How to train for long climbs?

I’m planning a climbing race next year (11mo from now) but I’m worried. Even on the specialty phase (climbing Road), exercises like Vennacher on my first week aim for a cadence of 85 minimum.
Some climbs, especially steep ones you just can’t keep this cadence, even more if out of the saddle… so what should I do?

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First, don’t worry about cadence. Self-select the cadence that is most comfortable for you (as it pertains to workouts).

As for workouts, you will find plenty of people who will tell you “watts are watts” and to focus on sustained Sweet Spot intervals. While there is some relevance to this theory, at the end of the day I have always found actual climbing to be extremely beneficial.

So if you have local hills, get out and hit them regularly and ride at the pace you think you can sustain. If you don’t have access to good hills, ride the climbs on Zwift. The Alpe, Epic KOM (both ways, including the radio tower) and the new climb portals all provide long climb simulations, anywhere from ~25 min to well over an hour.

A few years ago, I went on a long weekend cycling trip to NC around Boone…much climbing but I live in Chicago….I would just do repeats on the Epic KOM climb in Zwift. Up one side, descend the other….u-turn at the bottom and go back up. Lather rinse repeat for as long as you wanted. I was in great shape for our trip….(this was before the Alpe had been added to Zwift, otherwise I would have done that, too.)


Awesome, thanks for the tips, that’s what I was looking for, climbs between 30-60 since I don’t have so much time to train outdoors (2x /weeks only) whereas indoor I can train the other days.

Just be consistent and don’t worry about cadence. I lived in the flat land of East England for the last 11years but Ive done OK on mountain trips abroad. You’ll develop a cadence that suits you but looking at the middle climb in the Marmotte my cadence was down at 58rpm on average and my 3 time up Teide 2 years ago I was at 56rpm.


You might try to get a climbing block for under your front wheel on the trainer.

Also living in Chicago, I find that my climbing position taxes my hamstrings more than pedaling on the flats, regardless of cadence or power, and it has led to back tightness in the middle of rides that I’m unaccustomed to if I don’t train for it.

Good luck🤘

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Do you the course profile of the race?

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I think there’s a similar thread but can offer a little guidance.

I live in the Alps, next to a HC climb so I do this regularly. Your cadence will drop significantly. The main issue though is training the body (and mind) to being used to doing somewhat long sustained efforts.

I have to say Alpe du zwift is a pretty good substitute: solid effort for 60m is what you need. So, go for something like a tempo (sweet spot) effort for ~ 60m.

Oh, and fuel well!

Hope that helps,


I live in the alps too! In the last years i had good success with the Gran Fondo plan. You Must be Abel to Ride at Sweet spot or treshold for a longer period of time.



Can’t imagine being in a sweet spot for 60min… gotta train!

Keep in mind 1x60 sweet spot is a tough workout, even at the low end of SS like 85%.

Most people can do it with a bit of training building up to it, but most people can’t do it in the middle of a much longer race, so more likely you’d be going up that climb at tempo, 75-80%.


Hmm that’s a good point! thanks.

While I wouldn’t worry too much about cadence if you feel comfortable, it is perfectly possible to ride climbs at a high cadence, you just need lower gears. Obviously depends on your setup and fitness, but if you are going somewhere hilly, go for the lowest gears you can easily swap in!

I think I’m going to disagree with a couple of people… if you’re a very experienced cyclist and have done numerous alpine climbs, then you could not worry about cadence.

But if you are following a TR plan and doing almost every session at 85 rpm and not actually training on real climbs, then going out to the alps and trying to ride up long steep things are not going to work out - you’ll run out of gears and be spending 1h29mins riding at 77% of threshold at 60rpm. Which is miserable if you’re not expecting it. And yes, unfortunately those are real numbers.

So, have a look at best bike split and gear calculators and so on, work out what your FTP and gearing will have you doing in terms of cadence, and then do sustained climb simulations in TR or Zwift, or local hill repeats at about that rpm. And/or get a bigger cassette.


My opinion:

If it’s a longer race with a lot of climbing, Just select the Gran Fondo and don’t overthink it. You can always do low cadence intervals on the trainer if you want. I can stand and do 50-60 RPM on mine no problem. I don’t have a rocker plate either. Adding in steady Z2 and recovery rides on top of your workouts to build volume helps too, just make sure you’re not adversely impacting your workouts wit the extra volume/intensity.

If it’s a longer race, Sweet Spot and Tempo work will help. I was training for Leadville this year and I think my longest Sweet Spot workouts ended up being 3x30 @ 90% with 5 minutes rest, and then 4x25 @ 90% with 5 minutes rest. I did tempo workouts of about 84% of 120 minutes outdoors as I got even closer, followed by another 2-3 hours of endurance.

Cadence wasn’t an issue for me, it was pretty rare I was cranking at a low out of the saddle speed. I was mostly spinning at my normal 85-95 the entire race except for a short sections were I was being forced to go over FTP.

I don’t think I really did much Low Cadence work and I was fine.

But, as mentioned above, make sure you choose your gearing correctly too. I’d rather spin out occasionally than not have enough gear for the climbs.

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What climb are you training for? If it’s something that’s just consistently steep the whole way (e.g. Mt Washington), it probably makes more sense to choose the time trial training plan instead of climbing road race. Also you would probably want to get a cassette that will let you stay in a comfortable cadence, e.g. a MTB cassette with a derailleur hanger extension.


Get some big gear low cadence (40-60 rpm) tempo sessions into your plan. Don’t go mad to start, just 10 mins at low cadence, 5 mins recover and build up number of intervals. I prefer these outside on a hill about 3-4%, nothing too steep. But use whatever local terrain suits. You can do these on the flat but slight uphill helps. I’ve never done them on my trainer as it wheel on and rubbish at such low cadence.

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My cassette have only 11-30 and 11-34 options (Shimano Dura-ace / Ultegra 12s) so I can’t have that High Cadence on steep climbs for long.

If you have a climbing race you can always change your cassette or from drive so you do not run out of gears?

What chainrings are you using? You can go to a 50/34t compact setup and have a 1:1 bailout gear…which is pretty low for the road.