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!
I began cycling in the early 1990s, aged about 14. After a few rides on my own, I was invited by a friend, Sam Ward, to join Otley CC and take part in their Sunday rides. The club would meet every Sunday at 9am by the butter cross market in the centre of Otley.
In those days cycling was a much smaller sport, it was more on the fringe of society. So to see 60 plus cyclists sitting around Otley town centre made quite an impression. Joining a cycling club was pretty exciting for a young keen cyclist. It made you feel part of something, a nice change from ploughing a lonely furrow. Everyone looked as though they were wizened cyclists with plush bikes and years of experience. I assumed that everyone would be ridiculously fit and fast after training for the past 20 + years. I was nervous about getting dropped so, initially joined the ‘slow group’. After a few weeks I made the jump to the intermediates, and then after a few months I graduated to the ‘A’ Group led by Jack. However, I never made the jump to the fourth group. The fourth group were called the ‘fast’ group and were comprised of guys who would spend all summer racing. They looked suitably fast and I was too intimidated to ever consider joining the guys who raced. I assumed it would be 25mph all the way to the tea shop, I didn’t want to embarrass myself by making people wait on the climbs. So I stuck with the older men and women in the A group. We may not have been fast, but we did clock up the miles!
Rules of the road
One golden rule drummed into me from an early age, is make sure you have mudguards in winter, otherwise you’re at the back! I remember spending hours trying to fit these old fashioned fiddly mudguards with nuts and bolts, a far cry from todays clip on mudguards. Not everything is golden about the past. I only had one bike in those days – a good old Reynolds 501 frame costing £200 from Ellis Briggs in Shipley. It probably weighed a ton, but I never gave a passing thought to the weight of components in those days. It had drop handlebars and I knew that made me a ‘proper’ cyclist!
Apart from mudguards in winter, there weren’t really any rules about club runs, but there were some general principles. Firstly, no-body would get dropped. If someone was slow on the hills, we would always wait. I remember one occasion, when some young lads tacked onto the club run, but they didn’t realise how far we were going. I think they got confused between group B and group A. One poor boy was suffering like anything – 40 miles from home. But, the group leaders made sure we got them home, even if it meant averaging 11mph all the way home, pushing the young boy up the climb and giving him some jam sandwiches.
That camaraderie was a special feature of the club runs. I remember one winter club run and my hands were freezing. I kept shoving my hands up my jersey, blowing on them, everything to try and keep them from freezing. An older member saw my plight and just took off his gloves and gave them to me for the ride. I didn’t even know him. But, I really appreciated the gloves.
15mph all day.
Needless to say there was never any half-wheeling or attacking on a club run. It was all at a sensible pace, without any competitive spirit. Once or twice a year there would be ‘reliability rides’ usually 50 miles in 3 hours. But, generally we would average 15mph for a days riding. But to do 100 miles, would still take 8 hours because any club run invariably involved 2 or 3 cafe stops. With more time for a good chat. Perhaps people had more time, but we would think of nothing to leaving the house at 9am and get back at 5pm.
Miles, more miles
Sunday club runs were gloriously unconcerned with modern training methods of intervals and heart rate zones, not to speak of meaningless GPS segments. It was all about miles and enjoying the cycling. The thing I most enjoyed about the club runs were doing huge distances that I would never have considered possible on my own. Each club run became an opportunity to go further than before. I remember after some club runs returning home utterly exhausted. The last incline of the day Otley to Menston (Ellar Ghyll) may have been only 20 metres elevation gain, but I would often do it at walking pace because I was totally spent after cycling 100 miles. The sense of achievement was really quite something. I loved that feeling of tiredness. To replicate it, I would probably have to take a long break from cycling and then do a 100 mile ride with relatively little training. My only regret was not doing the famous Morecambe 150 mile ride. I was always put off by distance, but I think I could have done it.
In summer, our group leader – mile muncher Jack – would sometimes start the A group off at 8am, so we could go even further. This would enable us to make exotic locations like Muker in Swaledale, Sedbergh in Dentdale. Memorable rides.
Another aspect of the Otley CC club runs which were so appealing was we were in a very fortunate location. The Yorkshire Dales were within easy reach. Every ride was in beautiful surroundings which encouraged the touring mindset.
Cycling two abreast
The 1990s weren’t exactly the halcyon days of the 1950s when bicycles outnumbered cars 100 to 1. But, I don’t remember much conflict with cars. On Sundays, the roads seemed fairly quite. We would always seek out the quietest roads and for most of the time were able to cycle two abreast. If a car got stuck behind, someone would shout, ‘car up’ and we would single out allowing the car to pass. There were probably a few impatient drivers, but nothing I can particularly remember. It seemed quite easy to co-exist with other cars. You definitely felt a greater sense of security riding in a pack of 8-10 riders. I always followed the leadership of the older members, but we always seemed considerate to other road users. Sundays were a popular day for other club runs and we would often bump into other clubs going out for their ride, like Airedale Olympic and Harrogate Nova.
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.
Cycle lanes known as ‘feeder lanes’ encourage you to go down the inside of traffic. In theory, you can move into the ‘advanced stop box for cyclists’. This gives cyclists a way to beat traffic jams and hopefully puts them in a visible position when the lights change. However, in practise when you get there, invariably you find a vehicle has stopped either totally or partially in the box. Also, the lights may change before you even get there, leaving you in a difficult position as heavy buses move off with you on the inside.
I was interested to read the case of a cyclist recently fined for running a red light, when in fact all he had done was get to the advanced stop box to find a car in it. Because it was an awkward position he came to a stop in front of the white line.
The police gave a ticket because technically he was running a red light – he stopped in front of the white line.
However, the Cyclists defence fund is supporting his appeal. They argue that some discretion needs to be used. When you go down the inside of traffic but find cyclist box covered, it makes practical sense to stop in front of the white line rather than risk getting squashed on the inside. It is something I have done. I never thought I was running a red light – just getting into a better position to help both me and the general traffic flow. See: Cyclists defense fund
I hope he wins his case because it’s something I’ve done myself.
It raises a difficult question of whether it is ever good to go down the inside of stationary traffic at traffic lights?
Cyclist squeezing down the inside of double decker buses on Oxford High Street. There is a brief cycle ‘lane’ near the traffic lights, encouraging this behaviour.
When you cycle down the inside of large vehicles, you are entering their blind spot. It is easy for drivers not to see you. If a vehicle is turning left, you are at high risk of serious accident. Left turning vehicles into path of cyclists is a significant cause of fatalities.
I always feel if you go down the inside, you have to be fully aware of the risk. If I’m confident of getting to the front of the queue before traffic starts to move, I may take it.
Sometimes I see cyclists go down the inside even when buses have started to move, this makes me feel very queasy as it is so tight and dangerous. The fact there may be a cycle lane painted on to the road is no guarantee.
How cycle feeder lanes and advanced stop signs can work in practise
a rare example of vehicles respecting all the cycle lanes and advanced stop signs. From this angle, you can see the potential of cyclists getting to the front of the queue.
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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