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.
This weekend is 3 new hill climbs. Holme Moss (Holme Valley Wheelers), Jackson Bridge (Granville Sydney Memorial event, Huddersfield Star Wheelers) and Mow Cop (Lyme Racing CC) on Sunday. They all look interesting climbs. I’m hoping the gales in the north are blowing the right way up the hills. The hills may either be slow or very slow depending on the direction of the wind. Holme Moss is one of the highest hill climbs in England at 524m. Next year the Tour de France will pass over Holme Moss, probably with greater fan fare than tomorrow morning. But, it’s all happening up in Yorkshire.
The start sheet for the National Hill climb was published yesterday. I’m off number 174, (14.54) There are a lot of familiar names around. My minute man is ironically Sam Ward who inspired me to do my first hill climb over 20 years ago… 180 riders in total. Roads will be closed. More on Nat Hill climb
With the national championships two weeks away, it’s time to start making the last preparations to bike. (rule no.1 is never leave it to the night before) Last year I spent nearly £1,000 on trying to make the bike lighter. This year I spent nothing and sold the lightweight stem and handlebars, preferring to have some extra money than some 100 grams saving. The only thing I bought this year was the Quark power meter, which broke after four weeks. (Keep your money in your pocket is always a good Yorkshire man’s motto)
However, since I’ve had a relatively frugal year of bike components, I did treat myself to a new chain. There are some things which you shouldn’t skimp on a cyclist. Firstly is tyres. Secondly is changing your chain regularly. On my racing bike, I change every 1,000 miles, and always before a big event. You don’t want to lose any power to a worn chain. I don’t usually spend £50 on a chain. But, if there’s ever a time to justify spending £50 on a lightweight chain, this would be it. I bought SRAM because I have snapped a Dura Ace chain doing hill intervals. In other circumstances it may sound cool to say you put down so much power you broke a Dura Ace chain, but if there was ever a time you didn’t want to snap your chain, this would be it.
I also treated myself to a new handlebar tape. I was sold on the packaging which said ‘thin tape with almost zero added weight’ – Those are words that instantly appeal to any hill climber. ‘Almost zero added weight’ and I’ve bought before you can say ‘how much does it weigh?’
Sometimes at national champs, you see bikes without any handlebar tape at all. Every gram stripped from the bike. There is a certain Zen appeal to a bare, stripped down bike. But, for the Stang, you may be on different parts of the handlebars including the drops. If it only weighs a couple of grams there is greater benefit from having a better grip. It could be cold and wet up in North Yorkshire. There are more important factors than even a few grams of extra weight.
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.
The general theory of cycle training is going through periods of high load – where you stretch your efforts, then allowing a period of recovery to allow the training stress to translate into improved performance. I can’t claim any particular strong record in knowing how to peak for a particular event. But, I assume the general principle is to train hard and then allow a tapering period in the last two weeks. It means these first two weeks of October are pretty high intensity. I’ve been trying to get a lot of intervals in this week. Plus the training effect of races at the weekend. The last two weeks of October will then begin a gradual decline in duration of training, though still keeping some high intensity efforts.
This weekend is another hill climb double. Firstly on Saturday, it’s back to my old club Otley CC for their double hill climb header on Guise Hill (Pateley Bridge) and Norwood Edge. I first did this hill climb over 20 years ago. But, in those days I was more interested in the Sunday club runs than efforts of 5 mins. In fact my first couple of hill climb entries, managed to put me off hill climbs for the next 13 years…
On Sunday, it’s a new hill climb for me – Horseshoe pass, organised by Wrexham CC. I’ve never seen the climb before. But, 3 miles at a constant average gradient of 5.5% ticks quite a few boxes for me. With a course record of just over 9 minutes (set by James Dobbin), it is very similar in length and duration to this year’s national championship on the Stang.
The competition is strong with Richard Handley, Rapha CC (fresh from a top 15 placing in the Tour of Britain), and former national champions – Matt Clinton and James Dobbin on the 120 strong startsheet.
As much as you can for a hill climb, I’m kind of looking forward to them.
Sean Yates was a hard man of old school pro-cycling. Coming from the British based scene, Yates made that very difficult route from domestic amateur to full time continental pro. In a long and distinguished career, he became the third British person to wear the yellow jersey and a time trial stage in the Tour de France and Vuelta Espagne. After retiring as a pro, Sean continued to race on the domestic scene and also moved into management – from the chaotic McCartney team to the brave new world of Team Sky.
Some points from reading the book.
It is revealing into the mindset and attitude that Yates’ had to life and cycling. You get an overwhelming impression that this is a guy willing and able to repeatedly drive himself into the ground. Although there’s no firm link, you do wonder the extent to which his health problems are related to the intensity he was willing to put into riding the bike.
As you might expect, Yates just avoids the whole issue of doping. I don’t think it’s mentioned even once. He’s loyal to Lance Armstrong and in the best traditions of the old school omerta leaves the drug issue well alone. Personally, I feel rather detached from this. I’m so full of doping confessions, doping reports, doping books e.t.c. I didn’t expect Yates to have anything revelatory to say. It is kind of the elephant in the room, but that’s Yates and the era of pro cycling.
It does come across as part confessional. For example, on one page, you are reading how Yates went for a ramp test and produced the best wattage figures since Eddy Merckx, and on the next page he confesses to turning his grass brown because he would urinate out his window. Confessions may have their place, but perhaps the confession box is a better place than you’re autobiography. A couple of times I felt like saying ‘just a bit too much information, Yatesy’
On the plus side you feel you are reading quite an open and honest account. There isn’t really a side to Yates, he does tell it like he is.
Another good feature of the book is simply the fact that Yates has been at the heart of procycling for the past 30 years. He may have been mostly a domestique, but he was racing alongside the greats of the era from Stephen Roche, Sean Kelly and Robert Millar. I particularly liked the insights into Robert Millar.
The last post on the traditional British club run made me want to look for a photo of the old Reynolds 501 I used to ride. In digging through photo albums, I found a few of my early bikes and my introduction into cycling
Apparantely, this is me, aged 3 (I guess it’s all downhill from age 3) I don’t remember this bike at all. I think I once rode this bike down the stairs by mistake. Fortunately, I don’t remember that incident either; though my mother seems to think it is amusing to share that story with everyone who comes to visit.
My next bike was a bmx, though I can’t find a photo. I think it was on a bmx I learnt to ride a bike. Funnily enough as a young child I didn’t like cycling at all. I remember at school having an opportunity to get my cycling proficiency badge. But, I said I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t cycle. I think I was about the only one in the whole school who never passed their cycling proficiency test!