Surf the Terrain Technique

Matt Tanner on January 4, 2021

SECRET #3 – Surf the Terrain Technique

Back in 2016, I participated in a Cinch camp called the Colorado Challenge. We did a tour around the state climbing all the famous stages of the USA Pro Challenge. At the end of the trip, I spent some time with Tom Danielson at his house learning a method he used in climbing, but also in time trials to make him one of the best in the sport.

He calls it “Surf the Terrain”. It takes a lot of practice to perfect this technique, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll see your speeds increase dramatically!

So, here is the theory in a nutshell. Slightly hold back with lower power and cadence as you go up gradients or slower sections. Then, as you crest the hill, shift to an easier gear and spin up the power and cadence to accelerate on the “flat” part at the top where you can build and hold speed after. As you begin to descend, add a harder gear (or more if needed) and begin to bring your cadence and power back down while keeping tension on the chain.

The reason this works is we are conserving our energy going up the hill (these can be rollers or even little bumps in the road). When we crest we add power above threshold for a short time (less than 30 seconds) and then settle back into a low threshold zone that we can recover in while carrying all the free speed we get from gravity and the acceleration we created.

I like to tell my athletes to think about driving a car over a hill. We usually hit the gas going up the hill. The engine revs. When we get to the top, we let off the gas and might even brake going down the hill. Now for a minute, think about doing the exact opposite. Maybe a little scary right!? Do this in a car with 3 or 4 rollers in a row and it’s like a roller coaster where each downhill we are “surfing” down and accelerating.

Here in Indiana, the landscape looks flat. But I can see little bumps all over the place and when I do, I’ll do a mini surf to build speed. These mini surfs compound your average speed and dramatically reduce your time on a course.

This secret enabled me to be much more competitive at local time trials even with a broad profile that isn’t the most aero. I even took several KOM’s at the 6hr World Time Trial Championships in 2019 with much less power than my competitors!

Surf the terrain is probably my favorite secret I’ve learned as a Cinch athlete. It is one of the skills that separates the Cinch coaching system from all the others that just give a workout plan with peaks for events. If you want to learn more about Cinch or working with a coach, I’d be happy to help you out. Just send me a quick note.