How to climb out of the saddle like… Alberto Contador

Boost your pace, and look good while you’re doing it

While climbing in the saddle is widely considered to be the most efficient way of getting from the bottom of a climb to the top these days, nothing beats the feeling or the spectacle of getting out of the saddle to inject pace into your effort, or on the steepest of slopes, just to keep going!

No one does that better than multiple Tour, Giro and Vuelta winner, Alberto Contador. His smoothness and ability to shoot forward as he stands on the pedals are no accident but the result of faultless technique, so what can we mere mortals learn from him?

Tim Elverson, general manager and directeur sportif with the Bike Channel-Canyon pro team, and former Elite level racer now coaching and managing the UK based UCI Continental team, gives us his tips on how to get out of the saddle like a pro:

1. Timing is everything

Strike on a climb
Strike on a climb

When the pace eases, people are tiring, so it’s the right time to leave the saddle to attack.

By leaving the saddle Contador can keep his legs free and stop lactate build up, and, because he’s confident, he’ll know that others must be suffering too so will increase that by upping the pace.

2. Dance class

Maintain cadence
Maintain cadence

When Contador stands up he maintains his cadence. It requires a technique called ‘dancing on the pedals’.

You’re not driving through every pedal stroke like a powerful rider on a cobbled climb might, you’re still pedalling quite lightly, and it’s only lighter riders who tend to do that.

3. Gain momentum

Move forwards, not backwards
Move forwards, not backwards

It’s common for a rider getting out of the saddle when they are tired to lose momentum, whereas Contador gains it.

When people get up and their bike moves backwards, that’s because their legs are burning and they aren’t using their bodyweight to push the bike forwards.

4. Core audience

Work on your core strength
Work on your core strength

Contador needs an excellent core to be able to transition, keep the cadence rolling, and shift his bodyweight in front of the bottom bracket to ‘dance’ on the pedals.

If you’re delivering power from in front of the bottom bracket you’re more effective.

5. Raise cadence

Up the cadence too
Up the cadence too

Contador ups his cadence as he transitions, the bike goes forward and he gains valuable metres in that moment. The gear goes up too and so the pace increases.

He’s at low-90s cadence out of the saddle whereas most people slow down their cadence when they get up. 

6. Gym training

Hit the gym
Hit the gym

There’s an awful lot of gym work involved because Contador’s core is as solid as a rock. He hardly moves as he goes up and he’s constantly driving from the waist, not the shoulders.

It’s all lower body, which means his core is solid and he’s getting the most out of his legs.

The Golden Rule

When you want to inject pace do it out of the saddle, but in a light gear — a bigger rider would traditionally get out of the saddle in a bigger gear and drive it, but you can only do that for a short time.

To stay out of the saddle you need to have a high cadence. Contador transitions to standing without his cadence changing. Most people will stand when they feel they’re starting to drag their gear, so change down. It’s not smooth, and doesn’t boost pace.

You’ll lose momentum and the bike will shoot backwards at the point Contador’s shoots forwards, so work on keeping that cadence high as you transition.

This article was originally published in Cycling Plus magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

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