Hardknott Pass

I haven’t ridden all the climbs in the UK, but it will be hard to beat Hardnott Pass for difficulty, drama and the beauty of the surroundings. I always think of Hardknott and Wrynose pass and the King and Queen hill climb of England. In terms of overall length and height gain, it is not particularly spectacular. But, the great attraction (or should I say feature) of Hardknott is its unrelenting steepness. Sometimes 1/3 signs overrate the steepnees of the actual climb. But, with Hardknott pass, the 1/3 is really merited. No matter which line you take, you can’t avoid considerable sections of 30%. This is really steep; it’s so steep you can have a strange feeling that you might fall over backwards when climbing. No matter how fit or not you are, getting up Hardknott pass gives a sense of achievement, which is hard to replicate on longer, but shallower climbs.


Hardknott by Orientalizing

Hardknott pass is not particularly accessible, hidden away in the Esk valley in the West of the Lake District, but it is definitely worth a visit and climbing both sides. Originally Hardknott was a Roman fort.

It is worth bearing in mind:

  • The descents are pretty tricky too – check your brake blocks before riding.
  • Unfortunately, the road surface was pretty shocking on the East face, when I went in 2013.
  • Also, it is so steep, cars and larger vehicles can really struggle (you wouldn’t believe the inappropriate vehicles people try to drive up the 30% hairpins.) Before climbing, it is worth looking around to see if there is traffic jam in front or behind you. It is best if you can climb unimpeded by traffic.

Hardknott Pass West to East (from Eskdale)


looking down hardknott towards Eskdale. The hairpins were slippy. Wheelspin can be a real problem.

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Avg Grade – 12%
  • Lowest Elev 126ft
  • Highest Elev 1,159ft
  • Height gain 1,033ft / 290 metres
  • Max gradient 33%

As you leave the River Esk, there is a gentle ascent before you hit the first 20% slopes. This is just a foretaste of what is to come, but it is really hard for about 500m, before the 20% gradient eases off, giving you some time for recovery as it averages a mere 8% for a km. But, you might want to keep your bike in your lowest gear for the final section. After this relative respite, you will need to get ready for the final section of twisting 30% hairpins. It’s unbelievably tough to pull yourself around these corners. If you don’t have the right gears, you will be getting off and walking. You can help yourself a little by going wide on the corners, this slightly lowers the gradient. Hopefully, you won’t get stuck behind a tractor. Cars and large vehicles can also struggle and come to an almost complete stop. You will be climbing to the smell of burning clutch. As the top approaches, the gradient mercifully eases off slightly. When you feel the gradient reducing, you know you’re going to make it – there is a great sense of relief!


Hardknott. Photo S Fleming from Fred Whitton 2009.

At the top, it’s worth stopping to have a look behind you – it’s hard to believe what you have just climbed. Continue Reading →

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Energy packs and free bottles

Recently, I’ve been buying quite a lot of these packs of energy gels with water bottles. Firstly, it’s convenient to have lots of sachets for travelling and carrying in back pocket to top up water bottles during long rides. It saves having to carry around 1.5kg tubs. Secondly, buying a pack with a free water bottle, is a good motivation to throw away some rather manky looking water bottles that have been sitting around my cupboard for God knows how many year. Generally, the packs are good value, and much better and more convenient than buying the odd gel and energy bar everytime you might need one. If you’re lucky, you might see some packs on special offers. It’s always worth checking with the manufacturer site, as they may give a free starter pack if you register with them. I know ZipVit were doing this for a while, but seem to have discontinued the practise at the moment.

These are some of the endurance packs that you can pick up in cycle shops or online.

SIS Endurance Pack


  • 2 x SIS GO Isotonic Gels;
  • 2 x SIS GO Energy Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS GO Electrolyte Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS REGO Rapid Recovery Sachets;
  • 2 x SIS Go Energy Bars.
  • Free 800ml SIS bottle is also included

10 * energy sachets = £11.99 £1.19 per item. It could be more expensive to buy separately. I quite like this SIS pack and have bought a couple. There is a good mix of sachets and I find myself using all the different products. The water bottle is high quality and makes a good replacement for some old ones.

