Pacing without a Powermeter

Hi all,
I will be riding the La Marmotte sportive next year which at 173km and over 5,000m of climbing including Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraph, Col du Galibier and finishing on the Alpe d’Huez. This will be my biggest ride yet although I have done several 160km rides but with no where near the same amount of climbing.

My question is how should I pace this ride without a powermeter? I train with a smart trainer so use the power data from that for my training. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

If you’re used to riding with power, you can get a pretty close idea to where you need to be by feel. If you’re not going to have a powermeter to help gauge effort, you could use VAM to help gauge effort? I’d also be pretty conservative with the effort early on as that’s a lot of altitude to get up!!!

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You could use a heart rate monitor

Unless you are a pro I think most riders would find it difficult to get to the end of that ride and feel like you’ve underachieved and you’ve got plenty left in the tank! Start easily and enjoy the ride which should be an incredible experience.

The power you put out will be to a degree selected for you by the gearing you choose as much as your legs so give that some thought. They are all long climbs so start them steadily, know the length of each one before you start so you can judge your effort. As @Dave says use a HR monitor as well.

If it all goes really wrong and you find you’ve paced it badly and loads of energy left at the foot of the final climb just go for the Alpe D’Huez KOM to finish off the day :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Thanks all for your replies. Would my heart rate be comparable to what I see on the trainer bearing in mind the different conditions?

Just 8 months after buying a road bike I did a 4700m / 188km one-day event over 5 mountain passes. A new rider at maybe 2.7 or 2.8 W/kg, and having trained mostly on the flats, I was getting passed uphill by most riders even some guy in his 70s LOL.

Stuck to my 135bpm “can ride uphill all day” pace that I determined on three earlier 160km training rides in the nearby mountains. Knocked it out in 11 hours and 15 minutes (moving time). PR’d the final 14km of last 24km climb - 2 weeks prior we had ridden that portion of climb about halfway into last of the 160km training rides.

My HR on long TR intervals at 70% ftp is about 126-130bpm. Without a power meter I’m not sure what intensity I rode that epic 5 pass climbing ride.

Last year I did a 320km double century with 2520 meters climbing at 67% intensity (power meter) at 130bpm average HR and finished in 12 hours and 45 minutes moving time. Very different ride, no HC climbs on that one.

If you cant ride the actual climbs, you could ride the route/climbs using Bkool on your Smart Trainer.

This would allow you to work out estimated times for various sections/climbs.
Then use goal times with Strava Segments.
Maybe break up the big climbs into say 10km sections and ride them at a set time using Strava Goal for pacing.
Have a look at the climbs on Strava and see what people/friends you are similar to in terms of speed/ability are climbing at and then set goal times and try to ride to that pace.

Im doing Peaks Challenge in Australia next year which is 235km and 4500 metres climbing roughly. I have power meter and have just come back from riding the main climbs so now I have an understanding of my times but could get a basic idea using Bkool as well.

I have a power meter and will use Best Bike Split for pacing strategy. While I was climbing individual climbs at 0.8 to 0.9 IF, obviously i will be going a lot easier on event day as it will be a 10 hour event for me.

Hope this helps. Im not a expert, so take this with a grain of salt. :slight_smile:

Thanks all, some really helpful suggestions here.

Depending on the time of year, be careful how hard you go with regards to the heat. I went in September this year and around 35c going up Alp D’huez. Ride very very within yourself just to be safe imo.

Here’s my ride i did that went up The Telegraph, Galibier & alp D’huez. Going up the Glandon too would have probably killed me

Hello, I think my first question would be what is your experience like in the Mountains? You mention that you haven’t done a climb with this level of climbing before. If you haven’t cycled in ‘real’ mountains before I highly recommend (if it is possible), having a practice run. A couple of days where you ride some serious elevation will give you the best idea, not just of pacing, but also critically of altitude, hydration and fueling. It will also give you confidence if you are able to cover say 4000m in training. It is hard to replicate the constant pedaling required on long climbs in high mountains anywhere else. You can obviously do hill reps, buy a wahoo climbr, put your front wheel up on a block whilst using a turbo. General guide is get your FTP as high as possible, be as light as possible (both man and machine) - get some lightweight climbing wheels.

Beyond this, if you have no power meter, then HR and VAM will be the next best option. Remember the HR can go really AWOL in the first couple days in the mountains. Unless you are seriously gifted, then the answer to your pacing will be ‘slow’. The reality of 7% average for 90 minutes is some very low cadence, so I would advise a 32 on the rear (don’t be shy - Froomey uses one)., this could seriously save you at the end of the day.

Finally - on the day - don’t get overexcited - a conservative pacing strategy with a negative split, so you are passing others in the final 50km, rather than being passed will feel so much better and probably give you your best time.

Thanks both, I have a 32 on my climbing wheels at the moment and even have 36 that I have never used as well !!

Living in the south of England there are no climbs around here that would even come close to the ones I will be tackling and I wont be able to get any more tine away to get some practice in i’m afraid.

If I was to use HR then I am guessing I should look to stay in the Aerobic Endurance zone (zone 3) for most of this ride which for me is between 138-149 BPM. My Max being 184 BPM?

Ideally yes. But it will be all but impossible to stay in that zone on the long steep climbs. Here, you may stray up into higher zones. I find it helpful to have a heart rate alarm that goes off if my heart rate gets too high, and then I make a note to slow down - which sometimes requiring grinding out a very slow cadence in easiest gear. Also - go with your 36 cassette!

This is a classic thread and something I repeat often, try learning to ride on feel, not enough people do it or can manage it.
Use the tools you have now, power meter, buy a HR monitor and understand what it feels like to ride at various intensities whilst looking at the numbers. Trainer workouts will feel harder than road sessions, but keep an eye on the numbers and try to remember what it feels like. Perform this over the many months leading up to the event and you should be fine.

Remember, nutrition plays a huge part in long distance rides. It’s easy to say sit at x watts or x BPM but without the correct nutrition those numbers will be pointless as they won’t be attainable.

I trained for my ride in the flats, before buying a Kickr and signing up with TR. This GCN video:

has a lot of great tips for outside riding. It is flat where I live, and we are blessed with strong winds coming from the Bay Area. My training involved one hour rides into the wind, sitting up, in sweet spot and threshold (HR based).

With TR now, for 1-3 hour climbs I would focus on SSB-HV, Sustained Power Build, and either 40K TT or Century specialty. Earlier this year I finished week 5 of SSB1-HV with a 2.5 hour climb in the Sierra mountains. It was a fairly steady 5% grade and all the sweet spot work made a huge difference as compared to my unstructured outdoor prep for the 2016 epic ride.

My max HR is 175bpm, and my “climb all day” HR pace is 135bpm and if I had to give a range it would be 135-145bpm.

If there are steep pitches in the 8+% range then a 36 will give you a break and allow for a more aerobic effort in 80rpm range.

Thanks all for your input here, some very useful advice.

HR is good. But I’ve definitely seen big differences in HR between a certain wattage on the trainer and the same wattage in a hot country.

Another simpler tactic is breathing. Do long intervals on your smart trainer at the intensity you want to tackle the climbs. 10 minutes into an interval, what’s your breathing pattern? Once every 3 pedals, once every 4? Try to replicate that on the climbs and if it’s getting too difficult to breathe at that rate, slow it down a bit (or give it a bit more if you’re barely breathing at all).

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