Former National MTB Marathon Champion Tom Bell turned to hill climbing in 2020 and has since become a force to be reckoned with in the discipline. The 31-year-old is a full-time performance consultant, working alongside his wife, Dr Emma Wilkins, as High North Performance. After finishing second at the national championships in 2020, Bell increased the stakes for this year’s event on Winnats Pass. Here he tells us how he made his final preparations in race week.
How did you start cycling?
I rode non-competitively for a long time, since childhood, and did a few lower level events during high school. When i went to [Leeds] university, I started to take it more seriously by competing for the varsity team.
When did you first start specializing in hill climbing?
I did my first hill climb in college, a student championship, and I was aware, being a light runner, that I was good on the hills. I ran hill climbs sporadically from that point on; in 2015, I was fifth at the Nationals but without having trained specifically for that.
Has your expertise as a performance consultant helped you in your own training?
Yes, I think it has helped me understand which physical traits are most important in rock climbing and how to assess my own physiology through lab tests, as well as which sessions are appropriate for private lessons.
The three-minute effort to Winnats Pass likely required a focus on VO2max?
Yes, VO2max or aerobic capacity is the primary driver. I have a naturally high VO2max [just over 90mL/kg/min], while being limited in other areas such as the economy. Body weight must be a very important factor too? On race day I went from 57kg to 55kg. It’s the first year that I’ve really focused on weight, and I think that was a big part. You have to be careful while reducing weight, make sure that you are feeling good and that your weight-to-power ratio continues to increase.
Profile: Tom Bell
Height: 5 feet 7 inches
FTP: 330W / 5.9W / kg
Lives: Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Races for: High performance north
Best results : 1st – British National Hill Climb Championships, 2021
1st – National MTB Marathon Championships, 2017
What is the most common mistake cyclists make when training?
Try to use high intensity as a shortcut to success. You need enough low-intensity volume year after year as a foundation on which to build. You train to train rather than to run.
Will you continue to combine mountain biking and hill climbing?
I think so. I haven’t done a lot of mountain bike races since the first confinement. I will really be focusing on the hill climb season in 2022 – I see myself as a hill climber first.
Monday: Indoor walk – 1h
Today I took an hour-long indoor walk just because of the bad weather. Ideally, I would have been outside rather than on the Wattbike on Zwift; I just didn’t want to risk getting cold or crashing. It was a steady pace in the 200-210W range. I included a few short efforts of one minute to 90 seconds just above the threshold, to avoid any feeling of lethargy.
Tuesday: Long and regular walk – 3h
It goes against conventional wisdom, but I took a regular three hour walk through the countryside around Harrogate and Ripon. There was no current above about 200W. There was a strong psychological element behind this race: I find that in a week of racing doing something much longer than the race gives me a boost – it feels good and also gives me extra confidence in the race. my endurance.
Wednesday: Reconnaissance race – 1h 40min
It was recognition of Winnats Pass. We rode there, about an hour and a half – I was with an athlete that I coach who was also going to run on Sunday – and then made a race preparation effort on the climb. It was a full racing effort at 472W. There was a strong headwind so it was 20 seconds slower than my race time on Sunday.
Thursday: Regular walk – 1h 20min
Thursday was another easy ride. When I say “easy,” none of this week’s workouts were at the recovery rate. It was again one hour 20 minutes at around 200 W – keeping the training pace but not inducing fatigue. In the week leading up to a race, I need to get on the pace. I have included a few short bursts of one to two minutes above the threshold.
Friday: Tire test ride – 1h 30min
It lasted an hour and a half, again at a steady pace for most of the trip with a few supramaximal gusts. I put a rain specific tire on the back because the race forecast was pretty bad. I wanted to avoid wheel spin on the steeper sections of Winnats. I drove the road up to a local steep climb with a wet surface and did a test drive comparing my regular light tubular tires to wet weather tires. For the race, I chose a Pirelli P-Zero 4S.
Facts and figures
The week: 25-31 October 2021
Site: Harrogate, North Yorkshire
Train for: British National Hill Climb Championships (31 October)
Total riding: 10:30
Zone 3+ effort: 32min
Saturday: Regular ride with pre-race efforts – 1h 20min
It was an hour 20 minutes comprising of a six minute effort with three minutes above the threshold, followed by three minutes just below the threshold. This is to encourage the body to shuttle lactate and use it for fuel. This prepares the body for intense exertion the next day.
Sunday: Race day, National Hill Climb Championships – 40min
I got to Winnats very early at 7am and went up the hill to test the Pirelli tire. It was already raining, so I did a warm-up a little shorter than usual: mostly stable driving with an effort of three minutes above the threshold to initiate the kinetics of oxygen absorption. In the race I felt really good, throwing at 500-550W for the first 10 seconds, then dropping very quickly to the target running power of 475-480W. The crowd was so big I couldn’t see my markers! I was happy with my winning time [3:01], who was seven seconds faster than second Andrew Feather – we both broke the old course record.
This “Week in Training” article originally appeared in the November 25, 2021 print edition of Cycling Weekly magazine. Subscribe online and have the magazine delivered to your door every week.