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Racing a hill climb

Racing a hill climb

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Knowledge Level: Intermediate

If you are looking for one last competitive blast before winter training starts, a chance to make the most of that hard earned summer form or just want to experience one of the great traditions of British cycling, try a hill climb.

What?

Hill climbs are simple races against the clock. Riders are set off, usually at one minute intervals, from a held standing start at the bottom of the hill and just have to get up it as fast as possible. Courses vary from short and extremely steep to longer sustained drags. There is often an enthusiastic and vocal crowd and, because of the often narrow nature of the roads used, it feels as though you’re climbing through a tunnel of noise. Having given everything, there are often “catchers” at the top to help you off your bike and then, once you have recovered, it is a gentle roll back down to the race HQ for a cup of tea, a slice of cake and the prize giving.

When?

Early hill climbs start in September but the real season is during October culminating in the National Hill Climb Championships at the end of the month.

Why?

With road racing and time trialling season ending and cyclo-cross just getting going, October is a bit of a transition month and hill climbs have traditionally filled that gap. The Catford CC climb in Kent is the oldest continuing bike race in the world dating back to 1887. They are a social end to the racing season, with a party atmosphere to go alongside of the purgatory of the riders.

Where?

Hill climbs take place throughout the country in the autumn from open moorland of the Stang in North Yorkshire to urban events in the heart of London and Bristol.

Top Tips

Training: Do a bit of research about the course, such as length, gradient and how long it takes to climb, and find a similar hill near to you. Do a slow spin out to the hill and then five efforts up it with the roll down to recover. They won’t quite be flat-out but the accumulated fatigue gives you the training effect. It will only typically be an hour session, you don’t need it to be any longer because you should have your fitness from the season just gone.

If the weather is too bad, you can use an indoor trainer. Again, after a 20-minute warm-up, mimic the length of the climb you are doing with your efforts and do five reps with five-minute recoveries between them. Dial back the effort a fraction from 100% but it shouldn’t be far off.

Bike: Make it as light as you can. Easy saved grams are removing bottle cages, saddle packs, frame pumps and any other fixings. It sounds obvious but you would be amazed how many riders start with all these bits and bobs still on their bike. Rotational weight, wheels, tyres and tubes, offer the biggest performance gains. You don’t need to splash out on lightweight wheels but some latex tubes and thinner lighter tyres will really make a difference. It is then how far you want to take it. You can ride a single chain-ring and ditch the front mech, cut your seatpost down, remove your bar-tape, cut your bars down, shave your brake blocks or even ride a fixed gear bike.

Pacing: Depends on the course. A short climb like Monsal Head, will just be flat out but a longer climb, such as Long Hill which was used for the 2011 championships and took the winner 13:49, needs a more measured approach with a starting effort to get up to speed, a sustainable cruise and then emptying the tank when you know the finish is near. You need to research the courses and use your training sessions to find the intensities and efforts you can sustain. Also, make sure you warm-up well before your effort.

Technique: Whether you stand or sit depends on your speed and the steepness of the climb. Many of the shorter courses are out of the saddle the whole way, unless you blow-up and that happens to everyone now and then. Use your gears wisely and, although it seems to work for some riders, avoid unnecessarily throwing your bike from side to side. If it is a longer climb where you seated, try to keep your upper body as still and relaxed as possible.