Hill Climb Coun­try

Der­byshire has hosted the Na­tional Hill-climb Cham­pi­onships more than any other county. Si­mon War­ren rides each of the seven hills used — in one day

Cycling Weekly - - FEATURE - Words: Si­mon War­ren Pho­tos: Daniel Gould

“I leave the dou­ble-header of Riber and Bank Road for last. My legs will love me for that”

Der­byshire has hosted the Na­tional Hill Climb Cham­pi­onships more than any other county. So when Cy­cling Weekly set me the task to de­vise and ride a route that linked all seven of the hills that have been used, how could I refuse? Those seven venues, Bank Road, Holly Lane, Long Hill, Peaslows, Riber, Rowsley Bar and the mighty Win­nats Pass, have dished out a huge amount of pain to a mul­ti­tude of legs over the years but has any­one ever at­tempted to tackle them all in one ride?

As there are two climbs in the town of Mat­lock, I choose that as my start and fin­ish point, but to avoid start­ing with go­ing up a 25 per cent in­cline, I first head south out of town to ride Holly Lane, which kicks up out of Am­ber­gate. I’ll leave the dou­ble-header of Riber and Bank Road for the end — my legs will love me for that.

1 Holly Lane

Length 1,100m Height gain 123m Max gra­di­ent 14% Aver­age gra­di­ent 11.2% Years used 1946, 1955 www.strava.com/seg­ments/618526

Holly Lane was first used in 1946 as the course for the third in­car­na­tion of the event, won that day by Vic Clarke from the Man­ches­ter Clar­ion C&AC, and it held the cham­pi­onships once more, nine years later in 1955. Leav­ing the flat val­ley road that fol­lows the course of the River Der­went, you turn west, cross a small bridge and the climb ramps up, twist­ing first left and then right through a small wood. To be hon­est it is a rather un­re­mark­able road and it puz­zles me as to why it would be picked as the show­case event with max­i­mum gra­di­ent of just 14 per cent. Then I re­mem­ber 14 per cent on a heavy steel bike and trac­tor tyres must have felt a whole lot steeper in 1946 than it does on to­day’s car­bon-fi­bre ma­chines.

Once you break free of the woods, the tough­est part of the climb is be­hind you, but if you’ve been push­ing hard you’ll be deep in the red and it’s still a long way to the top. Keep go­ing past the turn­ing onto White­walls Lane, grind up through the farm build­ings then as the slope re­cedes push onto the sum­mit where the road plateaus. One down, six to go, and up next is the best of them all, the one and only Win­nats Pass, although it’s 50 very lumpy kilo­me­tres away.

2 Win­nats Pass

Length 1,680m Height gain 198m Max gra­di­ent 22 Aver­age gra­di­ent 11.7% Years used 1947, 1949, 1953, 1957, 1959, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1972, 1977 www.strava.com/seg­ments/6698034

Win­nats Pass was al­most the per­ma­nent home of the cham­pi­onships for a while, hold­ing the event 10 times be­tween 1947 and 1977, and any­one who has ever rid­den it can see why. If you were to build a venue from scratch then this is ex­actly what it would look like. A pun­ish­ing, un­re­lent­ingly steep gra­di­ent that touches 25 per cent in places set in a nat­u­ral am­phithe­atre ca­pa­ble of hold­ing tens of thou­sands of peo­ple, all of whom will have un­in­ter­rupted views of the com­peti­tors al­most all the way up. Look­ing back at old black and white pho­tos, this is pretty much what it was like but then in 1974

‘tragedy’ struck. It was pos­si­ble to close Win­nats for the event be­cause the A625 link­ing Castle­ton and Chapel-enle-frith used to by­pass the gorge and run round the south face of Mam Tor; how­ever, fol­low­ing a huge land­slide, this road col­lapsed. It was patched up and re­paired for a num­ber of years but sub­se­quent sub­si­dence and fur­ther land­slides led to it be­ing aban­doned in 1979, forc­ing all through­traf­fic up Win­nats, as it still is to­day. To close the road now would cut off a ma­jor through route, and although it has been done for sportives, it will take some con­vinc­ing for au­thor­i­ties to close it for the best part of a day.

