After the persistent drizzle of Saturday around Holmfirth, the rain hardened to be a bit heavier for Sunday’s Lyme Racing Mow Cop hill climb. I was still trying to dry off clothes from the day before. I had to dig deep into my old sock draw at my parents house. I only found a very unsuitable long fuzzy pair which looks like they were a novelty Christmas item from many years ago.
It’s amazing how wet everything gets after a few short races. It’s hard work racing in the rain. Back in September the British road team got roundly criticised for not finishing the World Championships because it was ‘a bit wet and hard’. For the armchair critic the British team seemed like sitting ducks for strong criticism. Though my thoughts were muted by the fact I’m sure I would have climbed off pretty early too. But, I suppose it’s good to have a few races in the rain. It’s good preparation should the nationals be greeted by a downpour. (which is quite possible on the North Yorkshire moors)
Mow Cop is an intriguing climb. It’s one of the most visually spectacular hill climbs because after the first half, if you look up you see the finish 25% segment looming straight ahead of you. It’s looks as intimidating as it is.
After a sorts, I warmed up on the rollers. The rain was fairly light at that point, but as I made my way down to the start line it became heavier. By the level crossing (where the start is), I stripped off several layers of clothes, and left them with the start time keeper. I got off to a good start. After about 7 years of doing hill climbs, I think I’ve finally worked out a good way of starting off. I learnt how to start by watching the track racing at the 2012 Olympics. Basically stand up and put your weight behind saddle. When you here ‘go’ you can push forward and get a bit of momentum. I used to just sit on the saddle. Chris Boardman said a good start can be worth half a second. Us hill climbers always like half a second – especially if it doesn’t cost £500 for a 100 gram weight saving.
The bottom half of the climb soon becomes quite steep. The first ramp gets up to 20% and it makes you work very hard early on. From then on the gradient eases off a little, but it’s still a hard climb because you already went hard at the bottom. I got in to a good rhythm for the first half – in and out of the saddle but pedalling a decent cadence. After about half way, I made a small mistake of looking up at the finish, which loomed on the horizon. I also made the mistake of looking down at which gear I was in – I was already in the bottom sprocket (39*23) and the steep bit was still to come. It was a bit of lost concentration, but I soon forgot about it and went back to getting up the final really steep part. At one point, I experienced a bit of wheel slip (I had reduced tyre pressure to 90PS) but maybe that was still too high). On the steep bit, there was a quite a crowd cheering you on. There was even a runner, running alongside for a while. Although, it was all a bit of blur at this point, I’m pretty sure he wasn’t dressed up as a tomato or wearing a mankini like you might see in some of the Grand Tours.
Saturday was another two hill climbs promoted by Holme Valley Wheelers (Holme Moss) and Huddersfield Star Wheelers (Jackson Bridge). It was deep in the heartland of Yorkshire hill climb country. As Simon Warren once said in his hill climb book, throw an arrow at a map around this neck of the woods, and you’ll probably land on a decent hill climb. They don’t really do flat roads her, but they do have plenty of 20% gradients.
I’d never ridden either climb before, but was lured up north by the prospect of Holme Moss and the chance to compete in the Granville Sydney Memorial hill climb.
Holme Moss Clouded out
Next year the Tour de France will be flying up Holme Moss, watched by a global TV audience of millions and 100,000s of spectators by the road side. It was a slightly different set up this weekend, but fundamentally both events do involve cycling up a hill until it hurts really quite a lot.
The Indian summer has well and truly finished. We are now being treated to a very English autumn. It was one of those days where there was a perpetual drizzle. Not ideal conditions for a double hill climb; I came back with a car full of wet stuff. But, they are made of stern stuff up this part of the world. I didn’t see many dns. I guess, if you’re going to do a hill climb, a light drizzle is the least of your concerns.
Unfortunately, Holme Moss is so high up (524m) that the clouds had descended and the thick fog made it unsafe to race. This meant switching to another hill climb course, which was steep and high up, but not sufficiently misty to get lost in the clouds. Fortunately, the reserve hill climb course was just 0.5 miles away (proving the old – throw an arrow at a map and find a hill climb course – theory to be working pretty well)
The drawback of the alternative hill climb course was that it was significantly shorter than Holme Moss. This year I’ve studiously avoided entering any hill climb where the course record is less than 3.30. But, fate wasn’t going to allow me to get away with it. This was, to all intents and purposes a 2 minute hill climb – shorter even than the rake.
