Today was the Newbury RC hill climb on Walbury Hill.
The start was a very civilised 10am, with myself as last man at 11.20am. It meant I could start the day watching a video of the last 20km of the women’s world race championship. I didn’t know the result, and when I turned it on, it didn’t look too promising for British hopeful Lizzie Armistead. But, it turned out to be a thrilling race, and a really superb victory for Lizzie Armitstead (from Otley, Yorkshire). As the imperious old rugby union commentator Bill McClaren would say:
‘They’ll be dancing in the streets of Otley tonight.”
Back to domestic time trialling in the UK, and there was not quite as much glamour driving down the A34 towards Newbury, but it was a great Autumn day and super views from the top of Walbury hill.
After last year’s first open, Newbury RC have made efforts to make it an even bigger event. They managed to get a rare road closure (which is great to race on) and a generous prize fund, due to sponsorship from Ridgeway Volkswagen and several others.
I’ve spent two weeks in NY. I did a little training on Dougleston Parkway – a short hill, which takes 1.30 if you really go for it. It’s a bit like Monsal Head, except instead of the beautiful Peak District, you have as a backdrop – innumerable concrete flyovers, a smelly sanitation dump and cars driving like only crazy New Yorkers like to.
Quite often you get the passing draft of a big smelly dumpster truck, though the benefit of the passing draft is negated by the nervousness about breathing in within a 20 foot radious. Refuse collection is essential for any city – it’s just that we don’t tend to do high intensity intervals next to it. Still, I got four good training sessions in during the 12 days. Just about enough to feel I didn’t fall behind in the general scheme of things.
I last rode Box Hill in 2012, a few days before the London Olympics. It was a memorable time for British sport and cycling in particular. I’d been looking for an excuse to go back. Simon Warren’s guide of S.E. England climbs showed quite a lot of climbs around Dorking I haven’t done before. After Yorkshire hills last week I was on a roll for finding new climbs so good weather encouraged me to drive an hour from Oxford to Mickleham to try and range of different climbs on the Surrey downs.
First climb of the day was Box Hill. Everyone knows Box Hill now. 2 miles @ 5% It’s a beautiful climb, it’s iconic, it’s wonderfully engineered and a delight to ride. Yet, there’s the Yorkshire Hill climber in me who sees this wonderful natural hill and thinks – wouldn’t it be better just to throw a few cobbles up this surface and make a hill that goes straight from bottom to top?
Having said all that, I was worried by a sign at the bottom of Box Hill – warning of loose chipping – max 20mph, but fortunately, they haven’t chucked a load of gravel on the smooth surface of Box Hill yet!
After Box Hill, it was over Ranmore Common and up the long climb of Coldharbour Lane from Dorking. It took quite a while to find the start of the climb because of Dorking’s one way system. But, it is a good climb, with varying degrees of steepness. It’s a long old drag to the top of Leith Hill
Distance: 2 miles
Average gradient: 4%
Height gain: 125m (132m total climbing because there is some descent near top)
From Leith Hill I made my way to Cranleigh and Barhatch Lane, which is said to be the toughest climb in Surrey. A long drag then a real sting in the tail with a 21% gradient to finish.
This is a training session, which is a bit different – A bit of fun or a bit of torture, depending on your point of view.
Pick a hill (less than 5km) and see how many vertical metres you can climb in an hour. It is like a mini Everesting attempt all condensed into one hour. It will make excellent hill climb training, good training for a 25 mile TT and also good training for long Alpine climbs.
The 5km limit is purely arbitrary and based on the fact most accessible climbs in the UK are around 1-2km. Short hills make it harder because you have to do more u-turns and more descending. If you wanted to maximise vertical ascent in an hour, you would start at the foot of the Col du Tourmalet and see how far you can get up in an hour. A really top pro, may be able to manage close to 1,500m – 1,600m in an hour. Which is equal to VAM (velocità ascensionale media) – basically vertical meters climbed per hour. But, in the UK, there are no such climbs.
The optimum hill
The optimum hill would probably have a constant gradient of around 12-13% All your time is climbing, you don’t have to pedal on descent and you can probably do all the climbing in the saddle.
