Last weekend, Luke and I travelled to Llangollen in North Wales to compete in the National Hill Climb Championship on the “Old Shoe”.
The obligatory day-before recce revealed the scale of the challenge that lay ahead. The climb is 1.55km long (just under a mile) with an average gradient of 13%. Imagine the steep section of Whitedown Lane twice in a row and slightly steeper - it’s a real brute of a climb! To make it worse, there is a cattle grid just before the halfway point and with rain overnight, the surface was guaranteed to be wet, meaning that wheelspin would be a significant risk.
Thankfully, the morning of the event was dry except for a brief shower as I was warming up. I was off first at 10:38:30 with Luke following exactly 14 minutes later. Having signed on, checked over my bike, pinned on my numbers (why does this never get any easier?!), and carefully navigated my way from the HQ to the foot of the climb 5km away without incident, I was ready to go.
The first half of the climb was fairly quiet and sheltered under the trees but as you came out into the open and saw the road kick up skywards towards the rows and rows of spectators lining the final couple of hundred metres, the feeling was incredible. There’s nothing quite like riding through the tunnel of noise – horns, cowbells, cheering and screaming – until you hit the barriered section and the final sprint for the line.
In the end, I managed to go just under my target time of 7 minutes, clocking an official time of 6:59.57 which was good enough for 63rd in the men’s race (out of a field of 270). I just had time to regain my composure and make my way back down to the 50m-to-go mark to cheer on Luke as he came through. While I had based a lot of my season around training for hill climbs, he had spent a lot more time focussing on his running so it was very impressive to see him powering to the finish in a time of 7:09.67, claiming 87th place.
We had both improved our positions from last year so, all in all, it was a very successful outing for Horsham Cycling.
The eventual winner was Andrew Feather, the champion from 2020 and 2018, who held off defending champion Tom Bell by a couple of seconds to finish in a time of 5:29.54. Third place went to another former national champion, Richard Bussell, in a time of 5:47.84. In the women’s race, Illi Gardner stormed to victory in a time of 6:46.54, a full 23 seconds ahead of Mary Wilkinson in 2nd place, closely followed by defending champion Bithja Jones in 3rd.
For Michael's full account of his preparation, logistic challenges, tactics and post-race analysis click here