Why Brits love a hill-climb

Judg­ing by their pop­u­lar­ity, hill-climbs seem to chime with our na­tional char­ac­ter. We asked eight no­table hill-climbers just what it is they love about wheez­ing lungs, burn­ing legs and pain-scored faces...

Cycling Weekly - - Contents - Paul Knott

De­spite be­ing one of the short­est on the do­mes­tic cal­en­dar, the hill-climb sea­son is one that at­tracts riders from all ar­eas of the sport — whether it is do­mes­tic pros vy­ing for podium spots at the Na­tion­als, hill-climb spe­cial­ists look­ing to force their way into the reck­on­ing, or just a week­end war­rior look­ing for a bit of pain and suf­fer­ing to fin­ish off their sea­son. We all have dif­fer­ent goals in a hill-climb, but why are we so at­tracted to sac­ri­fic­ing our minds and bod­ies to these in­tense, stom­ach-wrench­ing ef­forts?

A chance to test your skills

Lee Bald­win — Vcuk-ve­locham­pion Elite Road Team “Un­for­tu­nately, there are not many time tri­als and even fewer road races that use de­cent hills any­more. So the hill-climbs are a chance to ac­tu­ally use my climbing abil­i­ties and race up some hard roads and hills. I like to push my­self to the lim­its, which is only ever re­ally done in a hill-climb. It also teaches you things about your­self that you can ap­ply to train­ing.”

Sheer bloody-mind­ed­ness

Maryka Sen­nema — 2013, 2014 and 2015 women’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “As some­one not born and raised in the UK but who has English her­itage and has been liv­ing here for nearly 10 years, I would say there’s some­thing about the Bri­tish cul­ture and psy­che that rel­ishes tak­ing on painful, why-would-you-do-that ex­pe­ri­ences and then once achieved, call­ing them ‘the best ever’! Tack­ling a very steep climb is one of those things that nor­mal peo­ple would never do and there­fore a Bri­tish per­son must.”

The tac­tics

Adam Ken­way —2016 men’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “Rid­ing hill-climbs is a bit strange, and I worry about Mon­sal more than any­thing. About a week be­fore, I get a lit­tle bit ner­vous, be­cause within one minute you know you are go­ing to go from nor­mal heart rate to flat out, try­ing not to pass out. It is a hard thing to put your body through. But with the short ones it’s just a case of think­ing about keep­ing the legs turn­ing and keep push­ing.

“For any­thing over a cou­ple of min­utes I have to say to my­self: ‘Back off, don’t go too hard.’ If you go flat out from the gun on a four-minute climb, af­ter two min­utes you’re not go­ing to have any­thing left and it’ll be a dis­as­ter.”

The tech — or the lack of it

Te­j­van Pet­tinger — 2013 men’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “Cy­clists like to buy ex­pen­sive car­bon-fi­bre frames and to make their bikes lighter; it is at­trac­tive even if you’re a sportive rider. But with a hill-climb you don’t need to spend a huge amount to get started. I think it is less tech­no­log­i­cally de­mand­ing than time tri­als are, you don’t need to do wind tun­nel test­ing and things like that. I’ve been through a weight-ween­ing process with my bike and you are re­ally fight­ing for the odd sec­ond here and there. I guess it can be part of the fun to make your bike as light as pos­si­ble, but it is not a pro­hib­i­tive part of the sport.”


Adam Ken­way — 2016 men’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “Hill-climbs are unique be­cause I think ev­ery­one knows how hard it is to ride up a hill. So ev­ery­one can kind of put it in per­spec­tive and think, ‘That is hard!’ Be­cause you are go­ing rel­a­tively slowly, spec­ta­tors can see the pain in your face, and see how fast peo­ple are go­ing to get up there.”

Car­ni­val at­mos­phere

Jack Pullar — 2012 men’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “With a time trial on a dual car­riage­way no one is go­ing to watch it as it is not that ex­cit­ing be­cause riders go past so fast. Whereas on a hill-climb on the steep parts you get to see the riders for much longer and it is more of an event. With more peo­ple round one area, be­cause it is nor­mally a lot shorter, it is eas­ier to spec­tate and there’s more of a car­ni­val at­mos­phere. Without the crowds they would be pretty grim to ride, and not much fun. Es­pe­cially the big­ger ones at Mon­sal and Bec, the crowds there are like an Alpine pass. It is pretty crazy, and the big­gest crowds I have ex­pe­ri­enced at a lower level. Be­cause you don’t need to be a pro to en­ter a hill-climb, and still get those crazy crowds, I think this is one of the big­gest at­trac­tions of it.”

The fin­ish

Te­j­van Pet­tinger — 2013 men’s na­tional hill-climb cham­pion “One of the main things is get­ting a real buzz from that three or four min­utes of in­tense ef­fort and it pushes you into a zone you rarely get any­where else. Even in train­ing it can be hard to repli­cate the feel­ing of a race where you are mo­ti­vated to push your­self as hard as you can. It is re­ally tran­scend­ing what you are used to; it is tor­ture when you are do­ing it but when you are fin­ished you feel a tremen­dous sense of sat­is­fac­tion for be­ing able to go so deep.”

There’s not much else to do

Mal­colm El­liott — Mon­sal Hill-climb record holder “The sum­mer is over, peo­ple are still rid­ing their bikes as it is rea­son­able weather and most peo­ple may have done their se­ri­ous rac­ing for the year. So it’s a nice event to ride out to, and in­cor­po­rate into your ride. I think nowa­days more of the top-level riders do con­tinue their sea­son later and per­haps the events get stronger fields than they used to.”

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