The important thing is to be safe when doing u-turns at the top and bottom of hill. The road needs to be quiet and good views of traffic. It’s only a training session.
Chinnor Hill reps
I chose Chinnor Hill because it is near enough to Oxford to cycle out and gives a reasonable height gain of 119m / 9% average per lap.
Distance: 0.8 miles / 1.3km
Height gain: 393ft/ 118m
Average gradient: 9%
It also has a convenient roundabout at the bottom of the hill, to make safer u-turns at bottom of hill.
Trooper Lane is a short, steep cobbled climb in Halifax. It makes a good claim to be the toughest cobbled climb in the Yorkshire area – possibly the whole of England. With contenders like Thwaites Brow, this is tough competition.
I saw Trooper Lane on the Cycle Show a few weeks ago, with Simon Warren going up and describing the climb.
Today was good weather in the Yorkshire Dales so I drove out to Kettlewell and headed off for some of the big Yorkshire climbs.
I could have cycled from Menston, but driving to Kettlewell saved 50 rolling miles and it got me closer to the big hills. The surprising thing is that it’s not actually that much quicker driving to Kettlewell than it is cycling. 1 hour in the car. Cycling – 1 hour 20 minutes. Still I got to the first climb of Fleet Moss nice and fresh.
Cycling Climbs of South East England is the first of the regional guides to road cycling hill climbs in England. It follows the same format as the best-selling 100 climbs. In fact the regional guide includes 50% of the hills in the first two volumes. It means for owners of the original books, there is repetition, but also all the climbs in one place with quite a few new ones too.
The South East includes Oxfordshire and some of the Chiltern hills I know and ride so often – climbs like Chinnor Hill, Muswell Hill and Whiteleaf. The South East also includes the south coast of Sussex and Kent – somewhere I very rarely cycle. Probably the last time I rode near the south coast was the Brighton Mitre hill climb on Steyning Bostal in 2006.
The regional guide didn’t give the same thrill as the first 100 climb book. Because many of the climbs are now well known. But, there are still a few new climbs, I’d not done before. Last week, I checked out Whitchurch Hill- from Pangbourne I’d never ridden around there before, despite being a mere 25 miles south of Oxford. I nice little 3 minute climb with good road surface. Oxford is certainly spoilt for climbs. I will probably end up buying the South West, because Oxford is as close to the Cotswolds as the Chilterns.
The South East doesn’t have all the big climbs of Yorkshire or Wales, but there’s certainly enough interesting climbs to make a good edition out of. It also features many climbs which feature in the London Olympics and Surrey classic (e.g. Box Hill, Leith Hill) And if you watch the Prudential Ride London classic, it shows you don’t need a col du Tourmalet to make an exciting race.
The defining feature of British hills is that they are short and steep. Four minutes of a lung bursting effort of gradients up to 30%.
British roads were not built with smooth cycling in mind. We throw a road on the hill and hope for the best; hairpins are a luxury rarely afforded – at best we may get a quarter hairpin so the gradient is kept below 25%. The gradient is never constant, but nearly always variable. You can’t get into a rhythm but will find you are constantly changing gear or wishing you had a lower gear to go into. To add insult to injury, the road surface is invariably rough and potholes create an added challenge.
The Alps and Pyrenees by contrast are wonderfully engineered and manicured climbs. You can have a climb with an average gradient of 8%, but the maximum is 10%. In England, an average of 8%, usually means a maximum of 18-20%. On the continent, the road surfaces are usually something we can only dream of – smooth and well maintained. The other defining thing about the Pyrenees is that the climbs are long 17km, 20km climbs. We just struggle to comprehend how long the hills are. It’s like doing a 10 mile time trial uphill at an average gradient of 9%.
Luz Ardiden is a ski resort built in 1975 and has featured several times as a summit finish in the Tour de France. It starts from the same town as the Col du Tormalet – to the north east of Luz Saint Sauveur in the Midi Pyrenees, It is a classic Pyrenean climb – averaging 8% for a height gain of 982m, with frequent hairpin bends. It offers some stunning views from the top.
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