In honour of the hill climb season

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.

Winnats Pass

WinnatsPass

Winnats Pass is a tough climb in the Peak District from the village of Castleton heading West through a steep limestone cleft.  It averages over 10%, with a considerable section of 20% + near the top.

Winnats pass has featured in the now-defunct Tour of Peak road race and also featured as a venue for the National hill climb Championship on a record ten occasions (most recent 1977). It will also be the venue for 2021. There is now a popular Tour of the Peak sportive, run in May. The sportive offers closed roads for Winnats Pass.

The climb travels through a natural amphitheatre with steep slopes and rock faces on either side of the road. It provides an excellent location and challenge. The main drawback of Winnats pass is that it can be quite busy with motor traffic.  (unfortunately, the old A road through Mam Tor was closed due to subsidence.) Combined with the narrowness of the road, it can become a little crowded. As a result, you are likely to be greeted with the reassuring smell of burning clutch as cars struggle up the 20% inclines.

WinnatsPass
Winnats Pass by Rob Bendall

Winnats Pass old Hill Climb Course

The National Hill Climb Championship has been held on Winnats Pass on ten occasions. They used to be able to get a road closure because the alternative A road to the top was still functioning.

The winning time was around 3.20 – 3.30. It is hard to know the actual course but this is a rough approximation.

2021 National hill climb course

The 2021 National hill climb has been confirmed as Winnat’s Pass. The course is said to be

“Start at first kerbstone on left 5 metres above Cattle Grid. Proceed uphill to finish at Cattle grid sign just before Cattle grid at top. 0.56mile/ 985yds”

Best approximation so far.

Twitter – Winnats Pass

Strava – Hill climb course Winnats Pass


Winnats Pass Full climb:

After leaving the village of Castleton you turn left. Initially, the climb is not too steep, but the gradient increases until you come to a fairly constant section of 20%, which lasts for quite a bit.

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Winnats Pass – Jon Bendall

Read moreWinnats Pass

Wheel spin in hill climbs

Wheelspin is not a pleasant experience, it can throw you off rhythm and make you feel like you are going nowhere. A reader asked for any advice after experieing several wheel slips on Streatley.

Rake photo Paul Jones (from 2012)

Factors which make wheelspin more like include

  • The steeper the hill it is
  • Riding style. Big jerky effort, low cadence, out of the saddle efforts may make wheelslip more likely
  • Rear tyre pumped up high

Personal experience of wheel spin

The first time I had bad wheel spin was 2005 National hill climb on the Rake. The ground was damp and it was the first time I had raced on a climb as steep as the Rake (22%) It really knocked my rhythm. It felt like you were grounding to a halt. Since then I might have had some at the Cat and Bec hill climbs, which are also similarly steep but I can’t remember now.

When I went back to the Rake in 2012, I didn’t have any wheelspin, I think I reduced tyre pressure to 65psi because it was damp.

How to avoid wheelspin

  • I find the best way to avoid wheel spin is to avoid entering climbs like the Rake or Cat and Bec!
  • On a serious note, I’m not an expert on avoiding wheelspin, because I preferred longer climbs rather than the very short and steep. A few riders say they experienced wheel spin on Streatley Hill (max gradient 18%) but I never have. Possibly because I spin slightly higher cadence than average or my tubs are good. In 2020 on Streatley, I reduced tyre pressure to 80psi – but only because others were talking about wheelspin.
  • Of course, if you can remain seated whilst climbing, wheelspin will not occur. But, this is not really useful advice as no-one wants to climb the Rake or Streatley seated. (For what it is worth I did the first 150m of Streatley seated and then the rest of the climb out of the saddle)
  • Lower psi to 60psi. If you think wheelspin is a big issue, the best is to ride 25″ tyres and reduce tyre pressure to as low as 60psi. Choosing wider tyres gives more traction

Best tyres to avoid wheelspin?

After the 2005 experience, I spent a long time researching the best tyres to avoid wheelspin. I eventually asked Jim Henderson and he advised some particiular tubulars as being fantastic for avoiding wheelspin, I regret to say I can’t remember what he said!

Since 2011 I have used

  • Vittoria Chrono Evo tubulars (165g) 22″ which are super light and have been very good for avoiding wheelspin. For me these have been good, but there might be better. I’m not sure whether the Chrono Evo are still available.

My Vittoria may need replacing, and if it is Winnat’s Pass next year, it will be another steep one. If any reader has any tyre recommendations please share!

Burrington Combe 2020

Today was my 10th entry for the Bristol South CC promotion on Burrington Combe.

burrington-combe

It’s always a hill climb I enjoy riding. A good long climb, nice scenery and, over the years, I have got to know quite a few riders and organisers from the Bristol scene. It also helps that the climb historically suited my riding style. The last eight times I have entered – going all the way back to 2005 – I came first. It was an unbeaten run that was more than overdue to be broken. Since I was last here in 2016, a lot has happened. And it’s not just me getting older.

I thought the conditions were quite good. 12 degrees, hardly any wind, maybe 1 mph headwind at the top, but not noticeable. My race went fairly well. I warmed up on the road, switched to the lighter racing wheels and went off to the start. I got into a good rhythm and I paced it reasonably well. I made quite a good effort, riding as hard as I could for 7+ minutes and making an extra effort at the steep bits. The only downside to the race was that my time was about 30 seconds slower than I would have liked. As a great French philosopher once said “That’s life, mate!”

Read moreBurrington Combe 2020

A return to Chinnor hill

This week I was invited to an interview about hill climbs by a local Oxford photographer Maciek Tomiczek and his friend Nick. Maciek rides for a local Oxford club, Cowley Road Condors and became interested in the discipline of hill climbs. As a result, he is planning to make a short film about hill climbs. He has already interviewed Darryl Webster, and I believe a few more people will be interviewed.

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Chinnor Hill

It was auspicious timing for me to talk about the motivation, enjoyment and challenge of hill climbs, as for the first time in three years, I’ve been able to cycle hard without suffering from any significant physical problem.

After a few weeks of cycling up and down some local hills, I’m quite surprised how quickly old fitness and form return. In fact, it’s returning so quickly, I’m starting to regret booking an expensive Eurostar train to Paris on the last weekend of October. I haven’t given any thought to racing, as I wanted to get rid of all niggles and pains before getting tempted to push it too quickly, too early. I’m busy every weekend in October apart from 5th and 6th. I wonder if there is a local club hill climb that weekend? That would be fun.

The interesting thing for me is that the enthusiasm for training and racing up hills feels undimmed, and I’m enjoying being able to go out. Its good to be able to rediscover my favourite climbs around Brill and the Chilterns. Who knows what will happen next, but I hope to maintain and improve fitness for next year. (I will write on my FAI experiences in the coming weeks.)

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Photo: Maciek

This week, Maciek also wanted to video me in action. So we went to Chinnor hill to get a few different angles and video shots. It was interesting to revisit Chinnor for the first time in ages. I’ve done a fair few intervals there over the years. I also remember watching the Tour of Britain race up there a few years ago. It was a windy, showery, early Autumn day – quite evocative of the hill climb season. One question, I remember talking about is the memories of doing hill climbs. For me, the abiding memory is nothing about the pain of doing the event. More than anything, the impression that stays in my mind is the scenery and the hills. It’s true you suffer when racing, but as soon as it finishes, I always seem to forget that aspect and you focus on the afterglow of making a good effort.

I turn off Strava notifications, and I try not to even notice if old records stay or go. I think after all these years, some records are still in place. But, hill climbs are popular like never before and a whole new generation of fast riders are coming along. It is good to see. There is a fair few good riders in Oxford, from Zero BC who like to test themselves up Brill. My favourite cycling philosophy is that ‘there’s always somebody better than you.’ (with exception of Eddy Merckx.)

