The key components to attacking on a climb are explosive power, positioning, and the ability to preserve energy. Depending on how long the climb is, there are finishing climbs where sprinters such as Peter Sagan can win.
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Good out-of-the-saddle power, where the rider flows with the bike, at the same time as transferring all power to the pedals is not unlike a sprint. This skill cannot be utilised from the back of the bunch, or when the rider is fatigued…
Peter Sagan is good at everything. He can follow accelerations in the saddle or out of it. He is a master of positioning himself in the right place with the least energy expenditure. If you have the right physical attributes, you also need bunch positioning skills, as well as knowledge of the run into the climb.
The key physical attributes that contribute to Sagan’s mastery include being strong out of the saddle, explosive and having exceptional anaerobic ability. These days we are seeing riders who excel at punchy climbs being a bit more muscular than years ago.
They definitely spend time in the gym to make sure they are a more complete rider, capable of high, shorter duration power (less than five minutes), as well as high threshold power.
As with all the top racers, Sagan is able to position himself well, and definitely has reliable teammates to assist him here. Good bike handling skills, understanding the flow of the bunch, especially leading into the climb, and being able to pedal in any conditions are crucial.
He knows when to attack and how hard, in a way that will give him the best advantage over the rest of the bunch. He has trained this skill repeatedly, knowing exactly what the outcomes will be.
Sagan and his team will have done their homework on the final kilometres before key sections of the race (hills, cobbles, narrow roads). For example, in the Classics a lot of the time he’ll have done a five-minute zone 4/5 effort (75–85 percent of his V02 max) to make the first 15 riders, then attack at maximum, and settle back into zone 4/5 until things settle down.
Knowing he’s done the hard work and his body is capable of this will definitely make life a lot easier.
I always give core workouts to my athletes because the body needs to be solid and stable, and all the power goes down to the road (not lost on its way to the pedals).
Every pedal stroke counts when you might only be doing 100 revolutions in an all-out attack. After injuries, re-establishing your core is paramount. These days a lot of riders are also doing extra weight training too.
A lot of riders get their work wrong because they are too focused on their FTP (Functional Threshold Power — the highest average power you can sustain for an hour) and don’t train the higher power, shorter duration efforts.
Reading a race is pivotal if you expect to get a good result, so train in the right areas and zones. If you are not good at punchy climbs, it can be trained and improved.
The Golden Rule: stay in the moment
The most important thing about racing well is understanding the bunch, the tactics needed to put yourself in the right place to be able to use your strengths.
Power meters are great for training, and to look back at after a race, but racing is about being in the moment and doing what is required to be able to put yourself in a winning position.
In training you can work on your weaknesses, but in a race you need to do everything you can to put yourself in a position to make the most of your strengths.