2 minute hill climbs just mean you can hurt yourself even more than a long climb, the only saving grace being that it’s over quicker. I didn’t hold back and gave it everything from the start. It was good enough for 2nd place in a time of 2.12. Richard Handley (Rapha CC) showing that chasing Nairo Quintana and Dan Martin up Caerphilly Mountain does wonders for your hill climbing form. He won in a time of 2.06 – not bad for a wiry thin chap like me. Photos at: flamming photography
After a wet and soggy marmite sandwich it was back to the Fleece for a cup of tea, before heading off to the Old Red Lion in Jackson Bridge for part two.
The 2013 national hill climb championships was held on the Stang (south side) on 27th October 12pm. The HQ is in Langthwaite (a few miles north west of Reeth). The event is organised by Howard Heighton, Ferryhill Wheelers CC
The CB Inn, Langthwaite, Arkengarthdale Sat Nav. DL11 6EN. Parking is limited at the HQ. There is parking along the main road and in the car park in the village. Mobile phone reception is limited in the area.
Course Description Start on unclassified road Stang Lane that runs from Langthwaithe towards Barnard Castle. The start is opposite Nothern gate post of entrance to field situated on the East side of unclassified road Stang Lane, leading to Barnard Castle, approximately 100 meters North from Eskeleth Bridge, and just past the turning on the left of the road to Eskeleth. From the start continue North Easterly up the hill to finish at Southern tip of lay-by identified by the County Durham and Welcome to Teesdale sign at the county boundary on the crest of the hill.
Details of the climb
Distance 2.33 miles,
height at top 1,771 feet
Elevation gain (833 feet) 253 metres
average gradient: 6.83%
steepest gradient 18%.
Course record: (7.57 Tejvan Pettinger, Sri Chinmoy CT 2013 was – 9.34 – Karl Denton (Blumilk.com) 2012
CR women Maryka Sennema, Kingston Wheelers CC (9.42) was 11.13 – Lyn Hamel
Everesting = 8848/132 = 100 ascents – total distance 241 km.
The Stang (south side)
The Stang is a tough climb with considerable variation in gradient. The hardest section is the first 0.6 miles, where the gradient is constantly above 10% and nudges towards 18%. After 0.75 miles there is the first section of downhill. This will enable you to pick up speed and recover somewhat from the first section.
The middle section is a fairly gentle gradient, and flattens out, with a small downhill towards the end.
However, at around 1.6 miles, the gradient picks up again to around 5-10% for final 1 mile to the line.
The hill requires careful pacing. It is too long to really go flat out at the start, but the steepest section still needs the most effort. The key is to go hard enough on first section to still be strong enough on the remaining 2 miles.
It obviously a climb for gears, and you will be in and out of your big chain-ring.
The hill is quite exposed to the elements which can be either very good (with nice tailwind) but equally if the wind is in the wrong direction, it makes it even tougher.
Traffic is quite light, and I think the road will be closed for the national championships. One thing to be aware of is sheep!
There are a number of ‘false flats’ – you think you’ve made it to the top, but around the corner, you realise there’s further to go.
The road surface is adequate. But, like most UK roads it’s not a smooth tarmac.
Photos from Climb
near the top on race day.
The start is opposite Northern gate post of entrance to field situated on the East side of unclassified road Stang Lane, leading to Barnard Castle, approximately 100 meters North from Eskeleth Bridge, and just past the turning on the left of the road to Eskeleth.
finish at Southern tip of lay-by identified by the County Durham and Welcome to Teesdale sign at the county boundary on the crest of the hill.
Otley CC was my first hill climb back in the early 1990s. I was an under 16 then, I can’t remember how I did, but it might have been second to last or somewhere like that. In those days we raced up Norwood edge in the morning and East Chevin in the afternoon. But, increased road traffic has meant East Chevin has been swapped for Guise Edge.
This year, 2013, there was a good entry, with a really big turn out from the under 16s. It’s good to see a lot of young riders having a go at hill climbs. It’s seems the club scene is thriving in Yorkshire. There was also a good pocket of spectators at various points on the climb. I also saw two former Otley CC hill climb organisers turning up to support the event.
