Ed Laverack isn’t a hillclimb specialist, he isn’t a KOM hunter, he says he’s not really a YouTuber. He is a former UCI Continental-level pro with a host of UCI-level results, but ask him what he is today and he’ll say, “I’m an endurance athlete.”
An endurance athlete with multiple laser foci. Being an endurance athlete means training, developing, and maintaining an endurance engine. With the horsepower under the hood, Laverack can fine-tune that engine’s output for various targets throughout the season. These targets keep his competitive fire burning. Sometimes, they manifest themselves in chasing famous KOMs. Sometimes, it’s nine-, 10-, 12-hour ultra-endurance events. This past 12 weeks, Laverack’s goal was to be the best hill-climber in Britain and, in being so, take the highly prestigious British Hillclimb Championship.
In the most bittersweet way possible, Laverack missed that goal. He finished second to the now-four-time champion, Andrew Feather, despite producing a new all-time peak power of 7.1 average and 7.4 normalised W/kg for 12 minutes. Laverack started the race as a narrow favourite ahead of Feather, partly due to his pedigree, partly due to his recent hillclimbing results, and partly because he shares his training, racing, and progress weekly on his YouTube channel. Viewers could track his improvements and he seemed on track. As Laverack told Escape Collective, “There’s a lot of extremes that go into preparing for the Hillclimb,” and he gave the entire world a glimpse into that prep through his channel.
I first came across Laverack at the Ras. He’s raced Ireland’s biggest stage race three times, including helping teammate James Gullen to overall success in 2017, the year which had by far the highest level I have ever seen at the Ras across my 10 participations. He raced with Rapha-Condor for six seasons, a further season at Continental level with Swift Pro Cycling, before COVID hit and he turned his attention to individual challenges. I started by asking what he attributes to the ability to make peak performances now, given he was a pro for so long.
For Laverack it comes down to confidence. Sure there is a lot of sports science, training advancements, and improvements in nutrition and fuelling, but being a solo rider with laser focus has brought him an opportunity to explore and understand his own capabilities. While he won’t say it himself, he has huge horsepower, but racing at UCI level with similarly and more talented athletes with the skills, tactical nouse, and experience to excel in bike racing – not to mention a hierarchy within a team – can suppress one’s belief in themselves.
As Laverack points out, climbers are not usually the most assertive of characters, not like sprinters at all. He wasn’t the rider to stick his hand up and say, “today we ride for me.” But as a solo rider, every ride, every race, every goal is for himself; there’s no one to ride for or have ride for him.
There’s also the immeasurable benefits of not travelling as much, not needing to carry as much fatigue, being able to focus on specific events rather than simply moving race to race with no real periodisation.
But for all that opportunity, there’s also no one else to carry the responsibility. Laverack’s defeat in the Hillclimb champs was entirely his to accept – there was no teammate taking a win for the team to ease the pain. Laverack did his best power ever, the kind of performance that would have the calculators on the social platform formerly known as Twitter in meltdown, but still, he was comprehensively beaten. How does one square that round peg?
His training had gone perfectly, his preparation even better, and even the hillclimb itself was going better than planned. Right up until Andrew Feather crossed the finish line.
Four days on the disappointment is no less. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry – myself included – tells him to be proud of the performance he did do and Laverack nods and agrees as much, but his eyes tell me a feeling I know all to well: those words of consolation matter little when your finishing position is double the number you had dreamed … no known, it would be.
Nevertheless, I’m fascinated by how two amateur athletes participating in a niche and amateur event can produce world-class performances like we saw on Sunday. If Laverack did 7.1 W/kg (normalised and estimated based on body weight five days earlier), what then did Feather do, and why aren’t these guys racing WorldTour? While Laverack estimates he would have needed an extra 20 watts to match Feather’s performance, he is at pains to reiterate how fruitless a task it is to be comparing various power meters.
He is incredibly blunt in his assessment of himself that those 20 watts don’t exist. He’s already 10 watts better than when he won the National Hillclimb Champs in 2019; the idea of being 30 watts better than a winning ride, simply to replicate what he has already done, seems mind-boggling.
It’s also worth noting that a once-off 12-minute performance while fresh is very different than doing the same numbers days or weeks into a Grand Tour and hours into any given stage. As phenomenal as these performances are, Laverack, the 29-year-old coach, is as unlikely to chase the WorldTour dream again as the 38-year-old solicitor Andrew Feather is.
That said, it was that 2019 ride and pro racing that proved the blueprint for Laverack’s hillclimb season this year. Recognising the benefits that riding the eight-day Tour of Britain provided that year, Laverack tried to replicate that volume in his training this September. That makes sense – as explosive as hillclimbing is, at between three and 15 minutes, depending on the course of a given year, it is still an endurance event.
