Col du Tourmalet


The Col du Tourmalet was first featured in the Tour de France in 1910. Since then, it has featured in the race over 73 times and is one of the most prestigious climbs on the Tour.

1926 Lucien Buysse on the Tourmalet

The early intrepid riders were climbing poor road surfaces on heavy two speed bicycles; in those days, to climb a Pyrenean pass like the Col du Tourmalet was a herculean task. With lightweight bikes and good road surfaces, it is a little easier than for those early pioneers, but it is still 2,100m to ascend.

Eventual winner Octave Lapize walking up the Tourmalet in 1910.

In the Tour de France, the Col du Tourmalet is often the penultimate climb of the day. It is conveniently situated near many mountain top finishes like Luz Ardiden, Hautacam. There are no shortage of other climbs in this part of the world. One thing always guaranteed with the Col du Tourmalet is that the peleton will be split into little pieces with perhaps twenty or thirty minutes between the front and back of the peleton.


The Col du Tourmalet can be climbed in both directions, and offers a similar gradient and challenge.

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Long distance climbing

In a spare moment, I think it would be good fun to do an everesting attempt (climb 8,848m in one ride) but then I do 2,000m of climbing in training, and I think why would anybody want to do that *4?

Of course, there’s a difference between sprint training up a few hills, and taking it steady for 12 hours plus.

When I recently rode the Tour of Yorkshire stage 3 (3,000m of climbing) I knew I had to approach it differently. You can’t start hammering it from the start when there is such a long distance and number of climbs to do. So I took the first 1,500m of climbing at a steady, reasonable pace. Sticking in the 28 sprocket and not going crazy. It takes a little discipline to hold back at the start of a long ride. Travelling south to Hebden Bridge, there was a tailwind making the climbing seem quite easy. I’m almost hardwired to see a hilly and start sprinting up it. But, it was quite a good experience to go up some long climbs like Cragg Vale and Cote de Hebden Bridge as if you were going to be doing this all day. If you have the right gearing you can keep the effort at a reasonable level. I understood how an everesting is more practical if you don’t kill yourself sprinting up the first hill you see.

Getting the right gearing

It's a 42!
“It’s a 42!” – I was taking photos on the Cow and Calf and this rider shouted out with great seriousness ‘It’s a 42!’. I’ve got a 42!” (he was referring to the size of the chainring.) I loved the tone in his voice which was said with a combination of resignation, regret and perhaps a little pride. Who wouldn’t want a 39 on this 16% slope?

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Oxnop Scar

Oxnop Scar is a climb from Swaledale south towards Wensleydale. Typical of Yorkshire Dales climbs in this part of the world, there is a really steep section of 25%. The steep section is at the bottom, so you will be tired after that for the long remorseless climb towards the top.

The only thing that can be said about the first section is that , traffic permitting, you can take the hairpins wide to reduce the gradient a little. But, it is still quite brutal.

Looking back through some old photos, I found I did this climb a few years ago. In those days, I called it ‘a steep climb in Swaledale’. It was probably done after cycling up Fleet Moss and Buttertubs. The metres ascent can really add up in that part of the world.

  • Location: Swaledale, North Yorkshire
  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Avg grade 6%
  • Max Grade: 25.0%
  • Elev Gain: 236m
  • 100 hills #46
  • Everesting? 36.7 laps – Total distance 183 miles (BTW: useful site

Photos of the Oxnop climb

Swaledale is a great valley. This was taken at the foot of the climb.



25% sign is well merited.

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Hartside Fell


Hartside Fell is long steady climb in the north Pennines. It is one of the longest continual climbs in England – rising 400m over 5 miles. It will be used as a summit finish in this years Tour of Britain, stage 5.

Photo by Bryn looking West from top of Hartside


  • Location: A686 – North East of Penrith towards Alston
  • Distance: 4.9 miles
  • Avg grade 5.0%
  • Max Grade: 7.0%
  • Elev Gain: 400m
  • Maximum Elevation – 1915ft / 583m
  • Cat: 2
  • 100 hills #77
  • Strava segment
  • Everesting? 23*9.8 miles = 225 miles

Photos from 2015

I rode Hartside on May 4 – after Kent Valley R.C. Shap hill climb. There was a nice tailwind on that day. As it is an exposed climb, a tailwind makes it much more enjoyable. Would be hardwork into headwind. The good news is that the prevailing wind is a westerley (tailwind).

There’s no real secret to the climb, it’s just a steady 5% all the way to the top. Perhaps slightly steeper on final hairpin.

You get a lot of motorbikes in this part of the world whizzing past you on the way up.

BTW: if you want a real test, Great Dun Fell is about 10 miles south.

Lake district in the distance
The long winding road
snow markers

hartside-3 hartside-4 hartside-6 hartside-7 hartside-8

Photo Fiona in Eden from top of Hartside after floods of 2009
Photo Brucie Stokes – bottom of Hartside

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Wrynose Pass


Wrynose Pass is one of the most spectacular climbs in England. In terms of difficulty, it is slightly overshadowed by its more boisterous neighbour – Hardknott Pass. But, from the East, it’s difficulty should never be under-estimated. I speak from personal experience, once dragging the bike up into a headwind and over-geared (39*25) – the 20% plus gradient never seemed to ease all the way to the top. (Such an incident inspired a recent post – about walking up hills.)