First up is Guise Edge. A steep climb out of Pateley Bridge. It runs kind of parallel to Greenhow hill. Greenhow hill is a really tough climb, just a bit too busy for a race.
Distance 0.7 miles
Avg Grade 10.6%
Max grade – 20%
Elev gain 383ft
Guise edge is quieter, though road is a bit narrower. It’s steep to start off and doesn’t relent until last few hundred yards. The weather forecast said there was a strong westerly wind, so I expected a headwind, but, it didn’t feel like that. I was surprised to go quicker than last year, shaving another 0.7 seconds off the course record. Started off in the 39*19 sprocket and kept in there for the hard steep section. Then there is a fast flat bit section as you come to a sharp left hand turn and a short blast to the finish on the moor.
Generally, I’m not so keen on the shorter climbs, but I seem to be going well on the short climbs this year. Perhaps a result of doing many 1 minute intervals – something I’ve never done before. Second was Lee Baldwin of Buxton CC, followed by Matthew Pilkington (Cleveleys RC).
Distance 1.1 miles
Avg Grade 9.3%
Max gradient 16%
Elev Gain 543ft
Usually, there is a 2 hour gap between the hill climbs, so I rushed off to Norwood edge to begin my warm up. But, once on the rollers, I thought it strange no one else was around. Cycling back over to HQ, I found this year we had a luxurious 3 hour gap in between hill climbs – so plenty of time to have a few homemade flap jacks.
Funnily enough a few years ago (2009), I turned up to Otley CC hill climb expecting their to be a 3 hour time gap, like when I first did it in 1994. I had quite a few cakes in the HQ and wondered why no-one else was eating some lunch. But, I then found out that the gap had been cut to 2 hours from the 1990s. I went up East Chevin with far more cakes in my stomach than I would have liked – not a nice experience…. So much better to get it the wrong way around this time.
I don’t know why but for races which you’ve done many times and / or are local, I don’t always properly read the start sheet. I’d even written down my start times, but my mind was stuck on the idea of a 2 hour gap.
On Norwood Edge, I typically do better, preferring the longer climb. Though this year my time was 4.56, a bit slower than the past two years. Perhaps it was a slower day. Unfortunately, my power meter is broken after only three weeks use so I’ve no way of knowing. James Gullen (Team Hope Factory Racing) was just 6 seconds behind. James is built for the longer climbs and is very fast. I think my time up Norwood edge when I was 15 was something like 6.50. The idea of going under 5 minutes seemed impossible in those days.
Back at the HQ I had a few more flapjacks (some very tasty homemade cakes) and received my first place prize courtesy of the Otley CC and sponsors Team Chevin and MAS design. There was a good family atmosphere with quite a few under 16s getting their prizes.. I even learnt not to place a carbon fibre bike on metal railings.
Horseshoe pass (Bwlch yr Oernant) is a 4 mile climb in North Wales near Wrexham, averaging 5% – climbing 311 metres to finish at 1,200 ft (404m). It’s a challenging hill climb, with a few steeper sections of up to 12%. On a good day, it provides a beautiful backdrop for a hill climb.
As it name suggests, there is a 180 degree horseshoe curve towards the top. This means that you can see the road snaking up above you as you climb. It also means you’re likely to face a mixture of headwinds and tailwinds on different parts of the climb.
I’d been racing the previous day in Otley, and was grateful for a later start. It’s a fair drive from Menston. But, I arrived in decent time and warmed up at the top of the climb, by the popular Ponderosa Cafe. Horseshoe pass and the cafe is also very popular with the motorbiking fraternity. There was no shortage of reviving engines to drown out the relatively quiet whir of the bicycle on the rollers. Often CTT ban rollers near houses because they are too noisy for residents. Motorbikes and the boy racers revving their Ford motor cars must annoy a few local residents.
Fortunately, it was a pleasant day. Quite warm, sunny, just a fresh breeze. But, I imagine you’re not always greeted with this conditions up on top of horseshoe pass. Even though it was quite mild, I put on leg warmers and a winter jacket for the long descent. It’s quite a fast descent, though there are some sweeping corners so you have to take care. The descent could be quite chilly on the wrong day.
