Look Pro, Part VI: Move Sur la Plaque

Look Pro, Part VI: Move Sur la Plaque

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There’s something not quite the same about how the Pros climb and how we climb. They go faster, I suppose. There’s that. They’re skinnier, too, and climb better for their weight to boot. And they’re stronger, that probably helps although I can’t speak from personal experience. I’ve also noticed that while under pressure, theirs is still a Magnificent Stroke, while ours typically start tracing the lines of the Hurt Box. Their cadence exudes Fluidly Harmonic Articulation and hardly seems to notice changes in gradient; whereas the slightest change in pitch brings us to erratically dissonant chaos.

We can go slower and with a less Magnificent Stroke, and still look pretty cool doing it. Speed is relative, and so long as no one else is around, we can look like we’re going fast, too. And we can rock our shoulders and grimace and do it all like the Pros. And then we can practice and practice and practice but there will still be a fundamental element missing, a certain je ne c’est quoi.

And that brings us to Part VI in our Look Pro series.

You know that part of the climb near the top?  That part where it gets less steep?  That part where you ease back and bask in the pain of a job well done? That’s the part where the Pros move Sur la Plaque. In case you don’t speak the language of the peloton, that’s French for, “Put that thing in the big ring, fucktard.”

Aside from a willingness to suffer more than anyone else in the most painful discipline in cycling, the key to being a good climber is to continue to pile coals on the fire as you approach the top of the climb and power over the crest. Per Richard Virenque, 7-times (give or take, its not worth looking up) winner of the competition in the Tour where some sadistic asshole puts a sprint at every hill they can measure:

You have to be able to move sur la plaque as soon as you’re at the top. I generally change gear 300m from the top.

That makes it almost the same as a fact, so take it from Tricky Dicky and think about these points next time you’re shopping at the Five and Dime:

  1. Getting air back in your lungs can wait until the way down. Power over the top and you’ll shed 3/4 of the riders you’re with.
  2. Your body is governed by ancillary concerns like “stopping the intolerable pain” and “not dying”. Those types of concerns have no place in cycling. Like training a dog, the only solution is to teach your body to stop fussing so much by going harder.
  3. Your body gets used to the rhythm of your cadence and will send signals discouraging you from lifting it as the gradient eases. This is what the shifters are for.  Use them to fool your body, assuming your body is as much of a dumbass as mine.
  4. Two cogs roughly equals the big ring.  If you’re going to shift twice, forget the right shifter and go for the left.
  5. As you approach the top of the hill, casually exaggerate the motion of your left hand as you cram it into the big ring and rise out of the saddle to power through. The riders who managed to stay with you will wimper right before the elastic snaps.

Come to think of it, it’s no wonder Maillot a Pois competition is dominated by dopers.

// Look Pro

  1. @Marcus

    Great photo and nice to see him in the Yellow Jersey (Even if it isn’t the right Yellow Jersey) Hopefully a sign of things to come for Cuddles.

  2. @G’phant
    I can’t take credit for that, SWMBO introduced me to Rumpole and so it’s her credit.

  3. I also like to talk up the steep gradients, the ones where everyone you are riding with seems to go quiet and the conversation stops. That, along with an upshift is a good way to put people on notice that your BFGs are working.

    I’m actually pretty good at Sur La Plaque because of how I started riding. I used to shift very rarely, so just pushed the same gear most of the time. I’ve since learned I’ll do better over longer distances & in the long run if I use my range of gears. But, I think my initial style really gave me good strength to climb with.

    Climbing is a beautiful test of your skills as a cyclist, both mental & physical.

  4. I’m making a prediction. I think that Cofidis is going to go after Hushvold in order to regain Pro Tour status.

  5. I have a love-hate relationship with the climb. I look forward to climbing, then my body screams at me to stop during the climb. Afterwords, I feel good and look forward to the next one. A good climb can even ‘wake up the legs’ and make the rest of the ride even better.

    I’m not the best climber ever (it would be more honest to call it ‘piss poor’), but I try and make myself go on at least one good climb per ride, unless I’m absolutely not feeling it, so I can get stronger. It worked out well last summer, and I wound up being able to do decent, if slow, climbs. I’m looking forward to getting that back again as the spring moves along.

    The worst is when I consume a meal then try and ride too soon after… side cramps are the worst and will ruin a climb. Cycling on a nearly empty stomach is really the key for me.

