I'm starting to understand why the mental part of hill climbing is said to be the tougher part of it. The biggest limiter in climbing hills is the mind. The limiter is your acceptance that hills must be where you blow up and lose the wheel. It doesn't have to be that way, but to make it different you have to climb with confidence, and climb differently from the spinners. You need to use that sheer power to your advantage.
Now my zen approach isn't going to guarantee you will crush pure climbers, or even the most difficult kind of riders to cope with, the good all-arounders.
The hill thing is funny for a big guy. You have to just understand who you are and how you ride – know that 800+ meter hills won’t be your thing, the goal there is to survive; but 100-200 meter long climbs, and false flats, you can positively crush…
It’s hard to accept that you can actually do well on hills when your mental picture of a “hill” is a painful place where you get dropped by little tiny bastards, the Secret Elephant Graveyard where your races and group rides go to die. You start thinking of yourself as unable to climb.That isn’t the truth. The truth: if you can keep up momentum on a short climb, the advantage you have in the flats - a superior power-to-frontal surface area ratio is as helpful to you as power-to-weight ratio is to the little guys on a long steep hill. That's right, there's a kind of hill where you big guys have an advantage.
The key is to hit the hill fast, and not lose momentum. That may mean going off the front of the group, then 'sagging' back through the gears - keep good pedal pressure on for 6-8 pedalstrokes, then downshift without stopping your pedaling. Cadence is on top of the gear, or nearly on top of it.
To keep up momentum, you may need to dip a little into L5-L6-L7 power - VO2 Max through neuromuscular - but just briefly. That effort level is not long-term sustainable, but if it gets you up over a hill quickly, you can recover.
This approach, going off the front then sagging back slowly (if at all) probably drives the little spinning buggers nuts, but it seems to me a big guy can come through a limited number of rollers with a series of those short efforts and still have fresh legs, and be un-dropped, or even have a gap.
If you do get dropped a little, don't give up hope. At the top of the hill, gas it, hard, and hit the ensuing downhill at a near sprint. Then settle into a tempo push. If you're a big guy, you need to know how to recover at tempo. If you are big, you descend like a rock. Add pedaling at a tempo level of effort, and you will be a rocketship. You should gas it past the little guys before the bottom of the hill. If there's another roller - pedal hard into the next roller and repeat the process.The little guys will go apeshit when you pass them on the downhill and they have to work real hard to catch your wheel - not bloody likely. The downhill was rest they were counting on and they don’t like losing it. Your power preys on their weakness, which is a mental image of “descent” as a hellish place that speeds by faster than they like. It is compounded because a small rider on an ultra-light bike tailored for climbing hops and bounces a bit, maybe gets headshake in the turns and on chop. You, on the that 18 pound beast - you track like a freight train, on freakin' rails baby. The small guys may have to pedal at redline to stay close to you at tempo - force them to do this. Descending while pushing threshold+ power is sketchy, make 'em hurt here.
The gap you can develop in a good set of rollers may shock you. Enjoy the shock, and understand, there's no reason you can't repeat the performance. It's the "Eureka!" moment when you figure this out.
Now no bullshit here, it takes a little nerve to ride it this way, because the first thing that goes through your mind is, “I’m a big dude, I’m not *supposed to be* off the front.” Well, screw that, it’s not about where you are supposed to be, it’s about where you are at, where you actually capable of going.
It's kind of like being on a good wheel going into the last lap of a crit, something I know I can do but have trouble sometimes visualizing, and because I sometimes think I've got no business being there, so this makes it hard to pull off. Screw that noise about how it's not supposed to be - you don't belong someplace else, you belong exactly where you are at any given moment in time, and if you can get to a spot, then damnit, you belong there.
On some kinds of rides, if you're on the right terrain, and you're not outclassed, it will put you out front. I hope your flatland time trialing skills are good. (Of course they are... look who I'm talking to).
On the other hand, on a lot of rides, hills will still be a problem, the longer and the steeper they are, the worse they will be. In those environs, these tactics and your healthier mindset will only work to limit your losses. But on a lot of rides that's enough. Quickly catch the group on the downhill and you'll be okay, and if there's a big flat or false flat following the downhill, you can lay the hurt.
The most important thing about the approach, however, isn't your final placing coming out of the hill - that may be beyond your control. The most important thing is climbing up to your potential, and if you're a big guy, you may not be hitting your potential sitting in with the spinners and desperately holding on. If that's your situation, consider that maybe you have some real strengths that you are overlooking, that might get you out of getting hopelessly dropped hell. Believe you me, getting dropped by 20 yards coming over the top of a hill is infinitely better than getting dropped by 400.
Now a special word about really big hills - the 20+ minute climbs and stuff like that. You are going to have problems on many of those hills. Don't worry about it. At the start of a long climb, tell yourself you are going to ride within yourself. If it helps, wave buh-bye to the people who take off like they were on a ski lift, and you the lift operator. Let 'em go. Now ride up the hill at a level slightly below your threshold. Just get up the damn thing, since it's a long effort going at threshold will probably get you up as fast as you are capable of going. Vary your cadence and gear a little bit if you can - it works the muscles in different combinations and you'll feel a little fresher at the top. Now, you may be wayyy off the back but hope is not lost. The moment you crest the hill, do a short 10 or 15 pedal stroke jump. Then spin like hell. Assuming there is a drop on the other side of the crest, hit it at full steam, and pedal tempo until you catch up. This works like a charm if the little fellas aren't killing themselves to drop you. Sure, the hill kinda kills you here - but the zen strategy, to not worry about it, then ride your part hard, may bring you back up into contact with the group.
rejoin the group, with my tuba. The
Big Dude always plays the tuba. It's a rule.
Thus endeth the hard-earned lesson that took me 3-4 years to really learn. Hope you pick it up faster than me.