The recovery powder is based on soy protein

The energy powder is based on maltodextrin/fructose 2:1 combination.

SIS Endurance pack at Evans

Alternatively, you can spend £10 on SIS products of your choice at Evans and get a free water bottle with code SIS10

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Cycling terms explained

A random selection of contemporary and classic cycling terms explained with varying degrees of lucidity. Some may give the impression of being entirely made up, which is probably because they are.

Cycling phrases

‘Pedalling in Circles.’ These days you seem to hear this expression quite frequently. A good cyclist should ‘pedal in circles’ ( if you have standard cranks, you may be thinking it’s pretty hard to cycle in other shape and you’re right) When asked for advice about cycling, Fausto Coppi replied ‘trying pedalling harder’. This is the essence of pedalling in circles – keep those pedals moving. The actual idea of pedalling in circles, is that you don’t just push on the down stroke, but also pull on the way up. So your exercising pressure for the full 360 degrees of the pedal rotation, and not just the 180 degrees going down. An advantage of using clipless pedals and toeclips.


Pedalling squares – Not quite the opposite of pedalling in circles. Pedalling squares means the cyclist is floundering, pushing a big gear with no élan and generally struggling. You pedal squares, when you bonk or blow up.

‘Hold your Line’ -  You’ll hear this in road races or very serious chain gangs. The idea is that when going round corners you need to hold a set distance from the edge of the road so you don’t force other people onto the other side of the road. Though people who shout ‘hold your line’ tend to have a very good capacity to sneak past you just after saying this. Holding your line is different to taking the racing line – you can do this when you’re on your own and take the shortest distance through the apex of a corner


To Half Wheel If you’re in the opposite of a serious chain gang, you may hear stately club members ask you not to ‘half wheel’. This is when an overeager cyclist keeps trying to push the pace of the group higher – by riding ahead and making other riders cycle faster to keep up. This is very much against the tradition of the traditional British club run.

Wheelsucker – Someone who always sits behind another rider to benefit from drafting, and never going to the front of a group to do a turn. If a half-wheeler is trying to show off by going faster, the wheelsucker is a rider wanting to enjoy the efforts of others. It does depends on the type of wheelsucking you do. The best sprinters will never be at the front of the peleton until the last 100m of a race. But, it’s generally considered bad form to be a wheelsucker on your daily commute.


Slipstream – Riding behind another rider can save up to 30% because of the reduced aero drag. This is the attraction of being a wheelsucker, especially if your close to ‘blowing up

‘Good style’ – It may seem curious you can have a good cycling style. But if you watch a race, you may hear the commentators say ‘he has a good style – he looks very good on the bike’. This may be followed by said rider going out the back. Looks can be deceptive. Good style is very rarely compatible with ‘gurning’ see below. But, one of the advantages of cycling is that you may be really rubbish, but as long as you ‘look good on the bike’ then it counts for something.


Les Wilmot – Looking good on the bike.

Souplesse – Synonymous with good style is the more evocative French word souplesse. It means to pedal at a high cadence and with seeming ease. An untrained cyclist will tend to ‘mash‘ (push) a big gear at a low cadence. A well trained athlete will be able to pedal with souplesse – high cadence for hours on end. Continue Reading →

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Cragg Vale and Ripponden bank

A training ride over Cragg Vale, Ripponden Bank and several other climbs which seem to proliferate around the Hebden Bridge area. Some of the climbs like Oxenhope Moor, Cragg Vale and Ripponden Bank feature in the TDF stage 2. Shame they didn’t put Luddenden Moor in there.

After Friday’s Buxton MTT, my legs were still a bit tired, but it was Easter Sunday, good weather and I was keen to check out some climbs in South Yorkshire, used in the upcoming TDF stage 2. I rarely go in this area, but it is great if you’re looking for hills to cycle up. Despite frequently getting lost and not always knowing where I was going, it was a good ride.

