With my first race season drawing to a close, my last two events were again a new discipline for me: Hill Climbs. Essentially, they are a time trial starting at the bottom of a hill and ending at the top ranging anywhere between 1 minute to over 15 minutes long.
It’s often described as cycling in its purest form as it is just you against the hill and your ability to get everything out of yourself on the day. The hill climb season is short; it runs in September/October culminating with the National Championships. I thought why not make my first event the hardest one of the year…
National Hill Climb
On the last Sunday in October, I took part in the RTTC National Hill Climb Championships on Winnats Pass in the Peak District National Park. The iconic climb is surrounded by incredible scenery on a 900m course with an average gradient of 14% with steep inclines up to 23%.
I was determined to do this one as the organisers had reserved 50% of the entries for women, which some men had kicked off about on social media.
The last time this road was used as a hill climb was in 1977, so to have the opportunity to compete in the championships was too good to miss. It was also the first time there has been a women’s event held on the climb and there were some outstanding times put down by the female riders.
I was determined to do this one as the organisers had reserved 50% of the entries for women, which some men had kicked off about on social media. Comments included concerns that they wouldn’t get a ride while watching some women have to ‘get off and push’!
Great spectator turnout
The weather was extremely unkind, torrential rain and high winds and I thought that the crowds would stay at home – I was wrong. For what turned out to be a 5 and a half minutes ride, they made it the most incredible atmosphere I have EVER experienced.
The unique thing about hill climbs is you’re all set off individually at intervals; the crowd have the start list and so know the names of the riders and boy do they let you know it. I had people I had never met before screaming my name, ringing cowbells, and running next to me banging pots and pans for the. whole. climb. I finished 29th which I was really pleased with.
A few days after the event and I was still buzzing; I gave it everything to the point where I collapsed at the top and was helped off my bike by two kind marshals (thank you!) and I already can’t wait for next year.
Check out Olivia’s Winnats post on Instagram.
BUCS Hill Climb
Since University sport has its own calendar outside national governing bodies, BUCS Hill Climb was the weekend after nationals so I had another go at a hill climb, this time with my uni teammates.
Ten of us travelled to Leicester (3 women and 7 men) to take on Polly Botts lane which was a short climb at a 6% average- a very different climb to Winnats.
Hopefully CTT will follow BUCS example and introduce a para-cycling category in 2022 to encourage more para-cyclists to take part in hill climbs.
It was a dry day, and I was the first of the Durham riders to set off. The atmosphere wasn’t quite the same as the previous weekend.
My legs felt really drained warming up so I had no idea how it would go but it’s only 3ish minutes and it’s surprising what you can do in a short length of time. I managed to finish 17th and place the best
Durham rider so contributed to the team standings where we were 6th overall.
A massive congrats must also go to my Skoda teammate Morgan Newberry (Loughborough) who won the women’s para-cycling category. This was the first year the category was introduced at BUCS and there wasn’t one at National hill climb despite a fair few para-riders being involved.
Hopefully CTT will follow BUCS example and introduce the category in 2022 to encourage more para-cyclists to take part in hill climbs.
Check out Olivia’s BUCS Instagram post here.
I am now into a short off-season (around 2-3 weeks but I think I will be begging my coach to let me back on my bike before then!) which will give me some well overdue rest and time to get on top of the ever piling-up university work.
Why try a hill climb?
Hill climbs are great fun, there are lots of local ones with an incredibly supportive community and whatever time you put down, when you get to the top and feel that you’ve given a 100%, there’s an immense feeling of satisfaction.
If you’re looking for how to get into racing, I think they’re the events I would recommend you do first as they will give you experience of how to warm up and fuel those start line nerves, but the racing is very safe (lots of people don’t even wear helmets for those weight loss gains!) as you’re going at slower speeds as its uphill and you don’t have to worry about watching your line and looking around at other riders.
I absolutely loved my hill climbs so far and will definitely do more next year.
Top tips for hill climbs
1. Give one a go! It’s just you against the hill alongside an incredibly welcoming and supportive community. The season normally runs in September/October and you can find events near you here.
2. Recce the climb if you can. It’s always good to know where the top is! Plus, if you can have a good idea of what gears you will be in at each point and where more slippery points of the road are, this all helps.
3. Do not worry about having a ‘hill climb bike setup’ – just arrive at the start warmed up and ready to go, the easiest way to save weight for a hill climb is to get that saddle bag off and those water bottle cages too.
4. Enjoy the pain of going really deep up a climb!
My first season is over. My coach is keen for me to take two weeks completely off and then get stuck into a good winter block of training.
I’ve been advised by Dame Sarah Storey to get a gravel bike to ride in the winter as it gives more options to go off road and improve bike handling skills and is safer on wet and potentially icy roads. Bott and Co have very kindly contributed towards a winter training gravel bike and I’ll provide an update about how I’m getting on with that very soon.