How I taught the STEEPEST stage of the Vuelta – stage 15

By Jennifer Sage On September 3, 2011 Under Outdoor Cycling, Tour de France

Stage 15 Vuelta a Espana 2011

This is Stage 15 of this year’s Vuelta, which will take place tomorrow, September 4th, 2011. I taught this in my class on Thursday, and posted it as a detailed profile for ICA members this past week. The way the climbs are laid out makes for an excellent and exciting profile to teach in your indoor cycling and Spinning® classes.

But….there is something very ominous about this stage. You see that final climb? There is NOTHING, nothing like it in any tour de France stage. It has an average grade of 10%, which is pretty dang hard as it is. But there is one segment that is 23.5%!


The mountaintop finish on the Angliru

Can you even comprehend how steep a 23.5% grade might be? To put it into perspetive, it would be hard to walk up! I don’t think some cars would make it up that steep a grade – and if they did, you’d have to downshift and gun it. To be sure, that steepest segment is only about 50-75meters, but enough pedal strokes to put even the top cyclists into severe anguish. You stop pedaling, you WILL FALL OVER! You can be sure that tonight (the night before the stage), the team mechanics are changing out their gearing, so they won’t suffer quite as much on this final climb. Doing so will take away some of the higher end speed on the flatter segments (because to add a lower gear means you have to take away a higher gear), but no one will complain, I’m sure.

Also note that in this 12.8km climb, there are sustained segments of 12-15%, and before and after the 23.5%, 16-21%! Can you say suffering? The steepest you will encounter int he Tour de France is short segments of 15%, maybe 16%. But at the Tour, you have longer climbs one after the other.

How do you teach such a steep grade in your Spinning® classes? VERY carefully! You would not spring this profile on a new class, or one in which you didn’t know the skill level (or commitment level) of your students. You have to feel confident that they will heed your caution, and not overdo it. Someone who overdoes this and turns on too much steepness that they have to pedal at 20-30rpm and pull on the handlebars to turn the pedals will likely pull a muscle in their backs or injure a knee joint. DON’T do it!

In the written profile I’ve provided for ICA members*, I’ve given you what you need to coach this profile in a safe manner, while still keeping it very challenging. The document is 8 pages long, so you can be sure there are plenty of coaching suggestions. Although that profile is available exclusively for ICA members, I will tell you that I did allow cadence to drop to about 50rpm for this ride, for the short period that would be the steepest parts of the final climb (which was an 8-minute song at 63 bpm/rpm). For those of you who always ride to the beat, this is one of those special moments where you let it slow waaaay down, then use the beat to help bring it back up. When we stood up we tried to bring the cadence up to the beat of the song, but sitting back down (without lowering the resistance) slowed the cadence back down to low to mid 50’s (rpm). Finally, for the 23% segment, even standing up couldn’t bring the cadence back to the beat. I didn’t want to use a slower song because I didn’t want to encourage super high resistance for an entire 8 minutes.

Speaking of the music, I used all Spanish songs, which were awesome! I got some very good comments about the music after class. My students love the variety of new and different music for special classes like this, so I encourage you to do the same thing (or at least use 50% Spanish songs). The entire playlist is on the profile for ICA members (and I give the link for those songs on Spotify – which is all but 3). However, to give you an idea of how fun these songs were, I’ll follow this up with another blog post tomorrow with a Youtube video of a Spanish artist that you are going to love. (Not only because the song is so fun, but because the subject of the video is awesome!)

I had a special guest visiting for this class! ICA member from the UK, Pru, is one vacation in Colorado with her family. She contacted me awhile ago that she would be in the area and that she would love to take one of my classes. I hope she knew what she was getting into! 😉 I had the great pleasure to have dinner with her the night before, then I beat up her legs in this class, then we went to breakfast after my early morning class. As of this writing, she’s still traveling through Utah and Arizona with her family, but said she’d write a comment about the class when she had time.


* ICA members got an extra bonus for this year’s Vuelta: I also have provided two profiles (one audio and one written) that I did for the Vuelta 2010 (these were published last year at the other site in which I was a partner). The audio profile is the Team Time Trial (plus a few small suggested changes for the slightly different terrain on this year’s TTT). The other is Stage 15, a very fun and challenging mountain stage with tips on how to coach attacks and counterattacks. I tell you how to empower your own students to take the initiative and attack on their own. But don’t think that you can only use them for a “Vuelta Stage”. All of these coaching suggestions can be used for any stage race, the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, or even the Tour of California or Colorado!


1 Trackback

  1. High cadence in Spinning
    September 8, 2011 6:02 PM

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pru
    September 8, 2011
    4:44 am #comment-1

    Hi Jennifer!!!
    It was fantastic taking part in your ride and to be on the receiving end of one of your profiles. I’ve never taught a ‘stage’ profile as was not sure how to present it to my class, or how to coach the intensity, however having been a participant, I found it invaluable to see the profile and the gradient of the hills, so I could judge how hard I would need to be working – the up hill compared with the down hill, and the different steepness of each hill. The approach to the second from last hill was fantastic; the class is expecting a flat road, but instead go on to that mild hill which then becomes a big hill. As for that last hill…. what can I say. It took my breath away (but at that altitude, it’s to be expected!). That chance to ease off a tiny amount at about the 5km distance but then to power back up to complete the epic climb made it perfect, along with just the kind of music needed to inspire but to also allow relaxation and concentration.

    I’m going to plan to teach this the next time I teach a class, at my more accustomed sea level altitude. I may even just use this as a training ride on my own. One thing is for certain – taking part in the class has really opened my eyes to the value of simulating the Tour/Gire/Veulta in a class and makes me wish I’d tried it sooner. Thanks Jennifer!!!!

  2. Jennifer Sage
    September 8, 2011
    5:07 pm #comment-2

    Pru, it was so great to have you in my class! Thanks for going out of your way (over an hour drive and early morning). I know that some instructors are tenuous about teaching a stage profile, especially if they are not that familiar with the strategy that goes on in a stage race, but I find them some of the most rewarding types of profiles to teach!

    Hope to see you again here in Colorado! (or maybe in Bristol even!)

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