Archive | hill climbs

Kirkstone Pass

Kirkstone pass is the highest major road (A592) in the Lake District. It reaches a height of 1,489 feet (454 m) and affords great views of the surrounding lakes. There are three different routes to the top of Kirkstone Pass, each offering there own challenges. The hardest is ‘The Struggle’ which takes the shortest route from Ambleside to Kirkstone Pass. It is the shortest in distance but the steepest and requires over 400 metres of climbing. The other two ways, on the main road (A592) are less steep, but make good long challenging climbs.


At the top of Kirkstone Pass. Lake Windermere is to the right. The weather is often ‘moody at the altitude of 454 meters


Ambleside to Kirkstone pass via ‘The Struggle’

the struggle kirkstone pass

  • Net height Gain 396 metres from Ambleside.
  • Max gradient 24%
  • Distance 4.8 km
  • Avg Grade 8.2%
  • Max Gradient: 20%
  • Total Elev Gain 403m (including descent)
  • 100 Climbs #83
bottom of struggle

The bottom of the Struggle in Ambleside, don’t be deceived by this photo.

From Ambleside, the road soon becomes very steep around swooping corners. The road surface here is very smooth (it was recently replaced), but it doesn’t make it an easy ride. For a considerable distance, the gradient is between 18%-20%. It’s a real lung breaker.

Yesterday there was a huge surge in interest for Kirkstone Pass ‘The Struggle’ It was a great joy to see the professional peleton really struggle up the Struggle. In Belgium you may get many 20% climbs, but at 4km long, this really split apart the peleton.

Bradley Wiggins was captured ‘walking’ up the last part of the Struggle, perhaps a slightly mischievous nod to Froome’s running up Mont Ventoux in this years Tour, but Wiggins seemed to be giving the spectators a lot of joy!

When watching cycle races on tv, my mother always asks so where’s Bradley? I always say these days ‘he’ll be at the back having a laugh’ – It’s hard to explain how you can win the Tour de France, win an Olympic gold in world record time, but still be at the back of the peleton in the Tour of Britain.

Continue Reading →


Question on multiple events in one weekend

It’s the start of the hill climb season, but, in the past few weeks, my main efforts at climbing have involved walking up two flights of stairs to a New York apartment. I’ve had a bad hip for several weeks. It’s one of those mild injuries you think must sort itself out in the morning, but has proved stubbornly persistent. In New York, I saw someone who massaged and gently stretched legs. It created a few reassuring clicks – the physical therapist thought some hip joint was slightly out of alignment. We will shall see if it is the solution.


Time is running out to get back on the bike. I was looking forward to the hill climb season – but without any training, I’m looking forward to the prospect a lot less. I suppose, you can do hill climbs on no training, but it is hard to have the same enthusiasm. On the positive side, I’ve been relatively injury free since 2010 – I’ve had a good run for the past six years  riding in 76 opens since the start of 2010.  If I had to be injured – there are worse years than 2016.

At this time of the year, I get the odd email from hill climbers asking for advice. A few articles cover most things:

Hill climb articles

Question on multiple events

Question: This year I’m entering as many hill climbs as I can, which means on one weekend I’ve got a race on Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning.  I’ve raced Bec and Catford on the same day for the last couple of years, as well as some local events.  These are a bit longer though, around 4 mins each. Do you think that hill climbers are able to put out the same wattage and performance multiple times over a couple of days?

In my own experience, you do start to see a  decline in wattage – even for 2 minute events. It depends how much recovery time you get. If I did a 100% effort in training and then repeated 10 minutes later – I might see a 20% fall in power. If there was a recovery of 2-3 hours, it might be more like 2-5%. But, that is a guess. I often do two events in a day and have done 3-4 events in a weekend. It is definitely possible.

It was interesting watching the Olympics and how the team pursuiters could knock out faster times in the final than in the semi-final a few hours earlier. They don’t just train to be fast once a day, but also to be able to repeat the effort a few hours later.

Do you have any tips on how to keep the legs ticking over or specific recovery steps to take between or right after events?

Not really. Some spinning on rollers after event to help warm down. Protein recovery. Stay warm and avoid standing up. Maintain energy levels, but don’t eat too much solid food (one bad experience at an event where I thought gap was three hours, but it turned out to be two hours!)


The hills of the North York Moors

The North York Moors is a national park in North East Yorkshire. It has the largest expanse of heather moorland in the UK, but in cycling terms is more famed for the abundance of very steep climbs, with plenty of 25% gradient signs, and the odd 1 in 3 – if you’re lucky!


The North York Moors is only 40 miles from Menston, but I’ve never been before. It’s just out of range, and with the Yorkshire Dales nearby, there’s always other hills to do. But, I’ve been reading about some of the climbs like Boltby Bank and Rosedale Chimney and so finally made it over.

