A look at hill climbs through the eyes of a photographer.
‘Hill Climb Agony’. Photo by Bernard Thompson.
The National Championship at Winnats Pass. Spectators throng the side of the road.
The Catford CC Hill Climb. The Catford CC hill climb can make a claim to be the world’ oldest cycle race. The first race was held at Westerham Hill on August 20th 1887. In those days, it was considered an achievement to get to the top without falling off. Riders rode a mixture of ‘safety bicycles’ and penny farthings – all on solid tyres. Of 24 starters, only 12 made it to the top. That’s how the sport of hill climbing began. You could say it was a lot harder in them days.
Pre – race Warming up
It’s a strange sport sometimes. Drive up the M1, to a beautiful part of the Peak District. Spend 1 hour warming up on a turbo and rollers in the carpark. Then kill yourself up a 5 minute hill. But, those five minutes can give such an exhilaration, you keep coming back for more…
I came across these wonderful collection of black and white cycling photos, uploaded by Peter Morris, Flickr. The photos are of family members, primarily H.R.Dick Morris and Jack Rossiter.
In this newspaper extract, it states Jack Rossiter, broke the Land’s End to John o Groats record, with a time of two days 13 hours 22 minutes. The newspaper goes on to say he is regarded as the greatest cyclist England has ever produced. (See: Opperman’s record attempt)
Jack Rossiter broke the record which had stood for 30 years, set by Harry Green in 1907. He rode on a Raleigh bicycle, with a three speed Sturmey Archer. He used a “K” hub, giving variations of 2? per cent. below and 33 1/3 per cent. above normal.
A year later he broke the 1,000 miles record, which had also been standing for 21 years, by nearly 4 hours. (See: Sheldon Brown)
According to this, Jack Rossiter finished 13th in the 1921 World Championship in Denmark (link)
Congleton Cycling Club have the Jack Rossiter Memorial trophy for the most improved rider.
Jack Rossiter in the North Road 24, 1928. The caption under the image stated 408 miles, second!
Since the National at the end of October, I’ve been taking it relatively easy. Apart from Zappi CC hill climb, I’ve had a laid back approach to cycling – a bit of level one delivering letters around Oxford, the odd session on the rollers. But generally it feels like a time to prioritise things other than cycling for a change. It becomes a bit of a relief to look at the pouring rain out of the window and know you can just stay indoors and without feeling like you’re losing form at the wrong time of the season!
To use an old fashioned cliche, everything has it’s season and November feels more like a season for eating cake and drooling over the latest TT machine.
The new Boardman TT bikes is tantalisingly beautiful. (Cycling weekly photos) You want to buy it on aesthetics alone; how can such a wonderfully engineered bike fail to do anything but fly through the air – like the proverbial knife through butter?
Alas, there is always another bicycle to buy!
It’s also time to put some attention on that murky business of earning money so that I can re-enter the time trial machine arms race. We could declare a truce and mimic the UCI in not riding anything post 1976 and the Eddy Merckx era. But, although my credit care limit would be quite happy with riding steel frames, we would lose something if we didn’t have new bicycles to pour over in the winter months. If we didn’t have bike catalogues and internet sites to fill our winter months, we might find ourselves going out to train on the hard cold winter mornings and that would never do.
But, after a couple of weeks of easy riding, I find the old itch to get out on the bike returning. It’s one thing to pootle around Oxford, but when the sun comes out in November, I yearn to get out into the Cotswolds to enjoy the last colour of autumn before the winter gods shut up shop, leaving a bleak 3 months of austerity.
After many long Sunday club runs with the Otley CC, (see: traditional British club run) it was time to graduate to a more race oriented club. Arriving at Oxford University was an exciting time; as a Fresher you are confronted with an unending range of social and extra-curricular choices. I dabbled in everything from student politics to amateur dramatics (or were they the same thing?). But, cycling was my main interest. In the first year, I spent quite a lot of time riding into the Oxfordshire countryside (mostly on my own) it was a welcome break from lectures and the insular world of an Oxford college. I got pretty fit in those days, though for some reason didn’t do much racing.
My first time trial was a OUCC 10 mile TT event at Stadhampton in October. It was ‘cuppers’ an inter-collegiate time trial run by the OUCC. I was representing Lady Margaret Hall, though I think the only one, so we had no chance of winning. I turned up on my old reliable, red Raleigh with steel 501 frame. I can’t remember my time, but I remember coming about 3rd. I beat a guy (Steve Morse) who was riding a proper time trial bike. I think he was perhaps a little peaked and intrigued at this skinny guy who had turned up on a real clanger of a road bike and beaten him. But, Steve was quite generous and a good friend at OUCC. (It is also possible with advancing years, I have misremembered events, perhaps I didn’t beat him. But, it always makes a good story to say you turned up on a road bike and beat established testers!)
On the way out to the time trial, I felt a bit of an outsider, but after beating a guy on a time trial bike I felt like a proper rider now!
