distance, it’s the same thing.

Here’s an overview of the mechanics of it: