Winnats Pass is a tough climb in the Peak District from the village of Castleton heading West through a steep limestone cleft. It averages over 10%, with a considerable section of 20% + near the top.
Winnats pass has featured in the now-defunct Tour of Peak road race and also featured as a venue for the National hill climb Championship on a record ten occasions (most recent 1977). It will also be the venue for 2021. There is now a popular Tour of the Peak sportive, run in May. The sportive offers closed roads for Winnats Pass.
The climb travels through a natural amphitheatre with steep slopes and rock faces on either side of the road. It provides an excellent location and challenge. The main drawback of Winnats pass is that it can be quite busy with motor traffic. (unfortunately, the old A road through Mam Tor was closed due to subsidence.) Combined with the narrowness of the road, it can become a little crowded. As a result, you are likely to be greeted with the reassuring smell of burning clutch as cars struggle up the 20% inclines.
Winnats Pass old Hill Climb Course
The National Hill Climb Championship has been held on Winnats Pass on ten occasions. They used to be able to get a road closure because the alternative A road to the top was still functioning.
The winning time was around 3.20 – 3.30. It is hard to know the actual course but this is a rough approximation.
2021 National hill climb course
The 2021 National hill climb has been confirmed as Winnat’s Pass. The course is said to be
“Start at first kerbstone on left 5 metres above Cattle Grid. Proceed uphill to finish at Cattle grid sign just before Cattle grid at top. 0.56mile/ 985yds”
I’m up in Yorkshire, so have been taking the opportunity to cycle up some ‘proper’ hills. I can’t do as much as I would like. Rather like an old man, I seem to take a few days recovery after any effort with ongoing issues. Still, something is better than nothing. After watching the Tour de Yorkshire on tv, I couldn’t resist visiting Lofthouse and Trapping Hill. (I’m not really keen on all this Franglais stuff – Cote d’flipping steep hill sounds a bit weird). Trapping hill brings back memories of my first bike rides, aged 14 – when I went camping at How Steen Gorge and being amazed at how difficult Trapping Hill and Greenhow Hill were.
Trapping Hill isn’t quite as invincible as it felt as a newbie cyclist aged 14. When I visited on Saturday, tather fortuitously there was a tailwind up the climb, and the road had been newly repaved. If this smooth road was due to the Tour de Yorkshire effect, I hope it becomes a three-week grand tour. With a three-week Tour we could even afford to have stages across the border in Lancashire.
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.
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.
Unfortunately I didn’t make the national 100. The shoulders wouldn’t have survived 4 hours on TT bike, but despite injury, I didn’t feel too dissappointed, I had also lost a little motivation for time trials on flat dual carriageways. I race from Feb to October, so it’s perhaps good to have a mid season break. They say a change is as good as a rest, so after fixing broken rear mech hanger and getting a new derailleur, I’ve been riding up the steep hills of West Yorkshire.
Today I went to Hebden Bridge, Todmorden, Widdop Moor and Trawden. It was just short of 3,000m of climbing in 70 miles. A strange kind of rest, though it was good to find some new climbs and new roads – not too far from Menston.
You wouldn’t choose West Yorkshire for a cycling holiday, but I’ve grown to really like these valleys and moors. Going from dense conurbations to quiet roads and moors, within a few miles. There are many moor roads, where you can see the packed terrace houses of towns down below and green moors above.
A review of Simon Warren’s Cycling Climbs of Yorkshire. The book features 75 climbs from all corners of Yorkshire from the East Riding to the Yorkshire Dales and south Yorkshire climbs.
I was brought up in Yorkshire, learning to cycle amidst the dales and hills. Climbs like Park Rash and Fleet Moss were enough to create a little fear and trepidation in the average club cyclist. It was only on rare summer days, we would go ‘over the top’ to Hawes and leave the comfort of the lower Wharfedale slopes.
These days I’m fortunate to often go back to Yorkshire and I often end up searching some new hill climb challenge. There is a great variety in Yorkshire, from the big hills of the Yorkshire Dales, to the ridiculously steep 30% gradients of the North York Moors and also the short cobbled climbs of Halifax and Calderdale. It was only in recent years, I started to learn the joy of climbs around West and south Yorkshire – built up areas, but still some great hills and good for cycling.
The 75 climbs offer a broad overview of the Yorkshire climbs. Of course, you could easily find another 25 or 50 climbs to add to this selection, but it is still a lot to be getting on with.
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.
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.
The weather forecast for today was sun and westerley wind. I thought I would be clever and get a train from Bingley to Clapham and avoid a long slog into a headwind. It partly worked out because the wind was strong, but ‘light occasional showers’ obviously means something very different west of Settle.
First up was a new climb south from Clapham towards the Trough of Bowland called Bowland Knotts. It is a climb from 100 climbs, and I probably wouldn’t have thought of taking this road without a desire to tick off a few more climbs in the book. The road was certainly very isolated and quiet. In a long ascent and descent, I think I only saw one car, four people and a dog. It’s not mid-summer, but if you’re looking for traffic free roads, this is as good as it gets.
The climb is a long drag of 4 miles plus – averaging only 4%, but with a strong side wind, it was tough going, though some great views partly compensated. Looking back down the hill, it reminded me somewhat of the bleak open climb of the Stang in North Yorkshire. Though this climb has no 17% gradient to start off with.
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.
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.
This weekend was the Otley CC hill climb, with perhaps a record field of 58 riders. It was the ninth time I’ve ridden the event (though 2 of them were in the last Millennium). Still I have a long way to go to catch up with Paul Brierley of Huddersfield R.C. who was making it 28 starts for Otley CC hill climb).
I was ridding my Trek Emonda, which is getting close to Nat HC weight. My top bike mechanic Andy Sherwood came round on Friday, to make it single chainring (39*) I nearly didn’t make it because I lost a single chainring bolt, but I was lucky because somehow Andy had a spare single chainring bolt lying around his van. That whole operation must have taken at least 250 grams off an already light bike. There’s probably a bit more to come off before National, but not very much.
Some of the useful techniques for cycling uphill from 3% long drags to 30% wicked hairpins.
Simple top 7 tips
The quickest 7 tips to cycling uphill I would give are:
Avoid going into the ‘red’ too early on the climb. Don’t get carried away on the lower slopes, if you still have a long slog to the top.
Maintain a reasonable cadence of 65-80 rpm. It will be a lower cadence than normal, but avoid pushing a big gear at a very low cadence.
Anticipate steep sections in advance by getting into lower gear before.
Traffic permitting, avoid the steepest apex and go wide around corners to maintain the best rhythm and constant speed.
Where possible remain seated. Save standing on the pedals for the really steep hills and steep sections.
Stick to your own pace. It is counter-productive to try and stay with much quicker riders. You will lose more time in the long run.
Know what you are climbing – length, gradient, max gradient, and likely time needed.
The effort required to cycle uphill increases exponentially as the gradient increases. If you’re unfit / new to cycling don’t start off in the Lake District, it may put you off for life. You need a reasonable fitness before you tackle steep hills. Also, when you start to climb, you use your upper body and back more. Core strength exercises to strengthen upper back muscles will help a lot.
Climbing in saddle or out of saddle?
A big issue is whether to climb seated in the saddle or climb out of the saddle. In short, I find it best to be seated for long gradual climbs. Getting out of the saddle is useful for when the gradient really gets steep. Climbing out of the saddle is less aerodynamic and is harder work. It is good for short bursts of power, but you will tire more quickly.
Climbing in the saddle
Where possible, I try to remain seated when climbing. It is more efficient and you can maintain a high power for longer. It is also more aerodynamic. For novices, it is good training to try and climb whilst seated and get out of the habit of standing on the pedals as soon as the road goes up hill.
Climbing whilst out of the saddle
Sometimes referred to as ‘standing on the pedals’. Here you employ a lot more muscles and upper body strength to help you pull up against the handlebars. If you stand up, you will get a short term increase in power. If you’re using a power meter, you will probably see your power increase significantly. This is great for acceleration or getting through a particularly steep section. But, when the fast twitch muscle fibres are exhausted, the burst of power will evaporate, and you will find your power dissipates.
Bear in mind, there is no hard and fast rule about climbing in the saddle. If you watch the Tour de France, you will see different riders have different styles. A light rider like Alberto Contador always seems to be out of the saddle rocking around all over the place. A heavier more powerful rider like Cancellara will be much more likely to be going up the Alpine climbs whilst seated. Shorter, lighter riders generally do better out of the saddle than heavier riders. Sometimes it’s good get out of the saddle just to give your back muscles a stretch and break the monotony of climbing in the seated position.
Don’t forget the wind
Some of my hardest hill climbing experiences have actually been due to a super strong headwind, as much as the gradient. The closest I came to walking up a hill was Wrynose pass (25%) but, that day there was a super strong headwind. Obviously, if you can keep lower on the bike, it helps avoid the headwind. This is why it can be good to practise climbing seated. On the other hand, in 2013 the national hill climb had a 35mph tailwind, making it an advantage to do most of the climb standing up!
Rock solid core and minimising other movements
Talking of pro techniques – watching last year’s Vuelta Espagne I was struck by the stage where Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) won. On the last climb, he was absolutely solid on the bike. His lower and upper back wasn’t moving – only his legs were moving. He must have worked a lot on core strength, this increases power climbing because more effort is going to his legs and less into his upper body.
Best line to take climbing
Where possible you want to try and reduce the gradient of the hill by going wide on the corners and avoiding the apex. The shortest route is not the quickest. If you go through the apex you will break your rhythm and be forced to try harder. It is better to try and maintain the same gradient by going wide. You can keep in the same gear and maintain your speed; this is a secret of climbing, maintain your momentum where possible.
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