Out of the saddle

In recent weeks I’ve added a regular self punishing series of hill repeats as I chase my power goal for the year. The key session involves ten ascents up one of Singapore more known climbs, Mount Faber. On any given morning you’ll see dozen pushing themselves up the 1.5 kilometer, 5% average grade. Here in Singapore we aren’t blessed with the epic climbs of the Alps, or even those I grew up with in Melbourne. Instead we are forced to make the most of the terrain we have at our disposal. 

In an attempt to mix things up, my coach will throw small challenges for me in each climb. Such as hold 300 watts, or attack the bottom half and spin the top half. But today’s challenge opened a whole new door for my training. The session involved ten ascents, as usual I go all out on the first climb. But the surprise was ‘Get out of the Saddle for Number Six and Nine’. Now I often get out of the saddle on the climb, especially in the stepper parts. But these instructions were, do the entire 1.5 kilometers out of the saddle.

 
The request left me puzzled. How would my legs respond? Am I actually any good out of the saddle?

Some familiar faces were out, a few of the Specialized Mavericks, plus a few regular faces. Mount Faber offers a surreal start to the day, as I often start pre-dawn and get to watch the sunrise as my legs scream for mercy. Today backdrop watch uniquely stunning, the light cloud cover lite by the rise glow of the sun whispers ‘It’s going to be an amazing day.’ 

When you know you have ten climbs ahead, you develop a sense of patience, creating the opportunity to pay attention to the goal of session, the surroundings, and best of all, you leave you ego at the base of the climb. Over time, I’ve learnt to appreciate the need to experiment, set goals and even try new methods, it rounds the skills and strength of a cyclist.

As I make the U-turn into the sixth ascent, I knew I was about to try something new, but nothing could have prepared me for what came of it. The first 500 meters of the climb is a series for straight climbs that start at a 4% grade, but ramp up to 12%. Often, I don’t feel the need to get out of the saddle until the end. But being out of the saddle the entire climb woke new muscles in my legs. I had to conciously manage my cadence and stroke. I felt like a beginner again, as my body explored new territory. It was far from easy. But I was loving the challenge.

The middle section of Faber is a 200 plateau, it’s still a 3% grade, but off the back of the 12% it almost feels flat. During this part I felt weird being out of the saddle, and I found myself reaching for higher gears to balance my weight forces. Then launched myself into the steepest part of the climb, a small 15% grade up past the entrance to the Henderson Wave. Once again it felt natural out of the saddle, as I powered towards the top. 

The final 300 meters calms down to 8% as the road twists through narrow gaps in the trees, before opening up to the most stunning place to watch the sunrise right before you hang a hard right for the final meters. The most popular Strava segment finishes on the ‘Hump’ words that have been painted on the road just before the crest of the hill, forcing one to push themselves over the top. 

The new approach to the climb was fun, but challenging at the same time. My segment time was nowhere near my PR of 4:07 or the times of my previous six ascents, but I was happy to be taught a new lesson. I’ll look to include more of these variations into my Faber sessions.

What did I learn?

  • Far too many cyclists ‘just climb’, often settling into a repetitive pace which can deflate the motivation of the climb. By mixing up the goals of each ascent, one can re-engage the mind in a series of challenges that help take your mind off 15% grades.
  • I rarely get out of the saddle for extended periods of time, and it showed this morning. If I’m going to build more leg strength and efficiency, I’ll need to do this more often.
  • I add my climbs session to the end of longer group ride, which both warm-ups the legs and helps add some fatigue prior to punishing my legs.

Has anyone else tried to do the entire Faber climb out of the saddle? Or have a totally new approach I haven’t tried before?

4 thoughts on “Out of the saddle

  1. I right with you. I think hill repeats are essential to training! Personally, I climb a section completely out of the saddle the whole time then I climb it again totally seated, just spinning it out. I often will do half and half, spin at the bottom and out of the saddle at the top and visa versa. Do you drop below a certain cadence, like 60 rpm in a big gear to work on strength?

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  2. Hi Scott,
    Been reading your blog for a while and find it very interesting. I gave Faber a dig out of the saddle the other day too after half a dozen warm-up hills to create some fatigue. You’re certainly not alone in it feeling quite different to normal! Changing gear is definitely one thing to overcome but I felt a lot less powerful nearing the Bistro than usual. That said, I had a lot more in reserve when I hit the remainder of my hills loop firmly in the saddle. I’ll be really interested to see whether you find doing regular intervals like that help most with your power, pure climbing speed on longer climbs or bike handling during sprints.

    Good luck balancing Christmas excesses with a training schedule over the next few weeks too! What’s going to be your secret or motivation?

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    1. Thanks for sharing. Experimentation on Faber, and surrounding climbs has seen a huge lift in my motivation lately. It has tapped into my analytical approach to training. So the experiments help me understand my body’s response better. And yes, boost my power. I’m going to try some big gear work this Thursday. And thanks for the support on the blog. Do let me know if there are any topics you’d love to see me cover. Ride on

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