If you get chance to look back from where you came, it’s one of the most memorable views you will get from a road in England. Whilst climbing you probably won’t get chance to appreciate, so it’s worth coming down Wrynose Pass too. It’s a great natural amphitheatre.

Photo: Gouldy


Photo: Gouldy

I’ve been up Wrynose pass on a couple of occasions, whilst visiting the Lake District. Often it involves going up Hardknott Pass as well.

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Is it OK to walk up hills?

PJ wrote an interesting post – Taking the bike for a walk

In response to a Guardian article – Is it OK to get off your bike and walk up a hill?

Since hill climbs are close to my heart – I can’t resist chipping in.

The truth is I’m torn between conflicting emotions.

The Rake – Photo Bob Muir

On the one hand is the hill climb chimp, with a thought process like:

> “It’s better to die on a hill than surrender and walk up. The modern generation is too soft with its compact chain sets and granny gears. We should recreate the hill climbs of old – 12kg steel bike, fixed gears and the one who gets furthest up the hill without falling off – wins. That’s proper cycling – not this modern, get off and walk if you feel like it nonsense.

The other chimp in me is the more reasonable, rational, politically correct version.

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Cow and Calf climb

The Cow and Calf climb starts in Ilkley and goes up to Ilkley Moor. There is a great view of Wharfedale from the top. The 1.2 mile climb averages 8%, but there is a steep section of 17% near top.

Cow and Calf,  Ilkley


I’ve ridden it many times and it was on the Cow and Calf that I saw my first live professional bike race – the now defunct Leeds Classic. I was really impressed how quickly they cycled up the Cow and Calf.

2015 Tour of Yorkshire

Stage 3 of the Tour-of-Yorkshire. Full map at Tour of Yorkshire

The 2015 Tour of Yorkshire is going to be going up the Cow and Calf on stage 3, it comes fairly close to the stage finish in Leeds. The route later goes up East Chevin, which used to be a venue for the Otley CC hill climb, until too much traffic caused it to be moved. The route is also going through my home village of Menston, so it’s a pretty good stage to go and watch.

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York’s hill – Catford CC hill climb


York’s hill is the venue of the one of the world’s oldest cycle races – Catford CC hill climb in Kent, S.E. England. The full climb is 0.8 miles, climbing 353ft / 108m . But, it is the last half a miles of the climb which is the really interesting part. It is one of the steepest climbs in the south of England. The climb starts off innocuously enough, but as you near the top, the road gets steeper, until you hit the really tough 20-25% section at the end. York’s hill makes a great event for the Catford CC hill climb. The steep section is usually thronged with spectators who take great delight in watching the suffering of the competitors.

Photo Liam Eldret – Yorks Hill Catford CC

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Honister pass

Honister Pass

Honister pass is a fairly inaccessible climb in the north West Lake District. To get there invariably involves cycling up many other Lake District hills, but it is worth the effort as it a great climb, with equally superb views. It is a great climb from both directions.

Honister Pass
Honister pass – Flickr Trawets1

East to West

Starting in Keswick you will travel south down the East coast of Derwent water towards Borrowdale. Just before the village of Seatoller, you take a right turn on the B2589.


There is a 2 mile gentle introduction to the climb as you go up the valley at a very gentle gradient. However, as the road bends round to the right you leave the valley and start the climb proper.

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Box hill

Box Hill

Box Hill is one of Britain’s most iconic climbs. The statistics don’t look particularly impressive – 2.5 km with an average gradient of 5%, for a mere 129m height gain. If Box hill was located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it would barely mention a footnote. But, given it’s accessibility and closeness to London, it has become a popular test for every type of cyclist from the Olympic road race to beginner sportive riders. It is a challenging climb, but also manageable enough for just about everyone to ‘enjoy’ going up Box hill – even if you’re on a Brompton foldup.

Box hill
Box hill Photo – Sum of Marc

It also offers great views of the surrounding countryside. Box hill is also known as ‘Zig Zag’ hill for the couple of hairpins which really give it an Alpine feel – just for a short time whilst climbing Box Hill, you can imagine yourself away from London and cycling up a ‘proper’ climb.

Box Hill – Sum of Marc

The Olympic road race was a once in a lifetime event, but fortunately it has left a lasting legacy. The Prudential London-Surrey Classic is becoming an important road race and it includes Box hill amongst other climbs. In 2014, Adam Blythe won a thrilling race. Also, the Olympics has made the climb even more popular, featuring in innumerable sportives and becoming one of the most popular Strava segments in Europe.

I visited Box Hill just before the Olympic road race in July 2012. It was a couple of days before the Olympic road race and I thoroughly enjoyed going up Box Hill 9 times. I’ve never been back, even though it is tempting.

Box hill climb – short version

  • Location – Dorking, Surrey
  • Length: 2.5 km
  • Average gradient 5%
  • Maximum gradient: 8%
  • Height gain: 129 m
  • 100 climbs: #14
  • Strava segment
  • Everesting? – 71 * 5.0 km = 355 km
  • Successful Everest of Box Hill:  Roger Barr from Hampton and Ciaran O’Hara, August 2014 (74 ascents).

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