I happened to catch the men U23 world race championship in Yorkshire – very impressed by the race. Epic Yorkshire conditions. Should be a good weekend for women and mens championship.

Recently a reader asked for routes around Oxford, I don’t have any in GPS form, but this is a good starting point for rides from Oxford.

Local routes by Condor Cycles

Pea Royd Lane

Pea Royd Lane has been the venue for the national hill climb championships in 2009, 2014 and it will be the last minute venue for the 2018 National Championships.

It is a classic hill climb length- relatively short and steep with a few sharp corners to make it really testing.  The gradient is variable from fairly shallow at the bottom to a gradient of up to 20% near the top.

Blog from 2014 national hill climb championship

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Practice run August 2014

I was driving up north this weekend, so I took the short detour off the M1 to revisit Stocksbridge and have a go at Pea Royd Lane, which I haven’t done since 2009. The weather was warm with a cross wind. It felt like a headwind at the start, but tailwind in the middle. The last section I couldn’t work out. That’s the nature of the course, the wind can be all over the place.

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Great view from the top

The over-riding impression of the climb was it’s steep and also a painful reminder of how hard hill climbs are. I’ve been looking for a similar hill in Oxfordshire, but there is nothing which gets the same height gain, in such as short space of time – though Whiteleaf hill and Chinnor Hill come close.

After a warm up, I gave it a good effort –  to try and get a rough idea of what time I can do after a summer of 50 and 100 mile time trials.  I’ve gone deeper in the hill climb season proper. But, it was plenty hard enough. I’m sure there was a lurking thought somewhere in my mind ‘Why do I do hill climbs again?’

It’s a hard hill climb because the gradient is always changing. The road surface is also quite rough. There was plenty of loose gravel, chippings and patched up road surface. I hear it is going to be resurfaced soon!

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Half way up, there’s a slight easing of gradient over the road bridge before the rest of the climb looms into view.

I took lots of photos of the climb (see bottom of post). It’s quite a mix of scenic Yorkshire views, with some ageing steel plants and electricity pylons thrown in. Still it’s a good view from the top.

Read morePea Royd Lane

National hill climb 2017

Malcolm Eliot hill climb

Results:

Men:

  1. Dan Evans (ASSOS Equipe UK)   3:54.3  (course record)
  2. Adam Kenway (Raleigh GAC)      3:59.5
  3. Kieran Savage (B38-Underpin Racing)      4:03.1
  4. Joseph Clark (Cycling Giant Sheffield)      4:04.9
  5. Leon Wright (Race Hub)    4:05.3
  6. Mike Morris (NFTO Race Club)     4:05.6
  7. Andy Cunningham (All Terrain Cycles)     4:08.1
  8. Zeb Kyffin (GS Metro)      4:09.9
  9. Kieran Wynne-Cattanach (Maxxis 4 RT)   4:10.6
  10. Patrick Clark (B38-Underpin Racing)      4:11.2

Team: B38-Underpin Racing (K. Savage, P. Clark, Andy Nichols)  12:31.7

Women:

  1. Joscelin Lowden (Lewes Wanderers CC)  4:53.4
  2. Mary Wilkinson (Yorkshire Road Club)     4:54.5
  3. Hayley Simmonds (Team WNT Pro Cycling)        4:55.6
  4. Fiona Burnie (GS Metro)    5:03.9
  5. Jessica Evans (Assos Equipe UK)  5:11.6
  6. Rebecca Goodson (Velo Schils Interbike)  5:13.2
  7. Elizabeth Banks (Storey Racing)    5:16.1
  8. Jacintha Hamilton-Love (Dulwich Paragon)          5:20.6
  9. Alice Lethbridge (Drag2Zero)        5:21.4
  10. Hannah Slade (Chippenham & District Whs)       5:23.7

