The Old Shoe out of Llangollen is a short, steep climb in North Wales. It runs close to the better known Horseshoe Pass. (main A road). But the Old shoe makes an excellent venue for the national hill climb because it is feasible to close the road to traffic and is significantly steeper (an average for 12.% for 1 mile is a real challenge. The road is quite narrow and has a cattle grid, but is relatively quiet, as most cars take the Horseshoe Pass up the valley.
I remember sitting down with Maciek about two years ago (2019). I always enjoy talking about hill climbs, so was happy to take part. We spent quite a few hours and I think Maciek ended up with quite a bit of footage (as an amateur film-maker, I couldn’t guess at the number of hours Maciek must have spent editing all that footage). It was at a time when I wasn’t doing any competitive cycling, so it was nice to relive the old memories, which seemed quite ‘alive’.
On another occasion, we went out to Chinnor Hill in the Chilterns to do a short photoshoot.
I must admit, I then forgot about it for a year until Maciek thought about publishing in 2020. But, he waited another year and interviewed Bithja Jones and Andrew Feather, which was a good addition to the film.
I think it is very good. I like all the contributions and it gives a good insight into the world of hill climbing. It’s often hard watching yourself speak, but there you go.
After the 2021 national hill climb on Winnats Pass and now watching the whole final version, I’m super inspired to go out and cycle up some hills! I hope my body is as enthusiastic and willing as the rest of me! But, I guess that is part of the film, inspiring you to enter a hill climb 362 days until the Old Shoe in Llangollen, North Wales
The film is made by Maciek Tomiczek supported by Hunt.
The National Hill Climb Championship for 2021 was held Winnats Pass. It is an iconic venue for the event because it is an excellent hill (i.e. really hard – 11% average, 20% max gradient). The hill has a natural amphitheatre around the climb meaning there will be a great atmosphere for both riders and spectators.
It is also by far the most popular hill climb venue for the National with 10 visits. However, this will be the first visit to Winnats since 1977.
The 2021 race was very popular with many entrants and spectators. It was run under difficult conditions with rain and wind making the steep slopes even harder. In the men’s race Tom Bell, broke the decades old course record to fly up the climb in a time of 3:01.6 pipping last year’s winner Andrew Feather. In the women’s event, Bithja Jones narrowly pipped Mary Wilkinson to the title.
In honour of the British Hill Climb Season, I cycled up a moderately steep hill near where I live. It was an all-out, lung-busting effort to get to the top of Rose Hill, I even overtook a young teenager on a mountain bike and said to him ‘Ey up!’
But I don’t think he spoke Yorkshire, and he replied with some modern lingo I didn’t quite understand either. The main thing is that I had left him in the dust and shown quite a nice turn of speed for a balding, middle-aged man with a few bags of shopping from Sainsburys.
The one great consolation of middle age, is that I have avoided the dreaded middle-aged spread. Unlike my father and my father’s father, I’m still as stick thin as a young whippet hill climber ought to be. If only it was a contest of height to weight ratios and not power to weight, I might still be in contention for the top 3 places. Fortunately it is not – instead the hill climb is an honest test of power, speed, determination and maybe just a dash of insanity thrown in for good measure.
I kind of miss many things about the hill climb season, but all the training has lost something of its allure. I sometimes don’t recognise my former self who would seek out the steepest and longest hills with a relish and enthusiasm that becomes harder to comprehend as time passes.
Even though I don’t follow the results or what is happening, I still find myself thinking about the hill climb season around this time. It is as if I have a biological clock that gets to mid autumn and thinks about hill climbs, even if I do more thinking than actual cycling.
Even many years after dropping out of serious racing, I keep thinking of different years and get thoughts like 1991 Park Rash, it would have been fun to enter National HC aged 15 and raced against Chris Boardman. 2004 Winter’s Gibbet, wish I entered. 2007 Cheddar Gorge, shame I was injured e.t.c. But, regrets are a futile business. So I wish bon chance to the entrants for Winnats Pass and I trust it will be a great Hill Climb Championship.
Some of the useful techniques for cycling uphill from 3% long drags to 30% wicked hairpins.
Simple top 7 tips
The quickest 7 tips to cycling uphill I would give are:
Avoid going into the ‘red’ too early on the climb. Don’t get carried away on the lower slopes, if you still have a long slog to the top.
Maintain a reasonable cadence of 65-80 rpm. It will be a lower cadence than normal, but avoid pushing a big gear at a very low cadence.
Anticipate steep sections in advance by getting into lower gear before.
Traffic permitting, avoid the steepest apex and go wide around corners to maintain the best rhythm and constant speed.
Where possible remain seated. Save standing on the pedals for the really steep hills and steep sections.
Stick to your own pace. It is counter-productive to try and stay with much quicker riders. You will lose more time in the long run.
Know what you are climbing – length, gradient, max gradient, and likely time needed.
The effort required to cycle uphill increases exponentially as the gradient increases. If you’re unfit/new to cycling don’t start off in the Lake District, it may put you off for life. You need a reasonable fitness before you tackle steep hills. Also, when you start to climb, you use your upper body and back more. Core strength exercises to strengthen upper back muscles will help a lot.
Climbing in saddle or out of saddle?
A big issue is whether to climb seated in the saddle or climb out of the saddle. In short, I find it best to be seated for long gradual climbs. Getting out of the saddle is useful for when the gradient really gets steep. Climbing out of the saddle is less aerodynamic and is harder work. It is good for short bursts of power, but you will tire more quickly.
Climbing in the saddle
Where possible, I try to remain seated when climbing. It is more efficient and you can maintain a high power for longer. It is also more aerodynamic. For novices, it is good training to try and climb whilst seated and get out of the habit of standing on the pedals as soon as the road goes uphill.
Climbing whilst out of the saddle
Sometimes referred to as ‘standing on the pedals’. Here you employ a lot more muscles and upper body strength to help you pull up against the handlebars. If you stand up, you will get a short term increase in power. If you’re using a power meter, you will probably see your power increase significantly. This is great for acceleration or getting through a particularly steep section. But, when the fast twitch muscle fibres are exhausted, the burst of power will evaporate, and you will find your power dissipates.
Bear in mind, there is no hard and fast rule about climbing in the saddle. If you watch the Tour de France, you will see different riders have different styles. A light rider like Alberto Contador always seems to be out of the saddle rocking around all over the place. A heavier more powerful rider like Cancellara will be much more likely to be going up the Alpine climbs whilst seated. Shorter, lighter riders generally do better out of the saddle than heavier riders. Sometimes it’s good to get out of the saddle just to give your back muscles a stretch and break the monotony of climbing in the seated position.
Don’t forget the wind
Some of my hardest hill climbing experiences have actually been due to a super strong headwind, as much as the gradient. The closest I came to walking up a hill was Wrynose pass (25%) but, that day there was a super strong headwind. Obviously, if you can keep lower on the bike, it helps avoid the headwind. This is why it can be good to practise climbing seated. On the other hand, in 2013 the national hill climb had a 35mph tailwind, making it an advantage to do most of the climb standing up!
Rock solid core and minimising other movements
Talking of pro techniques – watching last year’s Vuelta Espagne I was struck by the stage where Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) won. On the last climb, he was absolutely solid on the bike. His lower and upper back wasn’t moving – only his legs were moving. He must have worked a lot on core strength, this increases power climbing because more effort is going to his legs and less into his upper body.
Best line to take climbing
Where possible you want to try and reduce the gradient of the hill by going wide on the corners and avoiding the apex. The shortest route is not the quickest. If you go through the apex you will break your rhythm and be forced to try harder. It is better to try and maintain the same gradient by going wide. You can keep in the same gear and maintain your speed; this is a secret of climbing, maintain your momentum where possible.
I am currently going through a five year plan of clearing out my stuff. I have sold a lot of books on Ziffit. I have put five skinsuits in the loft and managed to throw away one. It’s amazing how you can accumulate skinsuits. They cost a lot of money but have no re-sell value (especially when the lyrca gets stretched). I don’t want to discard them because I hope to use them again, but who knows when?
The problem with taking a zen approach to your stuff is that with cycling stuff, it is easy to accumulate and difficult to throw away. I’m sure all cyclists can relate to keeping various odd bits in different parts of the house and not knowing when they will come in. You keep just in case and then forget their purpose.
In my loft, I couldn’t believe how many varieties of aero bottles I have lying around. That’s the problem with time trialling, there’s always watts to be saved by splashing some cash. I’m kind of relieved to be off the aero gains money-train. I also always seem to excel in collecting one single glove. I had about 4 right handed gloves with no pair.
To my surprise my local area (Cowley, Oxford) where I live has implemented a low traffic neighbourhood. It involves putting
Bollards on some roads to block traffic
Implementing bus/taxi gates where the road is still open, but taxi’s, buses and emergency vehicles can pass through. (Also quite a lot of cars ignore the signs.)
A few months ago, the council sent a consultation pack through the post, and then this spring, it was implemented in a wide area of Cowley.
It has made quite a big difference to the volume of traffic on the road where I live. It has fallen quite a lot. There is more traffic on the roads around the LTN because it has cut off many ‘rat runs’ (short cuts).
End to End by Paul Jones is a book about the people who have attempted the Lands End to John O Groats cycling record. It is also an exploration of the author’s own inner journey framed around his personal efforts to cycle the distance.
I haven’t read too many cycling books recently. Quite a few generic cycling books end up saying similar things. There are only so many books you want to read on the Tour de France, to say nothing of the interminably awful doping confession books I read several years ago.
With Paul Jones’ cycling books, at the very least, you know you are getting to get a new insight on a cycling subject, which has rarely been covered before. I looked forward to getting a copy, which I did from Blackwells.
In the first few chapters, I took some time to get into the book. There were a lot of personal opinions and insights into the author’s views and inner state of mind. (I was really surprised to learn Paul was a headmaster of a school!) There is admirable honesty and frankness, but it isn’t necessarily what I am looking for in a book.
If it is in places a little heavy going with personal stuff and a legitimate sense of injustice, I started to see it as a metaphor for a long distance endurance ride. Sometimes, it rains, but then you turn a corner and you remember why you made the effort.