The climb kicks up as you leave the A625 and turn left to­wards the gorge as the early slopes grad­u­ally ramp up all the way to the car park, forc­ing reg­u­lar gear changes as the gra­di­ent in­creases. Across the cat­tle grid and you’re into the meat of the climb where the slope ap­proaches its 20 per cent max­i­mum, then as it bends right the fun be­gins. From here to the top re­quires to­tal com­mit­ment to pre­serve for­ward mo­men­tum as the sever­ity of the slope never backs off and in fact gets even steeper as it bends left to a brow be­fore the sec­ond cat­tle grid. And it doesn’t end here, if you’re chas­ing the KOM you must push hard al­most all the way to the junc­tion, where, if fol­low­ing this route, you turn right to head to the next tar­get, Peaslows.

3 Peaslows

Length 1,625m Height gain 172m Max gra­di­ent 17% Aver­age gra­di­ent 10.6% Years used 1945, 1964. www.strava.com/seg­ments/6820268

The venue for the sec­ond ever Na­tional Champs and the first in Der­byshire was Peaslows, ris­ing away from the A6 just to the east of Chapel-en-le-frith. It was here that R. J. Mait­land and E. Wil­son were crowned cham­pi­ons in 1945 and 1964 re­spec­tively. Fol­low­ing the long de­scent from the top of Win­nats, turn left onto Black­brooke Lane then left again to drop down to cross Black Brook, then ramp up though the small wood. Peaslows is a straight­for­ward climb, no cor­ners, no sud­den changes in gra­di­ent, just a slog from base to sum­mit. It’s hard work right away then eases some­what as you exit the trees as it picks its way up be­tween the stone walls. Ahead, a se­ries of fake sum­mits present them­selves, each one a false prom­ise of the ac­tual top, each one hit­ting your morale a lit­tle bit as the sub­stan­tial but not fe­ro­cious gra­di­ent eats away at the strength in your legs. On the ex­posed up­per slopes wind di­rec­tion can make all the dif­fer­ence, so pray for a tail­wind to al­low you to stick it in the big ring and smash it over the fi­nal gen­tle slope to the brow. From here drop down into Spar­row­pit then turn right onto the A623 but care­ful on this road as it’s al­ways full of trucks. Drop down the busy road back into Chapel-en-le-frith and make your way east to Wha­ley Bridge and the base of — and I can’t be­lieve I have to in­clude this — Long Hill.

4 Long Hill

Length 7.52km Height gain 241m Max gra­di­ent 6% Aver­age gra­di­ent 3% Year used 2011 www.strava.com/seg­ments/612792

Never in the his­tory of the cham­pi­onships has the event been as dis­re­spected as when Long Hill was cho­sen as the venue. Yes, long, shal­low climbs such as the Cat and Fid­dle and Ched­dar Gorge have been used in the past, and these have favoured time tri­al­lists and road men over pure hill-clim­bers, but Long Hill, in my opin­ion, was a step too far. With an aver­age gra­di­ent of just three per cent and a max­i­mum not much steeper, see­ing pic­tures of rid­ers whizzing up on aer­o­bars and disc wheels turned my stom­ach. This was not a hill-climb, it was an up­hill time trial, and yes, there’s a big dif­fer­ence. That aside, it is a lovely road to ride as it snakes up above the River Goyt, past the reser­voirs and through the rolling hills into Bux­ton. But it’s not re­ally a hill, not in my books any­way!

5 Rowsley Bar

Length 1.9km Height gain 213m Max gra­di­ent 20% Aver­age gra­di­ent 11% Year used 1997 www.strava.com/seg­ments/682318

With the abom­i­na­tion of Long Hill out of the way, it’s time to head back to the steep stuff and next on the list is Rowsley Bar, the venue for the 1997 race, where Stu­art Danger­field took the last of his five ti­tles. Now, when I wrote my book, 100 Great­est Cy­cling Climbs, I set the top at the end of the steep part as you exit the woods as this is where the hill-climb course ends, but to re­ally con­quer Rowsley Bar you must push on for an­other 800 me­tres al­most to the junc­tion with Bent Lane, gain­ing an ex­tra 75 me­tres of el­e­va­tion.