OUCC team photo from 1998. Click to enlarge – spot the two hill climbers – clue look for the hair.
There was a good social scene with the OUCC – we would often meet at Magdalen College bar, which was a great place to meet. The backbone of the club seemed to be primarily the ‘eternal’ physics post-graduates. Riders like Tom James, who seemed to have been around since alpaca tights and time trials with dead-turns. It meant club runs were pretty well organised going through a maze of Oxfordshire lanes, usually to places like Cirencester and Stow on the World. I was probably half expecting club runs to be the same as Otley. But, they were faster and only one tea shop stop, as opposed to the positively heady tea drinking of Yorkshire. Oxford University CC was definitely a bit faster moving than the more sedate world of the traditional British club run. One good rider, David Ryan was known to push the pace on Sunday club runs to be able to be back in time for his rowing training on a Sunday afternoon.
Jim Henderson was a modest chap, but sometimes on the autumn club runs, he would occasionally shoot up a hill as if he was a sprinter going on the flat. I remember one short steep hill near Stow on the Wold and Jim disappeared up the hill at top speed. I remember thinking ‘it would be great to be able to do that.’
Despite being quite fit, it never really occurred to enter races. I thought you might as well wait until your are ‘better’ But, the club was keen on entering the student team time trial and of course the Varsity 25 in May. This was something to aim for, and we started our Wednesday morning team time trial training, 9am sharp. This was great fun, 3 hours – 60 miles at a decent pace around the flatter roads towards Thame. I was in the ‘B’ team. The ‘A’ team was quite strong. Despite training through the winter, I got injured or something a week before the big event, so in the end didn’t go and race.
It was a similar experience in May, I was supposed to race the Varsity 25 mile TT, but some injury prevented me racing. To compensate, I did get to stand on a roundabout near Kingston Bagpuize and marshall the event we were promoting. I have quite vivid memories of marshalling on this roundabout for some reason. Whenever I race on the A420, I usually think of the time I was standing on that roundabout. The Varsity was a bit of a downer in those days, despite having a super hill climb team, this young tester called Michael Hutchinson had an irritating habit of turning up and putting 5 minutes into everyone else. I think it meant Oxford had a real draught and several years passed with Cambridge dominating the Varsity 25 mile time trial.
But, if Oxford University Cycling Club wasn’t dominant on the flat, we did have a pretty decent hill climb team. In 1996, Jim Henderson came third in the National hill climb championship. In 1997, Jim went one better and finished 2nd behind Stuart Dangerfield.
Jim in 1998 after winning national title. – With OUCC support crew dressed as badgers. I think that is on Nick Pashely left.
In 1998, Jim, riding for Oxford University Cycling Club, won the National hill climb for the first time on Dover’s Hill (Jim’s blog).
This week, I’ve been cycling around Oxford delivering letters inviting people to a concert. It’s a bit old school to be using snail mail rather than these modern forms of electronic communication. But, in a way its a lot of fun cycling around Oxford looking for addresses. It’s a nice and easy training session. Going up to Kidlington and back gives a good 25 miles, for 2 hours of level 1. It’s not too often I average 12.5mph for a training ride, but it’s something a bit different.
Since the national last week, I’ve had a couple of hand written letters from 2 really old school time triallists. Keith Williams of the Oxford CC, and Brian James of Brighton Mitre. Both these ‘experienced’ riders are regulars of the time trial season. I often bump into them at races and have a chat. Brian James has been my minute man on the Bentley course, more often than you would believe. I used to ride with his son Tom at OUCC.
I wouldn’t want to guess their age, but I imagine they were born in an era where the closest to social networking was the good old fashioned telegraph cable. Hand written letters are so rare – it’s quite a thrill to get something through the post, which isn’t an electricity bill or an estate agent offering to sell your house.
The thing about delivering letters, is that the bicycle wins hands down. Delivering on foot would be painfully slow. Delivering by car would be no fun. Always getting stuck in traffic jams, finding somewhere to park, stopping / starting, one way systems. The bicycle is the perfect medium for delivering letters. If you treat it as a low level training session, it doesn’t even matter if you get lost and end up doing U-turns up and down Cumnor hill because you can’t find one road.
Though as much as I love old school technology, I have to admit to sometimes relying on the young pretender of the ‘Google map App’ it is magically good at showing you the way to go. Is it more fun than looking at a map? I’m not sure.
I was kind of lost in Botley, going up and down this hill, stopping to look at a map. A gaggle of young school-children thought it was great fun watching this cyclist going up and down a hill looking for addresses. Their parents spoke to me saying the children thought you must be a great cycling champion. It was interesting how much joy young children were getting – just from seeing someone just cycling up and down a hill. One thing I can never claim is to be the fastest postie on a bike. That is undeniable Matt Bottrill. Matt works full-time as a postman, but still finds time to train with great focus and intensity. It enabled him to get on the podium of the British Time Trial champion this year, beating quite a few professionals into the bargain. He also recently won his first senior national title, after several years of trying (100 mile TT in 2012) and 50 miles – , and circuit TT in 2013.