Oxenhope moor

Oxenhope moor

Over Bingley Moor, I went through Cullingworth to Oxenhope where I joined the TDF stage 2. There is a good steady climb from Oxenhope up to ‘Cock Hill’ on to the moors. At the top, it is quite high at 1,400ft, (400m) It is a fairly steady gradient, not too bad with the wind behind you. I was stopped at two sets of temporary traffic lights, as the council work furiously to get the road ready for the ‘big race’

From the top of Oxenhope moor, there is a great sweeping descent into Hebden Bridge. Not too steep, just nice and long. It will make a good climb the other way, with quite a significant height gain of over 280 metres. At Hebden Bridge, I had a vague idea to look for Mytholm Steps, but my OS map didn’t go that far. I ended up going miles past, ending up in Todmorden. I stopped to ask a kind elderly gentlemen, (he had a badge to say he was a veteran of the Normandy landings). He’d lived in Todmorden all his life, and told me I’d come 7 miles too far West. It would have been interesting to stop and talk to him more. But, I moved onto find some climbs.


Todmorden in the distance on Pexwood climb – the climb to a private house and a dead end

I saw this Pexwood lane, looking suitably interesting – winding it’s way up the edge of a moor. It was a great climb, with double switch backs – quite steep until it rather abruptly stopped at a ‘Private rood’ sign. I might have plodded on and tried my luck, but the road also deteriorated into an unmade surface. I turned around and went back  to Mytholmroyd for the Cragg Vale climb.


Cragg Vale

  • Distance 5.3mi
  • Avg Grade 3%
  • Elevation gain 968ft
  • Max grade: 7%
  • Highest Elev 1,268ft
  • 100 climbs: no. 138

Cragg Vale proudly claims to be the longest continual ascent in England. 968 feet of climbing in 5.5 miles. There is nothing steep, it is a classic long drag or as Magnus Backstedt would say ‘A big ring climb’ Though I didn’t use my big ring, despite an encouraging tailwind. But, it was possible to keep a nice steady speed, even at the steepest section halfway through.

Cragg vale

Even at its steepest, it never seems to go over 7%, so you can do the whole climb seated down. It’s a good ‘easy’ taster of long Alpine climbs. You can get into a good rhythm and enjoy the scenery. Someone has put helpful km markers, telling you have long you have left. Though for some reason, who ever put these helpful markers on the road, decided the top of the climb was after -0.5 km of downhill. It did seem to kind of diminish the ‘longest continual ascent in England’ tag.

Cragg Vale

Cragg Vale half way up

The climb was very popular, I both ascended and descended Cragg Vale and saw a lot of cyclists going up and down. I’m sure the Tour de France has encouraged more to try the climb – it is definitely worth a visit for any cyclist. At the top of Cragg Vale a strong wind was blowing, which made the descent to Ripponden almost as slow as the climb.

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Buxton Mountain Time Trial 2014

The Buxton Mountain time trial is one of the hilliest time trials on the calendar. About 1,100m of climbing over 33 miles (22 miles for vets and women). This year, it was part of the CTT national time trial series, and it attracted a bumper entry with 144 riders signing up for the race. The course record was set by Stuart Dangerfield in August 2003 with a 1:22:13.

joanna rowsell

Photo: The Trouser (aka Richard organiser of Buxton MTT) – Flickr see also 2014 set of Buxton MTT

The women’s event attracted some top riders, including double world champion Joanna Rowsell. Rowsell is a track specialist and a member of the world record setting British team who clocked 4.16 for the team 4km pursuit. That’s just shy of a mind boggling 35mph (and a pretty good standard for a men’s team). But, compared to the team pursuit, the Buxton MTT is a very different kettle of fish, with average speeds of roughly half of 35 mph.

In the end, the women’s event was won by Katie Archibald (Pearl Izumi) 1:00:02, (21.98mph) just pipping teammate Sarah Storey (Pearl Izumi) into 2nd place 1:00:34. Rowsell was 3rd in a time of 1.01.38

In the men’s event, Matt Clinton (Mike Vaughan Cycles) won in a time of 1.23.23. (23.74mph) Pettinger (Sri Chinmoy CT) (me) was just 2 seconds behind in 1.23.25, and Espoir C.Fennel (PMR @ Toachim House) was third with 1.24.56.