I drove to Sutton Bank and saw many signs welcoming the Tour de Yorkshire on the 1st May. I think the race route goes down Sutton Bank, but to many people’s disappointment it avoids any of the really epic 25% climbs. Perhaps a decision made not for benefit of cyclists, but for the calvacade of cars, which could get stuck on the hairpins of Rosedale Chimney.

Boltby Bank


First up was Boltby Bank. A one mile climb with a significant 25% gradient at the end. It looks imposing from the distance as you descend into Boltby. Don’t go off too hard, as it gets tougher near the top. Continue Reading →


Clee Hill

Clee Hill is the highest A road in Shropshire. A long climb, offering (weather permitted) great views of the surrounding Shropshire countryside and beyond. If you take a left turn off the main road, you can also go all the way to Clee Hill summit proper which, at over 500m, makes a pretty decent climb of nearly 4 miles, averaging 5%. In fact, the quiet single track road heading towards a golf ball on the summit, reminded me somewhat of Great Dun Fell. The climb is quite similar to Great Dun Fell – just half the distance and half the average gradient.

clee Hill

Clee hill in the distance from Henley

I was staying in Bromyard for the weekend, so I looked at surrounding maps for the highest point to aim for. Clee Hill stands out, though there is quite a choice of hills around this part. I recognised some of the surrounding roads from previous time trials starting in Great Whitley.

I have been doing quite a big block of  endurance training, not really doing too many hills, so it was nice to do a few hills for a change. Still a long way from hill climb season though.


On a very clear day, from Clee Hill, you are supposed to be able to see Snowdonia, the Cotswolds, the Brecon Becons, the Black Mountains and even the Peak District. Today, was not such a time.

Continue Reading →


First interval session of the year

With the mercury rising to a heady 38 F 4 C, I went out for the first ‘interval’ session of the year. The curious thing is that 4 degrees felt relatively warm, compared to the previous days of 2 degrees. Usually 4 degrees would be unbearably cold, but its all about expectations. Low expectations is the secret.


I went to Watlington, and was going to do some of the hills heading into Chilterns. However, there seemed to be a headwind, so I went over the top and tried to find some climbs from the south direction with the wind behind. If you’re going to do the first intervals of the year, you want to make it as easy as possible.

The first interval was eight minutes into the wind up Howe Hill. It was OK, but on the lower slopes into the wind, I was struggling to keep the power ticking over 300 watts, which is the kind of a power I’m supposed to be able to maintain for close to two hours.

Features of the first interval session of the year.

  • You spend most of the session trying to work out how much top end speed you’ve managed to lose over the past three months
  • It can be an effort to keep your power above your FTP (300 watts) unless the hill gets really steep.
  • You remember how much more relaxing it is to ride without a power meter for the past three months.
  • Half way through, you start to think maybe it’s too early in the year for intervals.
  • Tentative plans to race in February are put back to March.
  • Despite a degree of complaining, you also enjoy it. Rather than complaining about the weather, it makes a nice change to be complaining about the bodies response to high efforts.
  • Rather than do five minute efforts, I choose eight minutes effort. There’s no particular logic to this, except the hills I chose took me eight minutes to cycle up. The fourth hill took five minutes, which was fine because the interval was already petering out into an effort better described as “a little bit more effort than usual”
  • Now a week to recover from them.



2006 national hill climb championship

The national hill climb championship in 2006 was held on Peak hill, Sidmouth in Devon.

peak hill

Peak Hill. Photo Dom Atreides

James Dobbin (Arctic Shorter Rochford RT) won the championship in a time of 4.44. A big winning margin over 2nd place, David Clark Nippo KFS 5.07. 3rd was 2004 national champion Jonathan Dayus (Arctic Shorter Rochford RT)

1st women was Ann Bowditch 6.41, Science in Sport. Lyn Hamel was 2nd women. (7.02) 3rd  Jane Kilmartin 7.05 (London Phoenix)

The best junior was Luke Rowe 5.42 Glendene CC-Bike Trax (17th overall) who just finished ahead of Alex Dowsett 18th overall (5.44). It goes without saying that both juniors went on to even greater things than 17th /18th in the national hill climb championship.  James Gullen (Scarborough Paragon was 62nd) (2nd in 2013). There was a very young Hugh Carthy in 89th place (4th in 2013).

My race

It was my second national hill climb championship and I finished 7th, which was a good result after little racing or training throughout the season. In 2006, I did a couple of time trials, and two hill climbs. They were Streatley HC (Reading CC) ,and Brighton Mitre hill climb – where I won the second leg on Shoreham in a time of 7.21.

2006 national

2006 national. Not sure about those socks, somethings don’t change. At least I’d taken off the bar tape to save 10 grams.