Team: Racing Chance Foundation (Corinne Side, Tamsin Vicary, Heather Bamforth)         18:08.5

Junior Boys:

  1. George Kimber (CS Dynamo)        4:13.9
  2. Thomas Prentice (GS Metro)          4:23.5
  3. Alex Raynard (Matlock CC)          4:26.8

Junior Girls:

  1. Corinne Side (Racing Chance Foundation)            5:19.0
  2. Lily Greenhalgh (Team 22) 5:28.7
  3. Jasmine Gray (VCUK Velochampion)       6:29.0

Read moreNational hill climb 2017

OUCC hill climb – Wytham Woods

hc-start

Today was the Oxford University CC hill climb. It was on a private road from the attractive village of Wytham up through the woods used by Oxford University research teams. I wanted to do the race because it is probably the only climb in Oxfordshire I haven’t ever done – it is usually closed to the public. It had a lovely smooth tarmac which felt great to ride on.

hc-start

The climb does not rank in the epic category but makes a reasonable four-minute effort. The steepest section is at the bottom, just after the start and then there are several false flats with slight rises every now and then. It means you have to go pretty hard from the off and try and maintain your speed in the last half of the climb. You can’t really get into a rhythm as the gradient is never constant; it was an interesting climb to do. Probably perfect for my current shape.

***

I only entered the event on an impulse after bumping into an OUCC rider at some traffic lights in Oxford. After putting the entry form in, I regretted it almost immediately. In the end, it was kind of worth it, but it felt a bit weird not only to be doing a hill climb but to be even riding a proper road bike. Sometimes when cyclists say ‘they haven’t done any training’ you have to treat it with a pinch of salt. But, in my case, it’s a pretty fair assessment. I was in bad shape three weeks ago, but since then haven’t touched the road bike at all. I’ve spent a year trying to ride through a minor injury but now have given up until it is better. There’s only so much motivation you can muster to ride through aches and pains.

**

Read moreOUCC hill climb – Wytham Woods

Feet in the Clouds – a tale of running up fells

feet-in-the-clouds Review of: Feet in the clouds – A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession

‘Feet in the clouds’ is a book about fell running by Richard Askwith, a London journalist, who gets hooked on the sport of fell running. He tells a potted history of the sport, and also his own personal endeavours as a middle of the road aspiring fell runner.

Although there is no mention of cycling, amateur cyclists will see a kinship in many of the things Askwith talks about –  the club scene, the attraction of the great outdoors, the great characters of the sport, to the physical and mental challenge of running up steep hills.

More than any other branch of cycling, it reminded me of the hill climb scene in domestic UK timetrialling. The slightly crazy idea of finding the steepest hills and running / cycling up them. The only difference with fell running, is the even more crazy run back down the mountain.

I didn’t have any recognition of the names in the book. There wasn’t a single fell runner who I recognised, apart from perhaps Ron Hill, who wasn’t really a fell runner. This is perhaps proof of the amateur nature of the sport; a sport, which more or less has avoided the trappings of commercialism.

Though, its not a completely rose-tinted view of the sport. For example, there is a chapter on the senseless amateur / professional divide of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Which to a millennial will make absolutely no sense.

Read moreFeet in the Clouds – a tale of running up fells

Video archive of hill climb

A Pathe News video of Kent’s 37th Annual Hill climb championship on Brasted Hill.

Love the braces, woolly jumpers and billowing shirts. Some chaps really look like they are going so slow they are about to fall off. That’s a proper hill climb. The crowds are amazing. I suppose people didn’t have tv to watch or computers to stare at in those days.

Brasted Hill, 667 yards long. (average gradient 1-7)

W Hussey won in a time in 1 min 54 2/5 secs.

98 started!

National hill climb tomorrow on Bank Road. I have a cold, but still hope to turn up and ride.

Related

List of Mens national hill climb

List of Women winners

Catford CC hill climb