  • 1st paracylist Rik Waddon (Para T. Paracycling Team).
  • 1st Junior James Falconer Ferryhill Whs/Mountain High (58.10)
  • Honourable mention also to 1st under 16 – Adam Hartley Velocity WD-40 1.02.01.
  • 1st Vet J.Ramsbottom (Pedal Pushers) 00:56:58, with Peter Greenwooed (Team Swift) fastest vet on target.

My Race

I had a good block of training in March and early April, and went well in the Circuit of the Dales. But, during the last week I did very little apart from a few easy miles around Kissena Velodrome in NY. I got back from NY yesterday morning, and just about managed to make myself get on rollers for 30 mins in a perfunctory attempt at a pre-race warm up. With the inevitable jet lag, I was grateful for late start of 2pm and (as last year’s winner) I started as last man off at 180. At least when racing, I felt no effects of jet lag – helped by the good weather.


Photo Buxton CC photographer

Conditions were near perfect for April. Sunny, light wind and relatively warm. I set off reasonably quick on the first lap, passing through time keeper in about 27.00 (319 watts average). After the first lap, it was a bit harder to maintain that pace, and the average speed very slowly declined. The third time up Axe Edge was particularly hard going. It’s a tough course with quite a few sharp corners and changes of gradient. I tried to increase the effort near the top of climbs so I could recover on the next downhill. It’s impossible to do a measured effort because the gradient is so variable. Where possible it’s good to try and maintain momentum from downhill onto the next incline. Though, this year, I felt a little rusty on the corners.

2 Seconds

I did hear time checks that I was up on Clinton on the first two laps. But, in the end, I finished just 2 seconds behind. 2 seconds is a little ironic as that was the exact winning margin in the National Hill Climb Championship 2013. As the old saying goes – You win some, you lose some. Cycling can all be about fine margins, though it’s rare for a 33 mile hilly TT to be decided by such a small margin.

The problem with just missing out by 2 seconds, is that you can’t help but think where those 2 seconds may have come from. Like all good cyclists, it’s very easy to analyse after a race, where it wasn’t perfect. So many excuses spring to mind – equipment, training, traffic, cornering – even the good old fashioned ‘Why didn’t you just pedal a little harder!’ – I wish I could have pedalled faster on the final hill, but I was pretty spent.

- There’s a bylaw in Cycling Time Trials that at the finish you’re supposed to shout you’re number to help the time keeper. As no. 180, I thought this was my chance to shout out ‘Oneee Hundered and eighteeeeeeee’ in the manner of  all good darts commentators. It might have been mildly amusing, but after the last effort to the finish line, I think the only ’180′ I managed to say was heard by nobody including myself. I must admit shouting out of your number is one of those bylaws I rarely manage. I think being a hill climber must exempt you on many occasions.

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Training on the outdoor track

New York is always full of surprises. Here, in the middle of Queens, New York, there is the Kissena Velodrome. An outdoor concrete velodrome.  It’s a bit lumpy, but if you’re looking for a traffic free cycling environment, it is an oasis in the desert. When I went during the week, I often had the place to myself. A good opportunity for a few intervals and training.


The velodrome

After a heavy few weeks of mileage in March. This last week has been much quieter. Just a few recovery rides around the track this week.



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Preventing and treating saddle sore

Saddle sore is a common affliction for cyclists, especially when you spend increasing amounts of time in the saddle. To some extent they are inevitable and can’t be avoided. But, it is worth trying to minimise their frequency and severity as much as possible, because they can become a real pain.

Many non cycling friends say that saddle sore is the biggest reason why they stopped cycling. It seems a real shame because they could probably make a big difference if they tried a few things. Some of the biggest names in pro-cycling have been afflicted with saddle sores – from Eddy Merckx (couldn’t start 1976 tour) to Joop  Zoetemelk pulling down his shorts to show journalists a boil ‘the size of an egg’ on his inner thigh, to explain why he wasn’t able to challenge the winner of the 1976 Tour, Lucien Van Impe (Guardian link).  Greg Le Mond abandoned the 1992 Tour de France on the l’Alpe d’Huez stage blaming unending torture from saddle sores. Fortunately, there is no need to despair as we can reduce the frequency and severity of sores.

