Worcester, Mass. 
July 22, 2001 

Cyclists share their slant on hills

By Lynne Tolman 

  There's no avoiding hills around here, but there are ways to avoid being defeated by them. We asked several cyclists who like the challenge of climbing how to make the best of it when the road rises. 
  Worcester software engineer and triathlete Sam Levitin, 30, was succinct: "Spin, spin, spin." Spinning means using a low gear and pedaling at a high cadence, at least 70 rpms. Turning the cranks in smooth circles requires concentrating on the pulling-up part of the pedal stroke, as if scraping mud off your shoe, which is why clip-in cleats work better than toe straps. 
  "If Lance's performance (in Stage 10 of the Tour de France) wasn't an endorsement for high revolutions in low gear, I don't know what is," said filmmaker John Stimpson, 40, of Princeton. "He spun up L'Alpe d'Huez like it was the bunny hill." 
  It takes judicious shifting to avoid getting bogged down when going up. Knowing when to make the move to an easier gear can only be learned by practicing. Ride same hill again and again, and before long you'll know instinctively which gear allows you to spin comfortably on that grade. 
  "You're supposed to shift before you get to a hill," acknowledged Zach Polucha of Whitinsville, at age 15 already a veteran of long-distance tours with Tenth Gear Christian Youth Cyclists. "But I usually end up going fast and shifting on the hill." His training rides usually include Quarry Hill in Northbridge. 
  Charlie Whitney, a stay-at-home father in New Braintree and former bike mechanic, also likes to "accelerate before the hill to carry momentum into it and, hopefully, over it." But he warns against waiting too long to downshift: "Anticipate the shift to an easier gear and you will reduce wear on the drive train and also the chance for a mis-shift or dropped chain." 
  When climbing, it helps to "scoot back in your saddle, and keep your hands high up on the handlebars," said Joe Rano, 41, a steelworker from Millbury who won the Fitchburg-Longsjo Classic in the masters division this year. Sitting up, "you get more precious air in your lungs." 
  Rano finds the most challenging hill in the area is Mile Hill Road in Princeton, from the Wachusett Mountain ski lodge to the visitors center. "I'd like to see them turn the (Longsjo) race around to go up that hill instead of down it," he said. 
  "I know I've done a good job on a hill if when I'm near the top I can shift up and go a little faster," said Renee Gregoire, 42, of New Braintree, office manager at Buck Hill Veterinary Service in Spencer. "Then I can continue my ride with some speed instead of feeling like I have to start all over." 
  Some cyclists advise staying seated while climbing, while others like to stand up on the pedals at times. It depends on the length and grade of the hill. Standing can give a brief boost in acceleration, and it "gives your lower back a rest and uses some different muscles," Rano said. But it takes more energy. 
  "When I stand I always click up a gear," said Mike Josephson of Clinton, who works in sales at Compaq and has biked up Mount Washington, an eight-mile stretch that he called "the most humbling experience in the Northeast." Stand and shift up as you crest a hill, he said, "and power over the top and start into your descent with a push. Most people back off the pace as they get to the top, missing a big chance to take a few seconds out of someone, whether you're racing or testing a buddy on the climb." 
  "A lot of climbing to me is mental," said Jack Dolmat of Princeton, who rides up Mount Wachusett regularly. "Many people shut down mentally during climbs, or dread them, which absolutely doesn't help. The body hears what the mind is thinking, and if you can stay positive, you can climb better. 
  "I pick interim points to work towards during the climb rather than thinking about getting to the top -- that gives me something within eyesight to work towards and also lots of little 'wins.' " 
  Gregoire agreed that the challenge of a hill can be as much psychological as physical. "You are asking yourself to do something, to make an effort, and if you're having a whining day -- 'Oh no, I still have this hill to do, and that hill to do' -- if you're going to be that way, then you might as well stay at home and sit on the trainer. 
  "I love that quote from (Greg) LeMond: 'It doesn't get any easier, you just get faster.' " 
  But what does get easier, as the legs and lungs get stronger, is keeping a healthy attitude, Gregoire said. One of her favorite long climbs is Barre Road in Hardwick, from the Clover Hill farm stand on Route 32 to Hardwick Common. The hill can still put the hurt on her, she said, but now she and her riding pal can say, "Remember when we hated this hill?" 
  TIP OF THE HELMET to the 24 young riders with Tenth Gear who biked from Whitinsville to Salem, N.H., and back, earlier this month. The cyclists, ages 10 to 13, biked 170 miles in four riding days, staying at churches and preparing their own meals. They had a free day at Canobie Lake Park in Salem. The riders were Brandon Hall, Nicholas Pratt, Amy Gunness and Daniel Peter of Sutton; Neil Polucha, Katy Polucha, Nate Grondin, Bobby Kittredge, Thomas Krarup, Christian Wise, Maura Benton and Jenn Reichert of Northbridge; Aaron Phoebe, Michael Lussier, Danny Martinelli, Eric Feeley, Andy Leighton, Dave Perron, Joe MacDougal, Geoff Barlow and Jarred Smith of Uxbridge; Sean McQuilkin of Linwood; and Andrew Lentz of State College, Pa. 
  Another Tenth Gear group, ages 15 to 18, will bike 510 miles from Niagara Falls, N.Y., to Whitinsville next month. The youths held a car wash and other fund-raisers to help pay for their trips. Tenth Gear, established in 1994, is affiliated with Village Congregational Church in Whitinsville and the Boy Scouts of America. 

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