It’s All Uphill

So, you watched the pros crawl up the Sant’Elipidio climb, and you read how ‘everyone’ thought that the climb was too hard, and maybe they’re right, after all, how many times do you see pros walk up a climb?

Yes, the road was wet, and yes the pros did the climb three times on the day, and no doubt the 209km length of the stage had something to do with the difficulty of the climb.

Then there is the effect of it being a race and riders trying to go as hard as they could, and possibly over extending themselves.

In case you missed it, here’s a brief look at what everyone was on about:



So, as cyclists are wont to do, I pondered, hypothesized, and wondered about the climb that seemed to reduce the pros to survival mode. What would it be like if you just did it once? What if you brought all the gearing you could? What would it be like if you were just trying to get up, and not racing?

Basically, as Jezza always asks, “how hard could it be?”

So I went to Analytic Cycling, to find out how fast I would go at a really slow, but doable cadence in my lowest gear, or what could be my lowest gear given a Campagnolo drive train. Unless you go to a triple, not that a triple is a bad thing mind you, the lowest is a compact crank (50×34), backed up by a 13-29 cassette.

For the ‘really slow, but doable’ cadence I picked 50 rpm, I don’t know how realistic that is, and truthfully it might be pure torture to have to grind 50 rpm for any length of time, but there you have it.

Per Analytic Cycling, 50 rpm in a 34×29 gets you 4.63 mph.

Given my theoretical ‘crawl’ pace, I input that into the power calculator , to find out how many watts it would take to get up a 30% grade.

I input 100kg (no, I’m not that heavy), 0.30 in the slope box, 2.07 m/s (4.63 mph converted), 50 rpm, 172.5 crank length, and pressed play.

Per the calculator, given the inputs, it would require 618.5 watts to maintain 4.63 mph on a 30% grade. But, since I used 100kg, I can just divide by 100, or move the decimal 2 places left (same difference), and I have the W/kg required, 6.185 W/kg to do 30% at 4.63 mph.

Yeah, that’s gonna hurt…

This can be a useful ‘what if’ kind of tool for looking at climbs, and considering climbs you haven’t done.

There’s no shortage of climb data out there on Mr. Gore’s interweb thingy, as well as books devoted to the subject, and topo maps too.

Let’s look at how this might work. In The Complete Guide To Climbing (By Bike) In The Southeast, henceforth known as the ‘guide’, the Hog Pen Gap climb (climbing in the alt 75 to GA 180 direction) is listed as having a 6.6% average grade, with a 9% maximum.

Using the 6.6% average grade, inputting the data like before, the calculator says that it would take our 100kg rider 143.5 watts to maintain the 4.63 mph like before, or 1.435 W/kg.

That doesn’t seem so tough. The ‘guide’ lists the climb as being 4.1 miles long, which at 4.63 mph, should be covered in 53min 7.9sec.

At this point you’d be excused for thinking that a good effort would find you well south of that 53 minute mark, and currently, the Strava KOM is 31:25 at 13.3 mph.

But wait, there’s more…

Having climbed Hog Pen I know that there is a bit of a descent in the middle of the climb that messes up the ‘average’ gradient.

The ‘guide’ lists the maximum grade on Hog Pen as 9%. The Analytic Cycling calculator tells us that it would take 192.2 watts for a 100 kg rider to climb 9% at 4.63 mph, or 1.922 W/kg

At this point, I should point out, if you know your W/kg at FTP, you can just divide the output required to climb a given grade, at a given speed, by your FTP and you’ll know the percentage of FTP that effort represents. In other words, what zone you’ll be climbing in to maintain that speed on that climb.


Further considerations, the ‘guide’ lists the Hog Pen climb at 4.1 miles in length, but the Strava segment is 7 miles long. Around here, everyone considers Hog pen to be 7 miles long climbing in this direction.

Another consideration is the stated grades. The ‘guide’ lists Hog Pen as averaging 6.6% and maxing out at 9%. I don’t know where those figures come from, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but let me just say that, much to my chagrin, my Garmin doesn’t agree.

As with all things theoretically calculated, the reliability of the answer is completely dependent on the reliability of the data used in the calculation.

Or, as they say, YMMV…

Back to the original question of how hard it could be, let’s just say that if I ever have the occasion to climb Sant’Elipidio, I’ll make sure I’m wearing shoes that are comfortable to walk in…

Just in case there aren’t enough tifosi on the day, to push me up the hill…

…As an aside, if you don’t have a power meter, and I don’t, Strava will give you W/kg values for the climbs that you upload, even the free version. Using the climb data, and FTP values, you can play with the Analytic Cycling calculators and theorize all sorts of gearing, pacing, and time to climb types of scenarios.

Some of it might even be useful…