How to climb Alpe Du Zwift

(Vince Kim) #1

was just wondering how people preferred to climb AdZ since its a steep/long climb. i see many people grind it up hills on zwift. i feel like 85 would be a good cadence going up adz but what do you guys think. my only climb up adz took me around 1.5 hours. it was brutal.

(Shaun Elphick V52) #2

That cadance seems about right.  From speaking to people who have actually ridden mountains and from my experience in Zwift.  Just get into a “groove” which is manageable for you and…keep going.  Don’t push too hard too early you will pay for it later.  Hare and tortoise seems a good analogy.  Around 1.5 hrs seem the average for us mortals ( i’m 52 and ride at around 2.7-3 W/Kg)

(Martyn Kimberley OP [B]) #3

Personally i prefer a high cadence and it is something that i have trained for over the last few years. I just checked my AdZ climb on Strava and average was 92rpm with peak of 110. [FWIW 63 minutes, average 3.1w/kg, peak of 4.6 w/kg]. I will average 95-100rpm on a flat TT.

There is a fine balance of spinning to keep the leg fatigue low and spinning too high causing your heart rate to rocket, hence continued training of the technique.

The advice above is good, find a gear and get in to a groove. Finding that gear and groove on about a 7% incline, hopefuly with a gear or two to spare, is ideal. You then have a little wiggle room to work the cassette and hold cadence when the incline gets steeper.

(Joe Daknis) #4

I’ve only had one go at it so far, and I was still recovering from a really bad week-long bout w/ flu at the time so… grain of salt. I wanted to ride the mountain (it was the first day), but didn’t want to kill myself either - so I did what I could, effort-wise, w/o pushing *too* hard.  It wasn’t easy, regardless.

I’m 42 yo, 63 kg, riding on an Elite Direto w/ trainer difficulty (realism, or whatever it’s called) set to 100%.

My average cadence on the AdZ strava segment was only 59 - and iirc, that was basically me grinding away in my lowest 2 gears almost the entire time (34t x 25 or 26). 

The rest of the stats:

Speed 6.9mi/h 16.8mi/h
Cadence 59 112
Heart Rate 159 bpm 171 bpm
Power 189W (3 w/kg) 364 W (5.8 w/kg)
VAM 945  
Elev Diff 3,398ft

   Time: 1:05:47

I’m considering swapping my cassette for one with a bit more low end (28 or 32t) before I go up again, just so I can get my cadence higher and compare time & effort.  ~60 rpm gets old on a climb that long! 


(A Oosthuizen (C)) #5

I also believe the ‘secret’ lies in high cadence, or rather as Martyn mentioned, finding the sweet spot (which for me is around 85-90rpm), while maintaining ~80% FTP. This allows me to put in a good effort without blowing up.    

(Vince Kim) #6

I would hate to be in Joe’s shoes as that cassette is way too small for me to make it up the alp. Good thing I don’t have an interactive trainer. Regarding sweet spot cadence I think mine is around 80-85 as I did another alp climb today. With higher cadence it’s too hard to generate power. Oh I know, I should lose like 10 lbs of fat lol.

(Martyn Kimberley OP [B]) #7

Don’t quite now how Joe gets up there with that cadence, it just sounds like a whole lot of knee pain! But hey if it works for you.

Summary of my effort last night.

There is more time to come off this climb as i’m a couple of weeks off ‘peak’ and also had a busy weekend on the bike.

Vince, it’s all about gearing and finding something that suits you. My easiest gear is 39/28 which at times is a bit of a push (80rpm!). I don’t like the gaps in wider cassettes so endure it for the limited time i do big climbs, i ride a 25 in the real world. I would urge you to experiment with different cadences for a fixed period of time, say 5 minute blocks, and get a feel for them. If your HR starts to climb at higher cadence practice breathing techniques to stabilise.

With practice high cadence AND power will come.

(Joe Daknis) #8

It wasn’t by choice, Martyn! :)  It was all I could muster with my current setup.

The flu really messed me up this year.  I basically spent 4 solid days in bed with aches and chills, chest was congested w. cough and I ended up having some kind of weird allergic reaction to the virus that caused both arms to break out in nasty hives.  Had to take a steroid (prednisone) for 5 days to clear that up - and AdZ dropped right at the tail end of all that excitement, just as I started feeling well enough to go for a spin on Zwift!

8 or 9 days later now (?), I’m still not at 100% - but I’m going to ride the Road to Sky route again later today and see what happens. I’m torn between changing out my cassette for something bigger vs. dialing back the realism to achieve a similar effect w/o tools.  The latter feels like cheating though. :wink:



(David Griscom YCW) #9

I find I can climb in Zwift using a much lower cadence that I can in real life.  The reality is that while smart trainers can jack up the resistance, they do not exploit the deadspot in your pedal stroke the way gravity does and you can maintain much smoother pedaling than you can on  a real hill.  On the Alpe, I find myself at maybe 75 rpm trying to stay a bit below my FTP (maybe 85%).  I am not comfortable riding at that low a cadence in real life but it works with with Zwift and my smart trainer

(Vince Kim) #10

one other thing i noticed is that i fade a bit in the last 1/3 of the climb which tells me i’m going little too hard at the start. (or mayb i need to push harder at the end.) others have mentioned riding at 80/85% of ftp. think i was doing more like 90% til i started to fade. yeah i need to dial my effort back a bit to pace better.

on a side note, i only did 1 major climb in real life which took me 2 hrs at an ave gradient of 7%. my cassette at the time was 11-25 with compact crank. the 2 hr grind killed my back. now i have a 11-32 cassette.