The strength of Paul Jones as a writer is to take a relatively obscure rider and make their achievements feel impressive and worth knowing about. There are some end to enders I know something about – Eileen Sheridan (Wonder Wheels), John Woodburn (used to often talk about his End to End attempts at local time trials), but there were many new characters who I enjoyed reading about and finding what made them tick and why there were able to achieve something so unique. Like Jones’ other books, you feel a sincere celebration of the unsung amateur club rider. Men and women who achieved remarkable things and in a way that is much more inspiring than many of the so-called modern celebrities.
About halfway through the book I was thinking, it is a good book, but I probably won’t write a review. I’m not suitably enthusiastic about it. But, an interesting thing is that towards the end of the book, I started to feel genuinely inspired. Something clicked and you felt the real value of this great collective effort to transcend the limits through one of the hardest cycling challenges. Paul’s writing brings to life this difficult event and it shines a good light on the diverse characters who have made the end to end.
When I was a teacher I used to fine students 10p for swearing and with some students I made a lot of money! If there was 10p fine for swearing in this book, I think I would have got a 70% reduction on the price of the book. But, the corollary is that sometimes, Paul really hits the sweet spot for certain droll humour, where the words fly effortlessly in a seaming stream of consciousness that sweeps you along. Which living author could write so well about an inconspicuous lay-by, situated in the post-industrial waste that is Wolverhampton, on a gloomy, wet winter evening?
For me, the book was like an end to end, there were bits where you were struggling a little uphill, then flying downhill. But, by the end, you knew you were glad you had done it and really understood something of a very uplifting part of cycling.
Overall, I would recommend the book and it makes a good addition to any cycling library.
Buying books online. During lockdown I have settled into buying everything online and to my great shame usually end up at the greedy monopolist Amazon. But, for books, I make a stand and always buy them elsewhere. Blackwells is a very good alternative to Amazon.
I would often talk to the late John Woodburn after local time trials. Actually, it was more him talking to me. He would often bring up the End to End. What I remember is he complained bitterly that his sponsors made him do the record when he was ill (his attempt that failed). He was also incredibly annoyed that when someone broke his record, they did it by the smallest of margins. As usual with John Woodburn, I would listen to his stories with rapt attention and then break out into nervous laughter not knowing whether he was being serious, angry or really happy. The book was worth buying just for the realisation that it wasn’t just me, but everyone found John Woodburn a wonderful enigma.
Google have closed down their Feedburner email service (you can always rely on Google to close down useful services, if they don’t make $x billion profit per week ) so I switched to another called follow.it – I hope it works and you receive in your inbox.
Shortly after finishing my first 12 hour TT in 2016, I started getting pains in my right hip and lower right back, and also delayed muscle fatigue in the right glute.
I assumed it was related to cycling a lot that summer, but cutting back on training and racing didn’t diminish the problem, in fact, it got worse. I went to osteopaths and physiotherapists, they were all confident a bit of massage and physio would make leg stronger and get better. When it didn’t, after a few months my osteopath said he would ask for a second opinion as he felt he couldn’t do any more. (I appreciated his honesty). Another osteopath at the same clinic said it was probably all in your mind. So I tried to think away the pain and carry on, but it didn’t work out.
Then I tried the Egoscue method. Egoscue concentrates on improving your body posture, the logic is that if you out of position, you place strain on joints e.t.c. I was out of position with my head forward, one shoulder higher than the other and a bent back. I religiously did the egoscue exercises for a few months. My posture improved, but the hip issue was unsolved.
Then I heard it might be FAI, so I did an internet search and became convinced that was the end of cycling. However, not all the internet is useless. When I announced my retirement on my blog, a few readers said there were solutions to FAI. I was deeply grateful for those comments as it encouraged me to keep trying.
After the national hill climb in late October. My cycling went into mini-hibernation. Every ride seemed to get shorter and slower. My mid December I was reduced to a few miles around Oxford here and there. It was a long wet, cold winter, which seemed to fit the mood of third lockdown or whatever number it was. In the past year I have barely noticed when we go in and out of lockdown – it all merges into one long thing.
Since the New Year things have been picking up. I have been going a little quicker, a little further and have been enjoying the lengthening days.
A few weeks ago we had bad flooding around the Thames basin. It was hard to find roads which were not flooded.
I did a u-turn. One cyclist said they managed to cycle along the wood boards, but my drop handlebars didn’t fit and I wasn’t in the mood for slipping off.
Last Sunday was the warmest day of the year. A balmy 11 degrees and it felt warmer in the sun. I did a rare thing – I had a leisurely ride and even stopped off at Brill to eat a banana. There were plenty of cyclists on the roads.
Yesterday, 1 March seemed like a good day to get the time trial bike down from the loft. The roads have dried up and I quickly charged up the electric gears. There are few better things in cycling than to go from your heavy winter training bike with mudguards to a super-fast tt bike. Suddenly you are 3mph faster and it feels really good!
The problem with getting the TT bike is that I don’t want to go back to the slow road bike!
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