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The Cobbled Classics: Training For Uneven Surfaces

If you are riding one of the cobbled classic sportives or taking part in one of the many gravel rides that are springing up you will need to work on your position, technique and leg strength to counteract the bouncing and battering from uneven terrain. 

Training for uneven surfaces

Image courtesy of Hotchillee


How you position your body on your bike is important to prevent the bike skipping beneath you and so you do not lose control if you are bounced by the cobbles.

You won’t be using the drops much, instead have your hands on the tops of the bars and move yourself further back on the saddle to increase your power and to help maintain stability. This low, pushed back position gives you much more control and you will feel more planted and secure on the bike. On the cobbles you don’t want to feel like a passenger perched lightly on top of your saddle, you need a bit of muscle. Drop your heels as you pedal to help push the tyres into the ground increasing your traction even further.

Sitting further back in the saddle also allows you to make best use of your big, powerful glute muscles. Power intervals on the Wattbike with a low cadence and high resistance will help on the cobbles as it is a very similar riding position.

Bike modifications

Bike manufacturers have dabbled with all sorts of suspension for their cobbled bikes, some ideas only appeared for one season then disappeared ignominiously. Without splashing out on a new bike there are a few things you can do to improve your bike comfort on one of these types of events.

Switching to a higher volume tyre will help increase your traction and provide some cushioning, as will running your tyres at a slightly lower pressure but this also increases your risk of pinch puncturing. It is a trade-off, lower the pressure but not too much. Road tubeless, or traditional tubular tyres, allows you to run tyre pressures lower with less risk of a pinch flat.

When you are gripping the bars tight a little cushioning will help your hands. Gel bar tape, or even a double layer of ordinary tape, is a good idea but be careful to not increase the width too much as this in itself may cause strain.


When you are training for the cobbles it is important to include some high resistance, low cadence intervals in your preparation. Riding in a heavier gear gives you the momentum to hit the cobbles with higher speed. The higher the speed the further you get before it starts hurting! In a bigger gear it is easier to keep it rolling. Lower cadence and harder gears also help to pull you down into the saddle and encourage a strong stable position. High cadence, light pedalling can allow you to bounce more in the saddle.

Having a smooth, strong cadence with the power applied evenly throughout the pedal stroke will help to improve your traction and make sure you roll over the cobbles smoothly. Using your Wattbike Polar View to focus on evenly and correctly engaging your leg muscles throughout the stroke will make a huge difference to how you tackle the cobbles.

Hannah ReynoldsWritten by Hannah Reynolds

Hannah is proof that you don’t need to be good at racing to pin on a number, just enthusiastic. She has ridden some of the world’s toughest sportives including the Haute Route Alps, La Marmotte and Megavalanche – the famous downhill mountain bike race.

When she’s not on the bike, Hannah is a freelance writer and journalist and former Editor of Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active. She is co-authour of France en Velo and Bloomsbury publications Fitter, Faster, Further and Get on Your Bike.

Follow Hannah and her cycling adventures over on Twitter @hannahmreynolds and Instagram @hannahmreynolds.