The Climber in a Gorilla Suit

There is a force upon this world which governs all manner of voodoo and wizardry. This force ensures the streak in your windshield wiper is always precisely at eye level. It ensures that the phone call goes to voicemail just as you touch the “answer” button. It ensures that a product which you endlessly encountered but did not need will vanish into oblivion the moment it becomes of use.

The more time I spend as a Cyclist, the more apparent it becomes to me that this force also controls which of us are to become good climbers or bad climbers. I will never be a good climber, however much I enjoy it; I am much too big for it. But I climb well enough for my weight because I enjoy the work and the suffering. I enjoy testing to see how far I can push myself.

I see small, powerful riders and I imagine they must go uphill like a whisper on the wind, but when the climb comes, they drift back in the group and disappear down the road the wrong way. The mysterious force has decreed that they shall not be a good climber, especially for their weight.

Most mysterious is the large rider who goes uphill like a beast; they are too big, too heavy, and too strong to defy gravity like the mountain goats do, with none of the grace and fluidity that the true grimpeur holds. Yet they go to the front and heap coals on the fire, sending everyone on their wheel deep into the pain cave. This rider is the Climber in a Gorilla Suit, and they are the sleeper agents of the peloton.

Look out; there likely is one lurking on the group ride tonight.

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75 Replies to “The Climber in a Gorilla Suit”

  1. The thought of stage 9, TdF 1995, when Indurain lit it up on his way to second place (behind Alex Zulle) and to hear Phil Ligget say, “is as if someone threw a bomb amongst the breakaway, and spread it all over La Plagne”.  It just gives me goosebumps to think about it.

  2. i’m a sadist not a climber

    I find the steep hills just to feel the pain

    even when i’ve been dropped

    i like to see the elevation gain

  3. I too will never be a very good climber. I like it well enough. I love the feeling of pushing and getting to the top. In my prime, I was always one of the lighter guys, but always the slow one going up. I was always very fast on descents, and still am, (though not quite as fast, which I put down to becoming aware that danger is a real thing some time in my mid twenties). I suppose it should be the other way around, but that’s just how it is.

  4. Frank, Frank, Frank… I had always imagined that I was a good climber in my early USCF days. And did everything a good climber ought to do, even using whatever gear that was deemed proper by my Campy mechanic. The past few years have made me wonder though if I ever was a good climber in the first place. Since I still somewhat believe it and associate myself with the good climber days gone by – I must still be a good climber. The associative property.

  5. First one that come to mind is Indurain.  There’s a reason they call him Big Mig.

  6. …and, as Paul Sherwin would say, “there’s Big George Hincapie dragging his huge carcass up the mountain”. Classic.

  7. @Rusty Gramm

    Well said Rusty. I’m about to take part in an event that on day one at about the 80km mark we hit the Toowoomba Range via Murphy’s Creek. This is a 21 degree average 1.2km climb. I’m 188 cm and weigh about 97kgs. It’s going to [email protected]#%ing hurt. Looking forward to it though.

  8. Love it!

    There was a big fella on the club ride on Saturday that was a pure marvel – guessing he would go 225lbs or so and he absolutely crushed hills with a cadence usually reserved for track riders and hummingbirds. Looked like he had a 32 on the back and as soon as the roads turned skyward his legs would start to blur and off he’d go!

     

  9. I think I’m a bad climber. I’m from that little dirty country where great cyclists had born: Nairo Quintana, Mauricio Soler, and the almighty Luis Herrera, the best cyclist in the world at the 80’s, but that didn’t made up for me for being a good climber.

    I’ve lived all my life beyond 2600 meters above sea level, but I’m still a bad climber. It’s not just for my weight (68~70 Kg, although I’m just 173 cm): my blood takes a little part. There’s something on it that makes me sweat with even just thinking to go to ride.

    When I go for a ride with my friends I seem to do that little climbs very easily while they struggle, but when I see all that other people just hammer that hills at 300% the speed I go, I feel pain a little bit more on my legs.

  10. Same force that always hides the valves when you want to check your tyre pressure, but leaves them sticking out like Fonzies sore thumbs whenever you want to take a picture.