  6. This from the Inner Ring:

    Spare a thought for Taylor Phinney. His father Davis Phinney won the final stage into Geneva in 1988 but this time around, Taylor was on team duty. After working to keep the pace high, Phinney was ejected on a climb and with the race vanishing over the hills, found the riders around him climbing into their team cars. Not wanting to quit, despite injuries from a crash, he kept going only to have the number pulled from his back. He got a map from race officials and kept going. He might be sitting on the fattest contract a neo-pro has ever seen but he’s not the type to sit up. Good for him.


  7. @Cyclops
    I hope Cofidis has the budget. Also hope they lose the red shorts. Will be cool if Hushovd comes back to a Look frame. He last rode one on Credit Agricole.

  8. As for climbing, I used to be pretty good 20+ years ago. Here in the PetroMetro, I sometimes have to ride an overpass. Sometimes I jump a curb. I can shoulder my bike and climb some stairs. I have no idea if I climb well for my weight. Buck Rogers and I are due for a Hill Country ride after he relocates to San Antonio. I guess I’ll find out then.

  9. This reminds me of my first European riding experience, which included a comically slow ascent of the Mortirolo, in which I shamelessly weaved, paperboy-style, just to maintain forward progress. (In my defense, it was before you were publishing this site).

    The week I got home I watched Tonkov and the whole group savagely attack on the same climb. I was speechless as a fully recognized stretches that had made me whimper. They were flying where I had groveled. It was inspiring.

  10. Sur La Plaque has now been adopted for my life off the bike as well. Been working on a very long project and with a few more months of hard work, I’ll have it finished.

    I decided that I need to move Sur La Plaque on this project. It’s in the Big Ring from now until I’m done. Awesomeness! This is giving me the motivation even off the bike to just grind it out.

  11. @Cinghiale

    The week I got home I watched Tonkov and the whole group savagely attack on the same climb. I was speechless as a fully recognized stretches that had made me whimper. They were flying where I had groveled. It was inspiring.

    They had some help, unfortunately. I suppose that would have been 1998, eh? Or 2002?



  13. As you approach the top of the hill, casually exaggerate the motion of your left hand as you cram it into the big ring and rise out of the saddle to power through. The riders who managed to stay with you will wimper right before the elastic snaps

    Unless you are the best there is in your area, to do this in a race is an occasional occurance*: but when you do it is a beautiful feeling. To look back and see a long (or very short) snake or riders in the gutter scrabbling for your wheel. I usually found I was the one looking up from the back of the snake.

    *can count them on one hand

  14. @Mikeweb

    stop stroking yourself mikeweb, it is not becoming

  15. Gilbert on the Belgian Championships:
    “On this type of flat course, everyone has a chance. Even an average rider. I will not ask the team to ride for me because I’m hoping my teammates, some of whom may have difficulty finding a team next year, can also get a result. A victory, even a podium place, can secure their future for the next two or three seasons.”
    Pure class!

  16. @Steampunk
    Gilbert is just the man. Absolutely my favourite rider in the peloton at the moment.
    On another subject looks like Eddie Boss is gonna have his TdF affected by/stop him going to it, by a bout of shingles. So hope he gets better…

  17. How sweet is it that Phil Gil will be pimpin the Belgian National Champion’s jersey at the start of the Tour this week? There is no cooler national champ jersey. It’ll be even sweeter if he’s first across the line after the Gois and wears yellow the next day.

  18. SO well deserved for Phil Gil – what an amazing season he is having. Hopefully no “champion’s curse” for him next Spring..

    Chapeau as well to Chavanel for a well-timed attack to garner the tricolor for the year. Hopefully he’ll wear it as well as Voeckler has for the year past.

  19. Am I the only one who doesn’t really remember Fast Phil riding in FDJ kit?

    Also…how many wins does he have this year? Could it be a low for the Rainbow Hoops? Good trivia, right…what World Champ has won the fewest races in the jersey…

  20. Good Cadel just gave a lesson in moving Sur la Plaque to win himself stage 3 of the TDU and take the overall lead. Coming to the end of the 3.5k @ 7% Corkscrew rd, he took advantage of the gradient easing to around 8% for the last 400m and slammed it in the big dog to stretch the gap between he & two chasers in Porte & Gerrans. Some big balled descending later and he had a 15 second win and a lead that “shouldn’t” be too hard to keep for the rest of the week.

  21. Sounds like Good Cadel repeated his World Championship winning tactics

  22. There’s a bit of footage of the final hill and break here, as well as Good Cadel on the rivet to the finish line.  Great stuff.

  23. That was a fine piece of  bike riding right there, to ride ‘em all off your wheel and smash the descent with a TT finish against 10 guy’s, very impressive.

  24. Good Cadel <a href=inhaling a wasp" width="1150" height="766" />


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