I've had this discussion with three people in the last week, so I think it's worth comment. The question is, "Why are some people really, really good at mountain biking and clearing technical climbs as well as descents; but when you get those people on a road bike climbing a steady climb like Rist, they don't do so well?"
First, a little about the Rist Canyon climb, via road bike. On yesterday's group road ride, we decided to do "the Rist loop". This is a road ride that loops from Loveland to Ft. Collins, up Rist Canyon, down "the backside of Rist", then descending via the Buckhorn road and back to Loveland. This is about 59 miles with a hill rating of 68.6 ft/mi. The lowish ride rating is somewhat deceptive because the bulk of the climbing comes within 12 miles where the road climbs from 5100ft to 8000ft, giving this particular section of the ride a rating of 242ft/mi.
Before I head into the training tips part of the column, I need to write a few words about some cool features of the ride. The first note is that Jonathan Zeif showed up for the ride and I hadn't seen him in about a year. One item that makes Jonathan famous in certain circles is that his name is the first one on the plaque that notes winners of the Leadman competition. I asked Jonathan what made him enter the first Leadman event and he said it was such a good deal, he couldn't turn it down. For only $10 more, he could be entered in five events rather than just two (the Leadville 100-mile mountain bike ride and the Leadville 100-mile run). Ah yes, a bargain indeed. Congrats Jonathan, you are a Leadman.
Secondly, we had a chance to see the longboarders coming down the hill again. I greeted Joel and when I shook his hand, I noticed he had about ¼-inch plate of plastic glued to his glove. I inquired about the glove and other questions I had from the previous week. I learned it that it takes four right Vans shoes (ie brakes) per month of longboarding. Predrifting and sliding are ways to slow down as well. From Joel Putrah:
There are other methods to burn speed such as slides and predrifts. Predrifting is much like car racing where you start to drift before a corner so you can burn off speed to grip through the apex of the corner. Sliding is also a way to slow down or through an emergency stop. Having pucks on our hands you can throw the board into a "pendulum" slide where you can slow down significantly or slow if need be.
Back to the training question posed earlier. Cleaning short, relatively short, technical pops on the mountain bike is a high-power, technique move. These high bursts of power are usually followed by a lot of recovery. Think of it as training for sprint events on the track, on the velodrome or in the pool. The strength and metabolic requirements of high-power events are different than those of an endurance event.
The long, steady climb at Rist takes somewhere around an hour, depending on where you start and stop your clock. This hour-long effort, at a high speed, takes muscular-endurance near lactate threshold. Because of the hill gradient, it also takes more power output than a time trial on the flats would take. This effort is more like running a distance from 10k to 10 miles (depending on your ability), or riding a time-trial effort near the 40k mark.
If someone is very good at cleaning short power climbs on the mountain bike, and not so good at long, sustained climbs on the road or mountain bike, I suspect it is because they don't train the muscular-endurance, near threshold system.
A handful of people are relatively good at both ends of the spectrum (high power and high muscular-endurance) and those people can be found doing workouts or races that stress both systems. The people that tend to be a one-trick pony probably don't do workouts or races that would improve their "weakness".
Now, a weakness doesn't really matter if it doesn't limit your performance capabilities in the events you choose to, or love to, do. On the other hand, if your event performance is limited by a feature you hate to train, you need to do the very workouts you hate in order to improve.