  11. >>> This force ensures the streak in your windshield is always precisely at eye level. It ensures that the phone call goes to voice mail just as you touch the “answer” button <<<

    I can get over the latter, no biggie, but the former ? Will drive me nuts.

    A climber in a gorilla suit is inspiring. Gotta love it. That’s fun.

    The friggen streak though?? Arghhh

    Cheers

     

     

  12. @Oli

    thanks for pointing that out, although i feel that with that typo i became a sadist.  with climbing the only one i’m ever going to hurt is myself.

  13. @Cammo71

    that sounds like an epic ride.  making oneself hurt while climbing is akin to going out to looking for the man with the hammer, pain will come, but after the pain come glorious relief.  plus the post ride shower beer become all the more worthy

  14. At 174cm and 65kilos I go up hill pretty well.  Road races with long sustained climbs, many of them, gives me the best opportunity to podium.  However, I wish that I was considered an all-around rider.  Being a respectable climber with an engine for the flats and a powerful sprint would be ideal.  Consider yourself lucky @frank.  I am pack fodder in most Cat 3 crits.  Those big boys can drill it.  I got on the podium once last season due to a second to last lap crash that took out the leaders.  Since crits are crashy, I may podium again…

  15. Fuente was a classic grimpeur, but he would crack like a baby when Eddy pushed him. Long live the strongmen!

  16. Brilliant stuff, Frank; Kudos.

    On top of the voodoo and wizardry governed by this force you so aptly describe, there’s the additional mystery of ‘the good leg day’. back in the 70’s and early 80’s, I rode lots of climbs in the company of two riders: one who was about my own size (1.90 m. and change, and around 80 kg at the time), and one short and sinewy lightweight who always, always streaked ahead on the climbs and left us in the dust…

    … except one day, when I followed him all the way up an Alpine climb. I asked him later whether he felt he had been climbing much worse than usual, but he claimed that wasn’t the case at all. For some odd reason, I had managed to don the gorilla suit that day. Never experienced this in quite the same way before or since. Felt good, though.

  17. Very nice Frank, but i have a confession to make;   i’ve yet to test myself on a real mountain.  The rolling hills of PA has been the most challenging climbs i’ve faced, not to degrade them, in the roads that surround the beautiful Amish built homes and sculpted farms hides the Man with the Hammer.  And Its not for lack of desire i haven’t done so yet, just lack of roads that point up.  I’m forced to do hill repeats on bridges for training.  On my to do list this summer is to drop the family at a camp site for a day, find a mountain i can’t see the top of and just go.  Any suggestions for the mid atlantic area?

  18. @hudson

    Very nice Frank, but i have a confession to make; i’ve yet to test myself on a real mountain. The rolling hills of PA has been the most challenging climbs i’ve faced, not to degrade them, in the roads that surround the beautiful Amish built homes and sculpted farms hides the Man with the Hammer. And Its not for lack of desire i haven’t done so yet, just lack of roads that point up. I’m forced to do hill repeats on bridges for training. On my to do list this summer is to drop the family at a camp site for a day, find a mountain i can’t see the top of and just go. Any suggestions for the mid atlantic area?

    come over to Lancaster County and i’ll help you find some pretty decent climbs, up to Turkey Hill from either direction is one of the better climbs, or we can Head to Welsh Mountain or Mt. Gretna, not real euro mountains, but all pretty challenging

  19. Interesting comment from Luke Rowe in the context of a number of isolated large climbs vs a relentless onslaught of weather and terrain.  We might not have many large mountains but our roads tend to go straight up what we have and we do have weather.

    Oddly Box Hill has a reputation for being challenging but it’s one of the few climbs that zig zags and there are at least 4 climbs in that vicinity that are far more difficult.  Then again I guess that’s just why Box Hill has it’s reputation, most people can get up it without walking – and the view is pretty decent from the top.

    Anyway see here for Luke Rowe’s comment  http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/the-uk-is-the-worlds-hardest-place-to-race-says-team-skys-luke-rowe/

  20. I’m about 3 years from peaking right now, but when I managed to hit the road regularly people commented on how long this rouleur body could hang with the grimpeurs – and there was always the descent if they managed to get clear from me. My wife was always on me to drop some pounds to be good. I reminded her that that would require ignoring work and family. Of course, the bike does come first.

