There's gold in them thar hills — not the metal sought by miners, but gold-tinted medals, just as precious to the cyclists who win first place at events like the Bob Cook Memorial Mount Evans Hill Climb.
"The hard thing, with climbing in general, is you're having to produce a higher power output for an extended period of time," said Adam Fivehouse, a trainer and coach with Optimize Endurance Services.
"On a flat road, you can ease up now and then, but the moment you ease up on an uphill, you slow down. You need to produce a high amount of power for a long period of time. The fastest guys on the Mount Evans Memorial are up there in two hours. For the average Joe, it's more like three, three and a half hours, and most people aren't even used to that."
So how does a cyclist pump up the volume?
"Two years ago, I was doing my Sunday ride when these fast riders showed up," he said. "I was keeping up with them, but it was hurting, and it wasn't fun anymore. Then I decided to try pulling with my core muscles, instead of pushing with my quads. I worked on that during the week, and the next weekend, I'm out again. Same guys show up. I dumped 'em on the hill. I used my core uphill till the last 100 yards, and then I sprinted with my quads. I felt a lot better, and I wasn't breathing as hard, either."
Now he shares that technique through his 90-minute Bicycle Boot Camp and other conditioning classes, which divide core-muscle exercises — old-school stuff, including planks, push-ups, squats, low-bicycle leg pumps — and interval training on the bike. Among his favorite workouts: the short hill near Sports Authority Field , where he takes his class after they've finished 30 minutes of hard core exercises.
"That way, we've already worked the legs, and when you do the hill, your legs are fatigued, as if you were doing the Triple, or the first day of this year's Ride The Rockies," Fitzgerald said.
"You want to get used to riding with fatigued legs if you want to go fast in a hard ride, or a race. It'd be like going up Lookout Mountain after you've already climbed and descended Golden Gate Canyon."
Fivehouse is a fan of core training as well.
"Your power comes from your core, so that's a huge part of training," he said. "It's important to integrate flexibility, too. When you're riding, you're in a position that shortens your hamstrings and tightens them up. That leads to lower-back issues for some people, with the hamstrings pulling on the lower hip. So yoga is great for flexibility and functional core work as well."
Also: Make sure you're fitted to your bicycle. A fitting at a bicycle shop costs $200-$300 for a two-hour session that leaves riders more comfortable and efficient.
"It's a funny thing that people will spend $1,500 for lightweight wheels, when they'd get more out of spending one-third of that on a bike fit," Fivehouse said. "If you get a bike fit, you'll be more powerful, and ride faster, more efficiently and more comfortably."
And, it's a good idea to get fitted every 10 years or so.
"When we get older, our bodies don't function like they used to," said Andy Wardrip, lead bicycle fitter at Wheat Ridge Cyclery. "A lot of stuff changes in five or 10 years. We assess flexibility, injuries, your goals as a rider. 'No pain, no gain' is a silly phrase."
Claire Martin: 303-954-1477, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/ byclairemartin