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Conquering the Alps and Pyrenees

13 July 2022
Conquering the Alps and Pyrenees

As the major mountain ranges of the 2022 Tour de France hone into view, Campagnolo reveal what it takes for the likes of Tadej Pogacar to reign supreme.

Stages nine to 13 of the 2022 Tour de France do battles with the Alps, including two ascents of the Col du Galibier. After crossing the Massif Central, it’s war with the Pyrenees (stages 16 to 19). 

After crossing the Massif Central, it’s war with the Pyrenees (stages 16 to 19). 

Like every year, those two imposing mountain ranges will play an integral role in deciding who’ll win this year’s maillot jaune. 

Will Campagnolo’s Tadej Pogacar make it three in a row?

If he does, it’ll be down to his gear, acclimatisation, power output and cadence


Pogačar’s equipment



First up, gear. The likes of Pogačar will be using Campagnolo’s Super Record EPS groupset, which proves invaluable when climbing due to the swift and reliable shifts that are required when attacking on a steep section or laying it all on the line during a descent. The 12 gears also provided a breadth of choice for the riders of UAE Team Emirates, AG2R Citroen Team and Cofidis to tame the steepest of Alpine and Pyrenees sections. 

As for wheels, the likes of Bora Ultra WTO 45 hits the sweetspot between optimum aerodynamics at a low weight. Both are needed when climbing, the former as riders will be hitting over 25km/hr on the climbs, the latter to save precious grammes.


Pre-Tour altitude camps



Brutal challenges await, especially stage 12 from Briancon to Alpe d’Huez. The 165.1km stage features three hors-categorie climbs – the Col du Galibier, Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez – with the first two peaking at 2,642m and 2,067m, respectively. 

The famous 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez tops out at 1,850m but that’s after a 13.1km climb that averages over 8%.

It’s why the likes of Pogacar and his teammates spent part of their Tour de France build-up in Livigno, Italy, on an altitude training camp. 

The team slept at 2,220m and then battled some of the area’s most challenging peaks – the Bernina, the Gavia, the Stelvio and the Mortirolo – for a twofold effect: to enjoy the physiological benefits of altitude training when down at sea level and to prepare physically (climbing technique, pacing…) for the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Let’s unpick the first one of those – the benefits of altitude training. Numerous studies have shown that spending at least 10 days at an altitude of over 1,800m stimulates numerous physiological adaptations that are conducive to world-class cycling performance. 



These include elevating aerobic capacity by anything from 3-8%; lowering heart rate at rest and during exercise; reducing lactic acid build-up, which can lead to the debilitating burn; and raising EPO levels.

This latter point’s worth elaborating on. EPO is erythropoietin and is the hormone responsible for creating red blood cells. The composition of oxygen in the air at sea level is 21%. 

As the mountains rise ever higher, the atmospheric pressure decreases; in other words, the air becomes less compressed and is therefore thinner. 

It’s why at 1,000m above sea level, the atmospheric pressure of oxygen drops to 18.9%. 

At 2,000m, it’s 16.8%. At the peak of the Galibier, it’s more like 15.8%.

The body struggles to inhale enough oxygen to fuel working muscles. It’s under stress. 



If that stress is repeated, like on an altitude camp, the body responds by increase EPO, which increases the amount of red blood cells produced, which captures more of the oxygen in the air and so acclimatises the likes of Pogačar to the effects of the mountains.

These adaptations will pay off at sea level, the Alps and the Pyrenees, though how much of the adaptations will stick come the second and third weeks of this year’s Tour remains to be seen as studies show adaptations can disappear after as little as a week but also stay for up to eight weeks.


Power-to-weight and cadence matters



So altitude matters. As does a rider’s power-to-weight ratio. Again, for Pogačar this is mightily impressive. 

Analysis of his winning attack on stage eight of the 2021 Tour de France showed that the Slovenian’s average power-to-weight ratio from the bottom of Col de Romme to the peak of Col de Colombiere 22km later, which averaged 4.6%, was an incredible 5.65w/kg for the 54:25mins it took him to climb it. 

That’s beyond world-class and highlights just why Pogačar’s so strong in the mountains. Simply put, he has a low weight of around 66kg but huge power output.

He also possesses impressive efficiency thanks to optimising his cadence

Normally, he’ll aim for around 90rpm, which drops to around 65-70rpm on steeper climbs. Unless he’s attacking, he’ll spin out to focus his efforts more on the cardiovascular system than the muscular system.



This matches a 2001 study by Dr Alejandro Lucia and his team who monitored the cadence of seven cyclists during the GrandTours and concluded that preferred cadence during the high mountains was around 71rpm, which increased to around 92rpm on flatter stages. 

Another study suggested that the finest professionals naturally pedal at 73rpm during categorie-one climbs and 70rpm on hors-categorie climbs like Alpe d’Huez.

And the one final takeaway you can apply to your own performance – if possible, buy yourself a power meter

These are the surest way to stick to a pre-planned pacing strategy on the stiffest of climbs, maintaining a power output (watts) that won’t see you fizzle and bonk.

Campagnolo wishes all its riders the best of luck and health for the remainder of the 2022 Tour de France.

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