Saddle sore typically has 3 stages:

  1. Mild skin abrasion / chaffing
  2. Red acne lumps, like acne (folliculitis)
  3. Abscess

The third stage requires medical treatment, and not just self-medication.

Prevention of Saddle Sore

Prevention of saddle sore is the most important thing we can do.

Increase distance gradually. Firstly, if you are new to cycling, there is an element of getting used to cycling. If your posterior is sensitive at first, it will get less so, the more you cycle. If you start off with very long rides, you are not accustomed to – saddle sore is much more likely. I think I get less saddle sores than I did when I first started cycling. There is another reason. As your legs get stronger, they are able to take a bit more weight and less for your butt.

Stable position. Related to the first point, saddle sore is more likely if you are rocking around your saddle. If you have a stronger core and can keep a strong position on the bike, it will help reduce irritation.

Buy the best shorts you can afford. Always use a good non – seamed cycling short (just in case you were afraid to ask – you definitely don’t want to wear underwear underneath cycling shorts!) A good quality chamois or synthetic chamois leather is important. From personal experience, I found some cycling shorts to be much better padded than others. The worse were some custom Impsport shorts, which were truly dreadful. In between were some Dhb Aeron Pro (£69.99) The best are unfortunately the most expensive. I strongly recommend the Assos F1 mile padded cycle shorts – I’ve found it really effective in giving the best comfort for long cycle rides. If you do regularly ride over 3 hours, it will be money well spent. There may be other shorts not as expensive which are still good. But, obviously I haven’t  been able to test all varieties. ‘Reassuringly expensive’ is perhaps an apt description of Assos shorts.


£150 for a pair of shorts is some of the best money I’ve spent in cycling..

Use a good chamois cream. This can help reduce chaffing on the side of the saddle. My current Adamo saddle is a bit wide, so I’ve got into the habit of always putting chamois cream directly onto the skin, in the area where chaffing is likely to occur. (e.g. Assos Chamois Cream or other, such as Udderly Smooth which is a bit cheaper. As a last resort a bit of vaseline will reduce friction)

Move around. During a ride, take time to alter your position; give yourself time out of the saddle to relieve the pressure. Some kind of hilly rides will get you out of the saddle without having to think about it. But, other flatter rides, you may need to make sure you do relieve stress, every now and then. Note, you need to do this before your butt starts to feel numb or hurt. This is particularly important in time trials or when you are on the turbo because you’re more likely to get stuck in the same position.

Make sure your position is correct. Awkward positions could lead to too much pressure being put on the saddle. The weight should be evenly spread over the bike. If your seat is too high, your hips wiggle around more.

Don’t drive home in your sweaty shorts. Get clean and dry and soon as possible. It is essential to always wear clean shorts for every ride. I also find a bit of talcum powder with Daktarin (anti-fungal) added to be excellent for preventing any fungal problems. If it might be difficult to get a shower straight after a race, buy some antiseptic wipes to apply to groin area.

At night wear loose fitting pyjamas to reduce contact and allow air to circulate into the nether regions

Methods for dealing with existing saddle sore

Sudocrem one of best defences against saddle sores

Sudocrem one of best defences against saddle sores

  • Check for first signs of abrasion, and keep wound clean and disinfected.
  • Apply Sudocrem (12% Zinc Oxide). This is designed for sores and abrasions, and works quite well. I tend to put on sudocrem as a matter of habit after a ride now. Continue Reading →
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The Belgian classics

A tribute to the Belgian, and other early season classics.

There was a time when I used to think watching pro cycling was pretty boring. I watched the Tour de France for many years because I was interested in cycling, but if I’m honest it was all pretty tedious and not very much really happened. The action was mainly enlivened by Carlton Kirby or the legendary David Duffield getting randomly excited about a local wine vineyard that the peleton had just passed (and if that was the highlight of a stage,  imagine the tedium…) For several years, the Tour de France was just three weeks of watching the US Postal team ride on the front, and at the end of the month, the same bloke always seemed to win.