But, delivering letters on bike is far removed from the world of competitive racing. It’s just a good reminder that the bike really is a great invention.
A reader (Ken Stott) kindly sent in a few photos of Eric Wilson’s hill climb bike from the 1950s and 1960s. Eric Wilson won four national hill climb championships in 1955, 1957, 1960 and 1964. Four titles over a period of 10 years. Ken still looks after Eric’s bike, though he says he doesn’t ride with quite the speed of Eric Wilson in his prime!
Ken says the bike weighs about 18lbs….. (8.1 kg). That’s about 2.1 kg heavier than the average (geared) bike in the national hill climb 2013!
The bike is of course fixed. Nearly all hill climbers will have ridden fixed in those days. Though gears were starting to become more popular. – For example, John Woodburn became the first rider to win the national 25 mile title on fixed in 1961.
Winter training rides. Do you see winter training rides as something to be endured – long slow miles in cold, wet weather or an opportunity to enjoy the rigours of the British winter and display you’re the Flanderian hard man of your local area? Do you’re winter training rides involve 30 minutes on the rollers once a week or will you clock up 250 miles per week, whatever the weather?
Sean Kelly’s attitude to riding through winter, could be summed up by his quote
“I go out on my bike, I do my ride, and when I get back home I decide if it’s too wet or not!”
I don’t think Sean Kelly would approve of long fuzzy socks and full length gloves in races… My attitude to winter training rides varies enormously. Sometimes, I’m an amateur who will spend 30 minutes on the rollers rather glad to listen to the rain beating down on the conservatory. Other times, I’m motivated to ‘get the miles in.’ and religiously clock up the miles and write them down in the training log. I become the proverbial mile-eater churning up the lonely Cotswolds miles through eerily quiet countryside and grim weather. After last season’s hill climb championship, my winter break lasted one day, before I couldn’t contain my ambition for next season, and before I knew it I had 2,000 km for November alone. This year, winter training rides are a bit on the back burner. I’m winding up a bit more slowly to those epic 100 mile winter rides. The only problem is that if you leave it too long, winter will fly by before you can say ‘who ate all the pies?’
Secret of Winter training rides
1. Do you need a winter break? It depends on your season and how tired you are physically and mentally. I would take a break, if you really want one or if you have a niggling injury. Winter is a good time to take a break. But, generally I don’t like to take a winter break. The reasons are:
After hill climb season of October, I’m actually quite keen to get on the bike and do some ‘normal’ cycling. The end of my season is very low mileage high intensity. If I’d done a 1,000 miles in October, I might feel like a break. But, in last few weeks, you’re not really on your bike that much anyway.
Not taking a winter break gives me greater freedom to take days off. If I took three weeks off in November, I would be keener to be quite strict to go out in December and January. But, I tend to find you might get an awful week of weather In January, a cold in December, and another week where there’s so much going on that you give the bike a miss. The winter is one time, where I prioritise non-cycling over cycling. I have even been known to make a vague effort to be sociable. Not taking a winter break works quite well for me because it gives a flexibility for taking time off at odd intervals throughout the worst of the winter.
The Zappi CC hill climb on Watlington hill November 2nd 2013.
The Monty Python sketch goes ‘Another wafer thin mint, Sir?’
In my case, it was another hill climb I just couldn’t resist. I’ve been out on my bike a couple of times this week and had a very strange felling of aimlessness. What do you do in the week after the nationals?
But, I popped into BikeZone in Oxford and had a chat with Steve Avery. He mentioned Zappi CC were having their club hill climb on Saturday and invited me along. Steve Avery is a very good tricylist and he explained one of the advantages of using a tricycle in a hill climb is that you can come to a complete stop and have a breather half way up. That sounded like a good kind of hill climb to end the season on, so I went along to Watlington hill and signed up for last race of the season.
I was having a good time at the top of the hill taking photos of the riders and listening to the encouragement from the spectators at the top. Flavio Zappi was on top form, telling people who didn’t seem to be sprinting 100% to the end of the line they could go back down and have another go.
I nearly missed my start time, arriving only 5 seconds before I was due. It’s nice doing a hill climb without so much pressure. I didn’t even have time to take off my two water bottles and a saddle bag, big enough to go touring with. After two months of lactic acid overdose and sick inducing efforts, I couldn’t quite motivate myself to go eyeballs out. For a hill climb, I took it relatively steady. It was only at the top where I saw the spectators, that I tried to show off and sprint for the line. It was a great friendly event and after the last rider crossed the line, the riders went back down the hill to enjoy some chips at a local pub before the prize ceremony.
Results to come hopefully. But, I think the winner was Matt Steven Zappi CC, 2nd was Chris Baines of Buxton CC, and 3rd was Tejvan Pettinger.
Flavio himself roaring on a rider
A big effort. Why do we do hill climbs again?
A tandem is not easiest way to ride a hill climb
Chris Baines probably had most stylish bike a beautiful Bob Jackson
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