I remember it was a good day. Warm, sunny, dry. I think I paced it relatively well, going quite well on the steep second half. In those days, I never rode a climb before racing, it was a question of starting off and hoping for the best.

Continue Reading →


Pacing hill climbs

There are different ways of riding hill climbs.

  1. One approach is to start very hard and hold on for dear life.
  2. The other is to start hard, but then try and put in even more effort in the last section.


Evidence of emptying the tank.

Both have there merits and demerits, though they usually end up in a similar pain cave at the top. Also like any pacing strategy – they depend on the physiology and capacity of the rider.

If you look at splits from national hill climb – you can see quite big variations in the relative pacing strategies. Two people may finish with a similar time, but may have reached the half way point at very different speeds.

After the 2013 national hill climb, I started writing about pacing strategies, but then thought better of it and decided to forget all about it. Perhaps I didn’t want to remind myself of the crazy split that emerged between myself and other riders. I took the option to enjoy the winter training without worrying about a pacing strategy that might have been better.

As a wise man once said, the best pacing strategy is the one the winner had.

Different pacing strategies

It is worth bearing in mind that one person’s best pacing strategy may be different to someone else’s. It depends on your physiology e.t.c. Athletes can have different composition of muscle fibres, different tolerance of acidosis e.t.c. What works for one rider, may not work so well for another. Continue Reading →


Even more on hill climbs

There is a well known cliché in cycling ‘let your legs do the talking’. But,  I sometime surprise myself how much there is to write about a short race up a hill.

In the run up to the national hill climb, I didn’t have much  inspiration to write, but since the national is over, my mind is  a stream of hill climb consciousness; and – for better or worse – it tends to get written down. To be honest, it’s a lot more fun writing about hill climbing than working on my next A level economics revision book. I should really be writing about UK fiscal policy, but hill climbs is a very welcome diversion.

Some random thoughts on hill climbs

Photo Dan Monaghan @13images

Photo Dan Monaghan @13images

Since Cycling Weekly’s relaunch earlier this year, there has been more of an effort to cover domestic racing, and coverage of the hill climb season  has been good. I think the hill climbs get quite a lot of interest because:

  • It’s a bit quirky (polite way of saying it hill climbers are a bit nuts.)
  • Everyone can relate to riding up a hill. I think the Strava effect has made more people conscious of riding fast up hills; and perhaps there is a realisation that doing it for real in a race, is even more fun than relying on electronic virtual competition.
  • The race lends itself to really great photos (see also: Russellis photos) – it certainly makes for better photos than 100 riders covered up in aerohelmets, visors and silly socks riding up and down on dual carriegaways, being overtaken by lorries. Instead, in hill climbs, you can take photos of riders with cloth caps, faces that look like they have been tortured by a medieval rack, and, in some cases, well wearing silly socks.
  • The hill climbs comes at a quiet time of the year, and there is a huge wide range of different types of riders, with the results often hard to predict. In fact, Paddy Power claim there was as much betting on the national hill climb championship as a stage of the Tour de France. I  like the amateur ethos of hill climbing – so the arrival of small time betting does feel a little strange, if not uncomfortable. (And I’m sorry to the 1.6% of you who put money on me. Still at 16/1…)

Continue Reading →


2015 National Hill Climb championship

The 2015 National Hill Climb championship was held at Jackson Bridge – a 0.9 miles averaging 11%. It’s a steep unrelenting climb, widely regarded as a classic of the British hill climb genre. For a late October day in Yorkshire, the weather was probably as good as it gets – Mild, dry and a light tailwind up the climb. With good weather, 240 riders, and considerable interest in the pre-championship build-up, there was a good sized crowd up the steep slopes to Tinkers Monument.

photo velo UK

photo velo UK

In the mens event, Richard Bussell RST Sport/Aero-Coach won in a time of 4:15.1.

Given the tight margins of the race, Bussell’s winning gap of 5 seconds over defending champion Dan Evans (Team Elite/Paul Bethall Electrical (4.20) was quite impressive. Joseph Clark (Team Bike Box Alan/Envelopemaster) rounded off the podium with a time of 4.21.9

Photo Velo UK

Photo Velo UK

In the women’s event, Maryka Sennema (Paceline RT) won her third title in a time of  5:31.9. Just ahead of Hayley Simmonds, Team Velosport 5:34.2. Simmonds has had a great year of time trials and is just a few weeks back from World road race championship in Atlanta (helping GB to gold). 3rd on the women’s podium was Lou Bates Carnac Planet X in 5.34.9. Less than 5 seconds separated the top 5 women. There were seven men within seven seconds of a podium finish. Never make fun of hill climbers and their marginal gains!

Continue Reading →