Up we go again: ten tips for riding in the mountains
It's time to look to the mountains again. From grand tours to charity challenges, the hills are alive with the sound of clicking shifters and exhausted groaning. It's an alpine orgy of pain and perseverance and we can't get enough of it.
We know tackling these rock monsters isn't going to be easy, but that doesn't necessarily mean we are at all prepared for what lies ahead - even those of us who do an alp or two for breakfast can forget just how tough it can be. The mind is incapable of remembering pain, which is good because if it did, once would most certainly be enough when it comes to climbing a mountain on a bike.
Riding up mountains is a game played out within your head as much as a physical challenge, and there are a few steps you can take to ease your journey.
1: Be prepared: Take the time to study the profile of the climb or climbs over dinner the night before, to give you a rough idea of what to expect. It will help you cope on the day.
2: Study the weather forecast: Also, remember that the tops of the high mountains such as the Alps, Dolomites and Pyrenees are hostile places. It could be 40 degrees in the valley and zero at the summit.
3: Take a jacket: Waterproof, windproof, whatever. Make sure it's light enough to slip unnoticed into a pocket. You'll be thankful of it when you get to the top, and on the way down the other side.
4: Fill your bottles: One with energy drink, the other with plain water. If you have one, take an energy sachet or a couple of gels too. But only ever fill one bottle with drink. You might need the water to pour over your head.
5: Establish a rhythm early: The sooner you settle in to a comfortable tempo, the better you will feel. The emphasis is on comfort here. Better to feel as if you're spinning freely on the lower slopes than running out of gears and struggling at the top. And whatever you do and no matter how far up you are, never push yourself into the red.
6: Go at your own pace: It is unlikely that you will ride at the same pace as your partners. Don't strain yourself to keep up with them and don't hold yourself back for them either.
7: Try to save at least one gear for emergencies: No matter how steep the incline gets, do your best not to run out of gears and always keep one in reserve. Only use it when you absolutely need to. This is a psychological trick as much as a physical one - it is reassuring to know you're not maxed out on your cassette.
8: One pedal stroke at a time: There will come a time when you are over an hour into your climb and the top is nowhere in sight. Your mind will be playing tricks on you, telling you to stop, that there is no point in going on. This is a mental wall and you have to push through it. At this moment, concentrate on single pedal strokes and remember that each of them takes you a fraction further up the mountain. And focus on making it to the next switchback, then the next.
9: There's no shame in pausing: If you really, really, really feel you can't go on or the heat and exertion is making you feel unwell, pull over, preferably near a mountain stream so you can cool yourself down with some ice water - it works wonders at resetting your internal thermostat.
10: There's a summit to every mountain: Nothing goes on forever, and a mountain has to peak at some point. When you're labouring away on the switchbacks, it might seem as if you will never reach it, but as sure as night becomes day, you will. And that moment is one to savour for ever more. You will remember every mountain you ever climbed on a bike, and that's what makes all the pain worthwhile.
Now go out there and ride one.