Volume was Laverack’s friend and it boils down to simplifying all the sports science and to his endurance (and somewhat privateer) athlete ambitions. Laverack likes to ride his bike and likes a variety of events. During the first part of the season, he did wild endurance events, wracking up thousands of kilometres. He speaks of his ability to switch off the hillclimbing intensity side of his brain, cap his engine at 200 watts, and simply rider for hours on end. Or in other words, bank the long slow distance miles that form the foundation of aerobic fitness.
With that long, slow distance in the bank, Laverack switches off his ultra curiosity and switches on the specificity required for a much more focused event. Ask any coach and they’ll tell you: training can, and should, be more general the further out you are from your A goal, getting progressively more specific as the event approaches.
For all the sports science advancements, it’s nice to hear certain aspects of training are still the same as they’ve always been, especially from someone in touch with the latest training trends. Better yet is hearing how Laverack can combine and periodise his goals to double up as training. It’s all in the engine for an “endurance athlete”. Sometimes, Laverack is right at the rev limit. Sometimes, he’s in cruise control.
One thing Laverack understands very well is the benefits of proper fuelling. Again Laverack has a no-nonsense approach that seems overly simplified but again is often overlooked in our sport: “fuel your efforts,” he says. While he understands the benefits in reducing body weight for hillclimbing, he is also acutely aware of the need to fuel that engine. As he puts it, he didn’t have a single “bad legs day” throughout the entire 12-week build towards Nationals and he says proper nutrition is the secret. He is a high-carb guy for training sessions and says he does “normal things” around nutrition on less-intense or recovery days.
All those endurance miles set the foundation for the intensity to follow. As Laverack explains, hillclimbing season is spent at almost opposite ends of the intensity spectrum. It’s either 180-watt endurance rides or 480-watt intervals. There is almost zero time at sweet spot, threshold, or tempo. Again, Laverack has a refreshing yet age-old, boiled-down approach: “I look at the power required to win, and train myself to sustain that.”
Training to hold the required watts is much easier said than done of course. And it doesn’t happen overnight, as Laverack reveals in his description of a training block. “It might start off with 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, or 20:10s, at race pace on a climb, but ultimately I want to build up to 30 minutes at race intensity in a session, and that might look like three minutes on or six-minute intervals.”
The training is all about replicating the demands of the event and “time in zone” or time at race pace. Again, he shares this training and this progress for all to see on his YouTube channel. Asked if that provides the competition with an advantage, Laverack is confident it does not: “Knowing what I do is one thing, but on the day, it comes down to what each rider can do.”
I can see both sides. Laverack himself talks of identifying the required wattage and effectively finding a way to produce it. By sharing his data is he helping others identify the power required to beat him? Eventually, we all have physiological ceilings, but there are a few glass ceilings to break through on the way. I can see how Laverack’s performances and vlogs might break glass ceilings for others, but I can also appreciate that in relying on data from YouTube and Strava, the competition is relying on old data. Laverack is training to and tapering to a new level, while others are making calculations based on his training level.
Laverack doesn’t say it himself, but I feel there’s also a benefit to the sport in managing expectations. Despite his insane 7.1 W/kg performance on Sunday, I don’t hear many question marks or concerns over the legitimacy of his performances. Laverack has the pedigree, Feather also, and by continually providing such insight, the world can see he is still on a high level, understand it better, and how it is achieved. In an event that, in all probability, lacks the funding for in- and out-of-competition testing, such transparency is doubly important.
Furthermore, Laverack details a 445-watt, eight-and-a-half-minute effort in training the week before the Nationals that he had kept private on Strava simply so that no one would see his true level. Perhaps more importantly, Laverack describes how no single training session took him right to the limit. Extreme, tough, and gruelling his training may have been, but he finished every interval and every session knowing there was a little more left in the tank, despite sometimes doing an extra interval or two. Laverack was tuning the engine without blowing it. That’s a subtle but all-to-often-overlooked difference in intervals for many, and crucially a difference not at all obvious in Strava data.
Laverack trained and raced right the way through hillclimbing season. A typical week included interval sessions in the first half, followed by hillclimb races book ended with endurance spins at the weekend. All the while building, building, building with one goal in mind.
The final two weekends had no racing, one due to a wedding (who schedules a wedding during hillclimbing season?), another as he tapered for the main event.
Is that where the plan fell apart? Should he have raced more, trained more, maybe trained less? Although he doesn’t say it, these are probably the questions running on repeat in Laverack’s head. The answer is, probably not, and the champs provide the evidence.