The hill climb course doesn’t start quite at the bottom. It misses out a few metres of climbing, starting just before the Britannia inn on your left, and it finishes before the top.
Since 2013 Minehead CC have organised a popular hill climb on the Toll Road 4.1 miles, with average gradient of 5.5%. It has attracted good fields and some top riders. I rode the first three events 2013 – 2015
Porlock Toll Road (HC Course)
The toll road climbs parallel to the A road (25% gradient), but the toll road is a much more gentle gradient – perfectly engineered with an average of 5.5% and max of 8%, there are a few Alpine style switchbacks and it is a great joy to ride in England when such climbs are relatively rare.
Sunday 29th was a 4 mile hill climb up Porlock Toll Road, organised by Minehead CC. The road was closed to traffic and it was a really great event, enthusiastically promoted by Minehead CC with support from Porlock toll road and Porlock village. There was also a very generous prize list sponsored by www.exmoorexplorer.com – a big mountain bike race held each August.
Porlock hill climb Toll road to the right, A39 climb to the left.
Despite travelling around the country quite a bit, I rarely go further south west than Bristol. I’ve done very little riding around Somerset so it was a great opportunity to start riding some of the Exmoor climbs.
The village of Porlock is quite charming and for a hill climber, seems inundated with great hill climbs at every junction. (hill climbers heaven or hell, depending on your point of view!) The A39 main road climb out of Porlock features number 4, in Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest hill climbs. (rated 9/10) At 25%, it is reputably the steepest A road in the country. However, the race was to be held on the alternative climb – Porlock Toll Road. This is a fantastic climb – 4 miles of pretty constant 5-6%. The road surface is good; and it’s as close to riding an ‘Alpine’ style climb as you will get in the south of England. On the lower slopes it is mostly in sheltered woods, though every now and then you can get a glimpse of the sea to your right.
There are two 180 degree switch backs. It’s a great feeling when you’re climbing and can see the road down below you’ve just come up. Towards the top, the climb shallows out and is a bit more exposed. I rode it once before the race started and liked it straight away.
Double switch back
Blog – Porlock Hill Climb 2013
I believe it is the first time that a race has been held on the whole climb, so it was hard to gauge how long it would take. I thought it would be a little like Snake Pass, just a bit longer. I started off reasonably hard. The hill is slightly steeper on the bottom. It is a good hill to get in a rhythm and I stayed in the saddle all the way to the top. The 180 degree switchbacks were interesting. I’m not used to racing on these kind of climbs. On one corner, I had to touch my brakes as I was running out of road. Towards the top, the trees disappeared, and fortunately a tailwind gave a little help to the finish. The gradient also became a bit shallower for the last mile. I finished in a time of 13.24 (just under 18mph) This was enough for first place, and I think I can claim a course record.
It was also nice to get quite a few cheers from a surprisingly large number of spectators and marshals by the side of the road.
After the race, I couldn’t resist having a go at the other Porlock hill climb. It’s been a light week of training and it’s not often you get a category two, 370 metre hill to have a go at. That’s a real brute. A wicked section of 25% at the bottom and then another couple of miles long slog to the top. I’m sure many were glad to be racing up the toll road!
After the race there was a prize ceremony with former world champion Wendy Houvenaghel giving out the prizes. The whole event was really good, you felt a lot of work and enthusiasm had gone into it from members of Minehead CC, and it was nice to see it pay off.
One nice touch, the village of Porlock were really keen to encourage the event, helping us to have good facilities and a local women’s group did the refreshments. I also received a homemade trophy by local schoolchildren. Very cool. Perhaps we can suggest something similar to the residents around Box Hill in Surrey.
Leith Hill is the highest point in South East England (993ft). Set within an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Trust site, it makes a great setting for a hill climb. Leith Hill was also climbed three times during this year’s pro race – Surrey Cycle Classic. Fortunately, we were doing this hill climb without 100 km of hard racing in our legs. Just a short explosive effort. 0.8 miles of excruciating pain instead.
The hill climb goes through a mixture of woodland and open space offering views into the surrounding hills.
The Hill climb used by Kingston Wheelers for the John Bornhoft Hill climb starts a little way from the bottom of the road (by a suitable grass verge) However, this is the shallowest section.
