Question: I began riding last year and recently met my first professional cyclist in person. He’s a good climber on a division 3 U.S. pro team. I’m astonished at how small he is! He looks skinny, emaciated and weak. But I know he can ride circles around me even though I’m an athletic 6-footer and 190 pounds. How can such an unimposing person put out so much power? I want to climb like him! — Bradley N.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: When you’re familiar with athletes in most conventional sports, it’s a shock to see how small and thin top cyclists are.
The rule for climbing prowess: You should weigh (in pounds) no more than twice your height in inches. So at 6 feet (72 inches) you’d need to weigh 144 pounds rather than 190. Pro cycling tends to self-select lean, light-bodied athletes in the same way that the profile of a mastodon is required for football linemen, and the reason 5-foot-something guys play in the NBA only once every couple of decades.
Climbing ability is crucial in racing, and it depends on the power-to-weight ratio. A light rider doesn’t need to generate as much power as his heavier competitor because he has less weight to propel up hills.
Of course, there are exceptions. Five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain is 6-foot-2 and weighed 190 pounds when he began racing. Lots of miles reduced him to 175. At that weight, his huge power output enabled him to ride with the specialist climbers in the mountains even though he outweighed most of them by30-40 pounds. And of course he was nearly unbeatable in flat time trials where weight doesn’t matter much but power output does.
Think of Big Mig and don’t give up hope for climbing well. Continue riding, train on hills and you’ll improve to the limits of your physique.