The Prophet was very clear on how best to ride an individual Time Trial; start as fast as possible and finish as fast as possible. As for the middle, his advice was to ride that as fast as possible.
The same can be said of climbing; as we covered in Part I and Part II of the Sur La Plaque series, the key to climbing well is to hit the bottom as hard as possible, and then move into the big ring as you go over the top in order to finish the climb as fast as possible. As for the middle section; well, hit that as hard as possible and focus on keeping your momentum going.
The trouble is with this pesky notion we have of “gauging our efforts”. Certainly, the perfectly measured climb would result in riding the whole of it à bloc before moving Sur La Plaque over the top, blast down the other side and – just as you hit Escape Velocity – explode spectacularly, using your perfectly honed LeMond Tuck to recover in time to crush it in the valley to the next climb where you repeat the process. Panache.
Panache is a dualistic thing; almost without exception do we admire it in others, and almost without exception are we too cowardly to hold it inside ourselves. Panache doesn’t speak of caution, or of measured action. It speaks of impulse – compulsion, even – to attack despite one’s better judgement. It speaks of throwing caution to the wind. It weighs heavy with the risk of exploding magnificently and trading angel’s wings for the devil’s anchor.
But those who venture freely into that realm have blown up so many times that it hardly features in their reasoning. Pain and climbing are inseparable; what difference does it make if you blow up and suffer a bit more for a bit longer? And, should we blow up often enough, we will learn how to suffer through and push to the top with grace. And perhaps by that same grace, will we recover enough to try again on the next climb.
Vive la chance. Vive le Grimpeur. Vive la Vie Velominatus.
Exhibit A: The master of Panache, Marco Pantani. And the master of blowing with grace, Richard Virenque. For a prime example of how to blow up properly, jump to 2:00.