    Now I’d just like to ride more often. Ah, life.

  21. @Rusty Gramm

    i’m a sadist not a climber

    I find the steep hills just to feel the pain

    even when i’ve been dropped

    i like to see the elevation gain

    It does clear the mind, doesn’t it?

  22. @hudson

    Start with Hawk Mountain Road from either side, although the approach to the top is longer from the Kempton side, so maybe a little more difficult.  The ride up from Drehersville isn’t long, but the grade near the summit is a killer (my car doesn’t like it).  Or try Route 501 from Pine Grove to Bethel, its just a long grind.

    There are probably some other routes that are equally tough either to the west or east, but these are not too far from Lancaster County.  I think that the Hawk Mountain route was included in the Tour Du Pont back when that race still existed.

     

     

  23. Gorilla in a Gorilla suit here.  No fooling anyone on that.  I just settle into my rhythm and I’m good to go for a long time.  I don’t even really enjoy the climbs but living in CO does make it a bit difficult to avoid them.

    I recently traveled to Chicago and was very surprised that we tipped less than 200m of climbing on an 86 km ride.  I think half of that came from riding up onto an overpass and an elevated train track converted to bike path .  I don’t have many options from home where I can avoid that on the first 10 km of a ride.

  24. I assumed this was going to be about Carlos Betancur

    In the first of Movistar’s winter training camps, Carlos Betancur didn’t look like a cyclist. “He was, how to say it, chubby”, said one member of staff….

    The kid had talent. He had proved himself as a sparkling climber in the Giro and as a powerful uphill finisher by putting two stages and the GC of the 2014 Paris-Nice under his (tight) belt, all while being 5kg above his ideal weight….

    “It takes guts to be like him”, one summarised. “He is hors de logique — beyond any logic — and we don’t quite understand him”, then-teammate Jean-Christophe Péraud said in an interview from last year.

     

    http://cyclingtips.com/2016/05/class-over-kilos-the-promising-return-of-carlos-betancur/

  25. @Rusty Gramm

    @Jay

    I believe there is an assumption that i live in PA, I freakin wish, beautiful state, love the hills too.  I’m in DE (no hills).  I was riding in PA on a weekend trip. However, next time i’m there i will be looking for those roads (and maybe some folks to suffer with).

  26. @hudson

    I hear Amish country and I usually assume PA or OH, not Delaware, but any time you need a tour guide in Lancaster, hit me up.

  27. @Erik

    @Rusty Gramm

    i’m a sadist not a climber

    I find the steep hills just to feel the pain

    even when i’ve been dropped

    i like to see the elevation gain

    It does clear the mind, doesn’t it?

    you can usually only think one of three thoughts: ‘why am i doing this’ or ‘just a little farther’  or ‘you can do this you fat lug’  but usually, no thoughts occur, just breathing and pain

  28. @GoldenGorilla

    Gorilla in a Gorilla suit here. No fooling anyone on that. I just settle into my rhythm and I’m good to go for a long time. I don’t even really enjoy the climbs but living in CO does make it a bit difficult to avoid them.

    I recently traveled to Chicago and was very surprised that we tipped less than 200m of climbing on an 86 km ride. I think half of that came from riding up onto an overpass and an elevated train track converted to bike path . I don’t have many options from home where I can avoid that on the first 10 km of a ride.

    Sounds about right. I go to Chicago regularly and overpasses would be about the biggest “hills” they have. Go to go to southern IL for the hills, but then you’re in southern IL . . . just head north to WI and all’s good!

  29. Dumoulin sprung to my mind too, especially after his terrific Vuelta effort last year.

    I walk a thin line between being a fairly good and not-great grimpeur, depending on what weight I’m at. In 2014, I was 1.78 m and 72 kg, but not training as much as I’d have liked. Then I got married and started training more (and riding to work, on my surprisingly heavy Boardman), and have shifted up to a concerning 85 kg. Some of that is definitely muscle mass, as my guns are in the best shape they’ve ever been, but equally my mid-section is carrying far more than 18 months ago.