Leith Hill – John Bornhoft Memorial Event hill climb
Avg Grade 8.0%
Max Gradient – 18%
Height gain 115m
The gradient varies a little. I think it would still be suitable for fixed gear. I didn’t change gears very much (and when I did they did seem to be rather clunky changes)
The race 2013
Conditions were good. Warmish and gentle tailwind on last part of climb. Last year I did 3.33.8. I thought with the good conditions, there might be a chance of going a bit quicker and setting a new course record.
My week previous had been quite light on training. On Monday I got a bad back (perhaps caused by riding up Mow Cop on a time trial bike). I though I could ignore it and trained on Tuesday as normal, but it made back worse, so I only did a light ride on Thurs and Fri. Shame to get another niggling injury. Anyway by Sat, I was in good shape. For a change I had a team-mate Aryavan Lanham (originally from Australia) riding. He’s a super enthusiastic cyclist, mostly used to riding the track or long 100 mile rides. He was intrigued by this English phenomena of the hill climb.
So far this season, the hill climbs have been nice and long – making an easier transition from the TT season to the hill climb. But, Leith Hill is a classic 4 minute hill climb. It’s the distance to suit riders with a bit of explosive power. It means you really have to push yourself over the limit – in many ways they are more painful than the longer 15 minute efforts. You can train for these hill climbs all year, but when it comes to the race, you just need that ability to push yourself into the red and hold it. It requires quite a lot of commitment – because when you feel light headed with effort, it’s really pushing the body out of the comfort zone and it’s instinctive to pull back. I rarely do these climbs and think I went too hard too early. Mostly I hold back for too long.
In the race, the pacing was OK, I didn’t start off too hard, and could maintain a good speed all the way to the top. I’ve perhaps given a bit more in these kind of 3.5 minute efforts, but I still felt pretty pooped at the top and it was a good effort. It was good to get a good cheer by the Kingston Wheelers support team on the hill. Kingston Wheelers must have had about 20 riders in the race, plus quite a few turning up to support. A good atmosphere for a hill climb.
I managed to do 3.33.1 – just enough to take 0.7 seconds off the course record (to be confirmed). Hill climbs are all about fine margins.
2nd place was Vet rider Pete Tadros in 3.50 (riding fixed)
3rd place was Chris Baines (Buxton CC) who did 4.0? to gain his first podium finish at an open hill climb. Chris has moved to Abingdon near Oxford, which is ironic as I seem to spend a lot of time moving up north to ride in the hills near Buxton at this time of the year.
1st lady was Maryka Sennema, Kingston Wheelers
(sorry I don’t know rest of results)
My friend Aryavan said he really enjoyed the hill climb. He remarked – with a friendly cup of tea and nice simple event in old village hall – it reminded him of 1950s England (which I think is a compliment)
Despite the Daily Telegraphs dire warnings of raging battles between motorists and cyclists, it was all very civilised
(although, now I come to think of it, the rider due to start a minute before me said he got knocked off by a car riding to the event. I don’t know details, but it was sad to hear. I certainly had no trouble cycling or driving on the leafy Surrey lanes.)
Unfortunately, power meter stopped working so I have no power result, only time. But, since the 1960s is in – I guess it’s always good to ride on feel.
Thanks to Kingston Wheelers and John Bornhoft family for presenting prizes.
Mow Cop is a fantastic little climb on the border of Cheshire and Staffordshire. From the valley bottom, you can see the imposing ruins of Mow Cop castle at the top. Mow Cop was obviously an excellent defensive position in the days of medieval battles. These days Mow Cop is the scene of a different kind of struggle.
The climb starts after a busy level crossing, where high speed cross country trains often fly through. Initially, the gradient is a respectable 8-10%, but after a while you reach the first steep part – approaching 20%
and the first time you will be grovelling into your lowest gear. The gradient then eases off in the middle section, but as you come around the corner, the piece d’resistance looms in the horizon. The final stretch of 23% looms menacingly on the horizon. The pub to the left starkly highlights the gradient. There is nothing but to put yourself into the lowest gear and pull yourself up the straight bit of hell.
The final section is, by contrast, a meagre 7%. But, after fighting up the 23% it feels very painful.
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