(J. H. Edmund Lee) #11

There is no “cheating” in dialing back the trainer difficulty slider. All it does is give you a wider virtual cassette range without the inconvenience of actually physically swapping cassettes IRL. Zwift calculates your speed by looking at your power output compared to your reported body weight (and some consideration of your virtual equipment), so there is no cheating involved. You just want an efficient cadence to maintain whatever power output you can sustain for the entire climb. This will be something like 90-100% of your FTP. For most people an efficient cadence for climbing is about 75-95 rpm. 80-85, I think, is a good range and higher than you see many people do IRL because they don’t have low enough gearing for long climbs.

I rode Stage 3 of ToW and turned the trainer difficulty down to about 70%. Usually it’s at about 80% but I figured I’d rather have a gear or two to spare than to find myself grinding too high a gear. I have a 50/34 crankset and 11/28 cassette and still found myself in the 28 cog a lot of the time, so next time I’ll crank down the difficulty some more, probably like 50%.

(J. H. Edmund Lee) #12

One more word about gearing. There was a time decades ago when low gearing was thought to be a sign of weakness and grinding up hills is just what you did - because bicycles were 10 speed and gearing range was physically limited. You could have a climbing range for your freewheel (the old equivalent of cassette) or a flat-land/sprinting range - but not both. It got better when 6 and 7 and then 8/9 speed cassettes came along, but really better when roadies figured out what mountain bikers knew all along, which was wide gearing range is great - hence triple cranksets and medium/long cage rear derailleurs - and started using 30 chainrings with 34 tooth cogs. What was not great was shifting performance was not as good as a double and the weight as higher than your corn-cob cassette with short cage rear derailleurs.

Fast forward to today, and you have compact double cranksets and high performance road rear derailleurs that let you have 50/34 cranksets and 11/30 cassettes - with great shifting performance AND low weight. There is no longer any drawback to having wide, climbing-friendly gearing on your bike.

Which brings me back to the original point about turning down the trainer difficulty - it literally is just putting in lower gearing range for your bike, with just a simple slider and no grease involved. Start at 50% difficulty, and if you find it too easy, just use a higher gear - but if you find it difficult enough, then at least you’ll have some extra bailout gears so you don’t cramp your legs before you summit.

(David Griscom YCW) #13

Edmund Lee, I would not refer to it as “cheating” but I do think dialing back the realism setting gives you an advantage.  It allows you to uses higher cadences, with less resistance than you could do on a real climb.  In real life, when you hit steep sections your cadence goes down and your pedal stroke becomes choppier, making it more difficult.  I am sure I could set a much better time on the Alpe if I set realism to zero and just spun at a TT pace.  When I went from a dumb trainer (with a power meter) to a smart trainer, my climbing times went up

(J. H. Edmund Lee) #14

David, turning down the difficulty really is just putting in lower gearing for your bike. If you’re climbing faster because you can spin a higher cadence as a result, all it means is your previous gearing wasn’t low enough - so getting rid of a disadvantage as opposed to an unfair advantage.

By all means if you want to practice grinding uphill at low cadence (like 50-55 rpm), you can do so, and in fact many training protocols call for such high resistance, low cadence intervals, but none of them will tell you to do it for an hour because it is simply not efficient (and bad for your joints). Watch pros race up alpe d’Huez and see what cadence they are using, for example, and decide if they are cheating because they have larger cogs than they might use on a flat stage. That said, if you are more interested in realism than setting PR for the climb, use as much difficulty or as high a gearing as you wish - it’s a game, after all, and should make you happy to play it!

I don’t want the difficulty set to zero because I like the interactivity of picking gears and varying resistance with slope changes.

I’ve done a 15k+ feet 130+ mile ride at altitude IRL, so it’s not like I’m unfamiliar with long climbs. I find there is no joy in running out of gears for long climbing sessions.

(Joe Daknis) #15

J.H. Edmund Lee, 

 I get everything you’re saying about the difficulty setting.  I was (mostly) being facetious when I said it feels ‘like cheating’ - in that I meant using virtual gearing changes instead of  doing the ‘work’ to install a different cassette on my Direto and keeping difficulty at 100%.

FWIW, I installed a different cassette anyway, and used my cx/gravel bike to climb AdZ again this afternoon.

Got my average cadence up to a more reasonable 85 RPM and shaved ~ 6.5 minutes off  the time from my previous effort.  Easier on the legs, but my HR was considerably higher.  Anyway… here are my stats using 50/34 x 12-36 w/ 165 mm cranks.  

Time: 59:10

Speed 7.7mi/h
Cadence 85
Heart Rate 176 bpm
Power 211W
VAM 1050
Elev Diff 3,398ft




(David Griscom YCW) #16

Edmund, I agree with you up to a point but the difference is that Zwift will let you spin away at a speed that it too slow to maintain balance in real life.  There is simply a practical limit to reduction in gearing until you cannot maintain balance in real life.  The lowest normal gearing from Shimano and Campy is 34x32 which means at 90rpm you are doing about 7.7mph.  At my 185lbs and a 19lb bike I would need to put out ~390watts on the 12% sections of Alpe D’huez.  Pro’s can do that, but most recreational riders cannot.  I would need to drop my cadence to at least 70rpm just to get to a power level I could sustain (but still above  FTP).  When you set the realism level down you can avoid being forced to jack up you power to get over the steeper sections.

(Vince Kim) #17

irl i’d likely get off my bike on steeper sections of adh lol.