Laverack detailed his training stats at the start of the build towards Nationals in the video above. Come race weekend, his FTP was up to 373 W, power at VO2 was 462 watts, while Laverack’s FRC (functional reserve capacity, sometimes referred to as anaerobic work capacity) was up to 17 KJ (FRC essentially represents the amount of energy a rider can expend above critical power, clearly very important in short sharp efforts like hillclimbing). In terms of training load, Laverack’s CTL (chronic training load) was at 70, his ATL (acute training load) at 59 and his TSB (training stress balance) at +15.
Long story short, his numbers were up. Coupled with the training and racing performances, he had every right to be confident.
Thankfully, for all the temptation to go full-weight weenie in hillclimbing, this wasn’t entirely an option for Laverack. We’ll delve into the tech in a second, but as such, despite the small weight penalty, Laverack had a power meter on his bike for the champs, and that power meter file paints a phenomenal picture.
At 60 kg, Laverack averaged 428 watts and normalised close 434 watts for the 12-minute effort. Again, this was an all-time best for the Welshman. That fact presumably provides some consolation. Doing that power and still getting beaten is an entirely different problem, and again, Laverack is adamant we shouldn’t compare power numbers on Strava with different power meters, but not knowing the power would presumably have him second-guessing his own performance for a long time to come. Ultimately, there are no prizes for a great power file, but presumably there is reassurance in a job well done.
A job well done it was, and Laverack has carved a niche for himself in a sport that 10 years ago had only one means of being “a cyclist.” In 2023, you can be a professional cyclist in the Tour de France sense of the term, or your sport/passion can be your job in other ways.
Laverack is a coach by trade these days, but he is also what I’m going to coin as a “performance influencer.” He makes content, he vlogs, he has a YouTube channel, but these are not what define him as a cyclist. He is entirely focused on high performance; the content is just a means of sharing his performances and the road to achieving them.
I’ve heard talk of Laverack’s willingness to stop and chat pre- and post-event and to provide guidance for younger riders. Again, he doesn’t go there himself, but I get the impression talking to him that he has much more of a “rising tide lifts all boats” kind of attitude than a share-no-performance-advantage mindset. That’s an impression almost confirmed by his whiteboard in the video above, which I only saw after writing this paragraph.
As if a measure of his excitement to see others improving, he was at pains to point out the new junior hillclimb champion Harry Hudson’s performance, good enough for third overall on the day despite starting earlier in slightly less favourable conditions, and how hillclimbing could become an excellent talent ID for scouts looking for the next up-and-coming climbing talent.
Laverack says YouTube won’t pay the bills, and although he has sponsors, again, it seems these are modest. It’s a topic that brings us onto his bike, a huge part of any rider’s preparation for hillclimb season.
Laverack raced the new Factor O2 VAM with a pretty standard setup. Sure he ditched the big chainring and front derailleur, but the bike was otherwise “standard.” Black Inc’s new 28:33 wheelset, GP 5000 TT 25 mm tyres “with 20 ml of sealant, which might have already dried up as it was in there for weeks,” disc brakes, and a standard cockpit. He references the backlash both himself and Feather have received for racing hill climbs with disc brake bikes but also acknowledges the fact he isn’t concerned, A) because the bike is so light anyway, and B) because that’s where the market has headed and if he wants the latest tech for the rest of his season, he needs to respect that for this one portion of his season.
Could he have saved some weight from the bike or run a faster setup? Of course he could, he openly acknowledges that, but such savings would also have required he win the lotto. A lottery win could finance the purchase of exotic lightweight components, save a few hundred grams, but would ultimately also need to fund his entire season because, as Laverack sees it, his current sponsors have supported him – it would be disrespectful to ditch their products for a single event.
It wasn’t that Laverack eschewed all weight-saving and aero hacks. He ditched the bottle cages, bar tape, and, as mentioned earlier, he went 1x (although with a risky standard inner ring from a 2X setup) and raced with a full-carbon saddle. He also donned a skinsuit, an aero crop top, and aero socks. Could he have done more? As mentioned earlier, he likely could have. Does that mean he lost the champs rather than Feather won? Absolutely not.
That won’t make the silver medal any tastier, though, but Laverack could perhaps benefit from his own advice towards the end of the video linked above. He describes how having goals, say becoming hillclimb champion, means a binary “achieved” or “not achieved” outcome; success or failure. He instead suggests focusing on optimising the processes to achieve that goal. Implementing and adhering to the process becomes the reward.
If Laverack’s Hillclimb Champs performance tells us anything, it’s that his commitment to the process was superb.
What did you think of this story?