    I think if I maintained the level of training I’m at now, and lost a bit of the belly, I could transition into this gorilla-suited climber Frank describes. There’s a target for me!

  30. @kixsand

    Love it!

    There was a big fella on the club ride on Saturday that was a pure marvel – guessing he would go 225lbs or so and he absolutely crushed hills with a cadence usually reserved for track riders and hummingbirds. Looked like he had a 32 on the back and as soon as the roads turned skyward his legs would start to blur and off he’d go!

    There was a young buck on the ride I’ve been doing on Saturdays who holds the same magical power. I’m a classic Rouleur but climb better for my weight than most of the other big fellas.

    Very annoying when a heavier rider drops me.

  31. @@1km2go

    The thought of stage 9, TdF 1995, when Indurain lit it up on his way to second place (behind Alex Zulle) and to hear Phil Ligget say, “is as if someone threw a bomb amongst the breakaway, and spread it all over La Plagne”. It just gives me goosebumps to think about it.

    Totally, right? What a race. Mig did a few really good climbs. Oh, how that man must have suffered. Gianni Bugno was another who could go well uphill for being too big to climb like that.

  32. I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

  33. @frank

    @kixsand

    Love it!

    There was a big fella on the club ride on Saturday that was a pure marvel – guessing he would go 225lbs or so and he absolutely crushed hills with a cadence usually reserved for track riders and hummingbirds. Looked like he had a 32 on the back and as soon as the roads turned skyward his legs would start to blur and off he’d go!

    There was a young buck on the ride I’ve been doing on Saturdays who holds the same magical power. I’m a classic Rouleur but climb better for my weight than most of the other big fellas.

    Very annoying when a heavier rider drops me.

    Well I certainly wasn’t going to let the fat bastard drop me…just took a little longer to reel him in and slide past him before the top of the hill. I was however appreciative of the effort and was happy to provide him with a larger than normal draft so that he could get his shit together once over the hill. 

  34. @hudson

    I did presume that you were from Lancaster.  Depending on which area of Delaware that you reside I am sure that there are some beautiful rides, albeit, flat.  Although, an almost completely flat century ride does have a certain appeal (can you say PR?).

  35. @gilly

    I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

    You don’t need mountains then.

    I’m a pretty good climber because I can sit on a decent power number and hold a good pace. So when I went to visit my son at Exeter university last October and thought I’d take a spin around Dartmoor I mapped out a route and didn’t really look at the profile. OMG.

    Forget steady power, it was out-of-the-saddle maximum effort just to keep the bike moving. I can imagine doing those on a regularly basis would require considerable self-reflection.

  36. @gilly

    I don’t have any mountains close by, but I do have Dartmoor. You learn a lot about yourself climbing on the moor!

    One of the places I fancy doing a loop round.  Used to be our CCF playground when I was at school in Taunton.  Spent quite a few days tramping and camping around the moor (and the Quantocks) on CCF exercises firing of blanks at each other in .303 rifles.  Never be allowed to do that with security these days.  Bleeding freezing in winter in days before sewn in groundsheets in tents – and pretty indifferent sleeping bags.

  37. @Jay

    Yeah, not from PA, I’ve just been fortunate enough to ride there.  Delaware does have some decent rides, but its really got nothing on PA unless your in love with the beach, which i’m not.  But what i’d really like is to point my bike uphill and ride for a few hours, just to see how my body reacts.  Inspired by @frank ride.

  38. @hudson

    @Jay

    Yeah, not from PA, I’ve just been fortunate enough to ride there. Delaware does have some decent rides, but its really got nothing on PA unless your in love with the beach, which i’m not. But what i’d really like is to point my bike uphill and ride for a few hours, just to see how my body reacts. Inspired by @frank ride.

    @hudson @Jay

    Maybe we can arrange a PA Cogal later this coming summer.  I’ll be in Montana for the month of July (fly fishing and riding – life is tough), but I live in PA and would be game for a cogal in early August.

  39. @Sparty @hudson @jay  i’d be game for a PA cogal, theres probably enough guys in the local club that would be interested to make it an interesting day

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