Photo Brendan2010 - Tour of Flanders 2013

Photo Brendan2010 – Tour of Flanders 2013

These days, the Tour seems slightly more unpredictable and in 2013 there were some great stages, despite the fears it would be all about the Sky train. But, whatever the Tour de France can serve up -  the great spring classics are on another level for sheer excitement, interest, unpredictability and sporting endeavour. Even the place names in the classics seem to conjure up the best of cycling and northern Europe. Just hearing the names of the great cobbled climbs like Oude Kwaremont, the Paterberg, the Kopenberg, the Muur seems to evoke epic battles on the bike.


The Muur by Louise Ireland

The classics have everything – iconic locations, great pictures, evocative place names, a testament of endurance and fitness, but also luck and the ever changing tactical calculations. When should you ride? when should you attack?  You never really know what is going to happen, and it’s hard to pick a winner. They often provide tension and excitement right up to the last. If nothing else, they are wonderful spectacles; it’s just great to watch the top cyclists power or struggle up the cobbled climbs. When you see a Boonen or Sagan in full flight, you know that is real power (and if you’re interested Paris-Roubaix winner Magnus Backstedt used to do 30 seconds intervals of 1,000 watts + in his preparations for Paris Roubaix.) Continue Reading →

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Circuit of the Dales 2014

The Circuit of the Dales, promoted by Nelson Wheelers, is an early season classic around the roads of the Yorkshire Dales. Starting off in Ingleton, the course heads West towards Kirby Lonsdale, then north up to Sedbergh. From Sedbergh, it climbs up towards Gardsale, before the descent into Hawes. At Hawes, there is the hardest climb of the race, as you go up onto the exposed moors around Ribblehead. This moor road takes you past Ribblehead Viaduct before finishing just outside Ingleton. This year there was a full field with 153 entrants. This entry included quite a few road riders, and a big turnout from Velosure-Giordana Racing Team. There was a good prize list to celebrate Nelson Wheeler’s Centenary anniversary; and the 66th running of the Circuit of the Dales.

With Rapha Condor JLT racing in Japan / Asia, last year’s winner Richard Handley was absent. The organiser mentioned the only previous winner in the race was Martin Brass (1991).This year James Gullen of Velosure-Giordana Racing Team won in a very good time of 2.02.37.   I finished second in 2.03.33. 3rd was Pete Williams (Haribo Beacon) 2:05:19

  • 1st lady was Nina Benson Ilkley (CC) with  2-46-56.
  • 1st Tricycle: Geoff Booker (Oxonians CC) 2-58
  • 1st Vet: Simon Bridge Manchester Wheelers 2-06


My Race

In the past 8 days, I’ve ridden over 400 miles in an unusual burst of getting the miles in. It was helped by finishing teaching and a period of good weather. With so many miles in the legs (including a 120 mile TDF stage on Tues) I wasn’t sure whether I would come to race with great fitness – or tiredness and overtraining. I think it was a bit of both, but riding a lot does seem to make you fitter.

I spent quite a bit of time in the preceding days nervously checking the weather forecast. I always get cold doing the Circuit of the Dales, and that’s with dry weather! With the predicted rain, I spent a lot of time trying to weigh up how much clothes I should take. Should I take a spare rain jacket in case of puncture? Is the aerodynamic cost worth the greater piece of mind? In the end, the weather was much better than predicted. Apart from a few showers, it mercifully stayed dry. Continue Reading →

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Air Pollution over the Yorkshire Dales



Yesterday, I cycled out to Arncliffe. There was a strange fog of pollution, hanging over the Yorkshire Dales. They say it is partly dust from the Sahara, but I fear man made pollution could be making this a lot more common. Can you imagine living in a place, where it was always like this?

A very good reason for more people to cycle and leave the diesel car at home…

I went out to do a 55 mile ride, I got a runny nose, like the start of the hayfever season.


This climb to Arncliffe is always deserted. A nice cycling road, though the climb is pretty steep.

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