How to think about power output on steep climbs

Hi Team! 80 KG rider here with an FTP of 288 so ~3.5 W/KG. Currently training for long endurance events on road (e.g., gran fondos) and gravel like SBT GRVL.

Would love tips / advice on something I’ve been wondering about… When climbs are steep (e.g., 10%+), I feel like I need to push into the VO2 power percentages in order to get up the climb. I can do that…but then I also have the thought in the back of my head that you have to control your power on long events and keep the intensity factor at ~.70 so as not to blow up. Clearly, I can’t do VO2 max percentages for 9 hrs, even with the best nutrition (or so I think?).

In terms of gearing, I run a SRAM 2x setup with 46/33 in the front and a 10-36 cassette in the rear…so a fairly wide and generous gearing ratio. Besides the obvious answer of losing weight and adding to my FTP (working on it!) I would love any other advice on approaching this. Am I doing something wrong that my power has to jump to do steep climbs? Should I be less afraid of the jumps? How would you all think about this? Does my gearing sound wrong for a heavier rider such as myself?

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Once you get to steep (well round here 10% is moderate, 20% & 25% are common!) climbs there’s no way to get up them without putting lots of power out. I’m 85kg and run 50/34 with 12-28 and that’s fine on long rides, Centuries and the like.

Best to start the climb as easy as you can, i.e. not what you can do but what you need to do. It does help if you know how the climb unfolds - easy at the bottom, hard at the top or vice versa or three short steep ramps. Strava and various add-ons help here, search out the climb and view the segment for as much info as you can work out.

When there’s an easing in the gradient don’t continue to push hard but ease off and get some recovery ready for the next hard bit.

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Check out this video - I think it breaks down climbing really well, explains mechanical advantage, and shows how to look at gear ratios to make sure you have the right gears for the grade.

Hills Are NOT Harder Than Cycling On The Flat (Says Science) - YouTube

edited to add: I found this video AFTER my last gran fondo with 8,000 ft of climbing and going through the gear/gradient calculations was pretty dead on to why I experienced what I did.

with your lowest gearing you can do comfortably 5 mph up a climb.
That is only 220W up a 10% hill, which should work for you.
So the trick would be to just shift to lower gear and slow down.

You’ll get up mountains with those gears. My road bike is an 52/34 with an 11-28 cassette (I put a 34 on for 6 days in tenerife, including 3x up Mount Teide) and the gravel bike according to the web is a 48/32 with an 11-34 cassette. I am a lighter rider so my advice may not be 100% relevant but if its a short sharp hill dont be scare to attack it in a high gear, probably stood up and maintain momentum but if its a long hill its the exact opposite don’t be scared to adopt a low gear (small at the front, big at the back), sit down and spin. What psychologically helps me on very long hills is always having a lower gear to fall back to. So if it eases up or I stand up, I change up to create that lower gear for when its harder. Regardless of weight however power on the flat is the same power on a hill you just go slower. Similar to above if its a short sharp climb dont be afraid to jump up power to maintain momentum but if its a longer climb sit down and spin in a low gear so you conserve that power and the power transition is smoother and its there when you really need it. Good luck with your Gran Fondos :+1:

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Are you trying to keep up with others, or are you trying to ride at a certain speed? You should have no problems riding up a 10% grade with your gearing at a power below FTP. Just ride slower.

Be okay with lowering your cadence. I’ve gotten used to grinding up steep MTB climbs at 60rpm, while staying below threshold. Compared to repeated efforts above threshold, the grinding hardly fatigues me at all, even over long distances.

My pacing plan for BWR is to stay below 85% over the entire 130+ miles, averaging 0.65IF. I will gladly let wheels go, because blowing up or cramping in the middle of a gravel race is absolutely devastating.