The climb is hard from the base, kick­ing up from the B6012 to­wards the right­hand bend ahead. For a while the slope re­cedes but as you en­ter the woods it rapidly builds again to cli­max with two leg-break­ing cor­ners, first left, then right, the tar­mac ripped to pieces un­der your wheels — na­ture and the lo­cal coun­cil’s way of mak­ing a pun­ish­ing fin­ish even more ar­du­ous. Once through these bends there’s no let-up in the sever­ity of the slope un­til you exit the woods from where you are faced with a gen­tler but equally chal­leng­ing push to the top.

The hori­zon never seems to be get­ting closer but stick at it, find a good rhythm and you will get there — look back for one of the best views in the Peak when you do. Then re­turn to Mat­lock to fin­ish with a dou­ble whammy of lung-busters.

6 Bank Road

Length 1.06km Height gain 112m Max gra­di­ent 25% Aver­age gra­di­ent 11% Years used 2008, 2016 www.strava.com/seg­ments/6677679

The first of the two Mat­lock climbs has held the cham­pi­onship twice this cen­tury al­ready: in 2008 when Matt Clin­ton tri­umphed up its hideous 25 per cent slopes, and eight years later when Adam Ken­way took the crown. This is a true hill-climber’s hill, short and vi­ciously steep, and one that has seen the best crowds wit­nessed at the event since its hey­day on Win­nats Pass. Of­fer­ing a clear line of sight down the ar­row-straight road, spec­ta­tors are able to track the com­peti­tors as they lurch over their bikes, gri­mac­ing with the pain, their veins about to burst, eyes ready to pop and legs and lungs raw with the ef­fort.

I steered clear of the cham­pi­onships both those years...

From the bot­tom at the round­about in Mat­lock to the sum­mit at the bus stop on Welling­ton Street, you cover just over a kilo­me­tre at an aver­age gra­di­ent of 11 per cent. Beyond the stats, it’s the fact that you can see so much of the road ahead of you that breaks your mind.

“It’s a true hill­climbers hill. Short and steep”

7 Riber

Length 1.06km Height gain 112m Max gra­di­ent 25% Aver­age gra­di­ent 11% Year used 1986 www.strava.com/seg­ments/6677656

And that just leaves Riber, and in true Hol­ly­wood style, I have left the best for last. OK, Win­nats Pass is the most beau­ti­ful but Riber is the most fun, most ridicu­lous and most per­fect hill-climb course. The road kicks up from the A615 with a short, sharp ramp, then eases back up to High­fields School. It’s here that the an­nual Mat­lock CC hill-climb starts with a mod­er­ate rise up the Starkholmes Road for some 500 me­tres be­fore a short plateau and then a dra­matic fi­nale. Ahead you will see the road rocket up­wards to your left on a crazy gra­di­ent and you’ll gulp as you send your chain clat­ter­ing across your sprock­ets. On the brief lev­el­ling you must rest from the ini­tial ef­fort of the early part of the climb yet still build as much speed as you can to pro­pel your­self into the harsh gra­di­ent.

For­get rid­ing on the left of the road, it’s too steep, so you are forced right — keep your head up in case any­thing is com­ing the op­po­site way. From now on, the slope barely drops be­low 20 per cent as you crawl past the hill­side houses bend­ing first right, then a while later through a brace of cor­ners where the slope hits 25 per cent. Ex­it­ing these bends with bro­ken legs and breath­ing out your ears, you must push on up to the fi­nal left turn and then tackle the ag­o­nis­ing grind to the sum­mit where you will col­lapse over the bars.

And there you have it, ride this loop of seven fa­mous hill-climb cour­ses and you will have rid­den in the wheel­tracks of just about all the best clim­bers that have graced the event over the past 74 years. And if you want, once you’ve rid­den them then try rac­ing them — all bar Win­nats hold open races each sea­son, and you never know, if the right or­gan­iser comes along with the right per­sua­sive pow­ers then one day we could see the event re­turn to its spir­i­tual home up the fa­mous gorge. I can’t wait to spec­tate.

Fake sum­mits make Peaslows a tough men­tal game

Der­byshire’s dot­ted with leg-break­ing hills

Win­nats Pass is the per­fect venue but is no longer used

Tran­si­tion­ing be­tween hills al­lows for a breather un­der brood­ing skies

Some­times hav­ing the end in sight just dou­bles the tor­ment

83.35 MILES 4 3 2

Riber’s a hill-climber’s dream as­cent

5 6 1 7 S/F

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