The Horseshoe Pass Hill Climb

and so to this year’s most prestigious event outside of the National Championship Hill Climb, the Fibrax Wrexham CC event on the Horseshoe Pass in North Wales. It’s an epic trek from Bristol, but i thought it was worth it for a couple of reasons; it’s a long climb, 3.1 miles of steady gradient with two or three ramps, and it’s in an incredibly beautiful part of this sceptred isle. i ignored the ratio of petrol costs to prize money and concentrated on the experience of riding my bike (albeit competitively) in a fantastic setting, blessed by unseasonally wondrous weather. this philosophical approach seemed to pay dividends. i was relatively calm and relaxed throughout, with the exception of the race. i drove up the day before and took the opportunity to ride the course in the evening sunlight. i relished the physical sense of riding in such an amazing place; the mountains and hills undulate and fold along patchwork terraces of fields, giving a sense of being surrounded on all sides by something far bigger and more significant, and yet benign – hewn in rock through millenia, with the faint efforts of people amounting to nothing more than pencil etching of a road  marked along the striations in the slate ridges.

whilst returning from the pass i bumped into two cyclists i met last year at the National, one of whom was Simon Warren. He’s the writer of a great cycling book, ‘100 greatest climbs‘. i heartily recommend it, the Horseshoe gets a 7 out 0f 10 for difficulty. We got to talking about things various, and expressed our displeasure at the choice of ‘hill’ for this year’s national. there may be a blog post there, i shall not mention it further now.

"long hill, bends": true fact.

the morning of the climb was a bit damp and mizzly, in contrast to the world of record october everywhere else, but the silver lining in these particular clouds was a gift tailwind for the last 300 metres where the road swung out of the horseshoe and up over the top. i chose to leave the garmin in the car. i’ve come to the conclusion that the garmin is pretty much useless in hillclimbs. it tells you accurate information – specifically that you are riding slowly, uphill, and your heart-rate is absolutely ripping through your chest; the legs and all other aspects of the body are locked in a mortal struggle to keep turning over the cadence, and there’s not an awful lot you can do about it, other than put on your painface and pedal harder. i didn’t miss it at all. in fact, i felt more comfortable not worrying about it and just rode the race.

the central bit of the horseshoe

one of the more difficult things was being the last rider off. James Dobbin didn’t start – and i’d been placed second to last, leaving me as the last rider on the road, which was certainly a first. the bottom end of the field was stacked with quick riders, but i hadn’t been seeded. The quickest on paper was Richard Handley who rides for the Raleigh UCI team, and is extremely quick. He rode this year’s Tour of Britain and the Olympic Test Event, amongst other things, whilst i was mixing it up on the Graveyard. Also in attendance was Mark Lovatt, his palmares is a thing to behold, suffice to say they don’t let just anyone race for Great Britain at the UCI world championships.

I rode fairly hard all the way, it’s very much a rhythm and cadence climb; find a gear, get on top of it and don’t let up, force the pedals through and ride as hard as you possibly can, a fraction from blowing a gasket. apart from one particular section, it’s a quick and pacy climb. the last bit caught me out slightly, it rises to 20% for 200 metres, causing a real flood of lactic acid and a bit of out of the saddle pain management, but then the last bit was a tailwind-fuelled, big-ring charge for the checkered board. i stayed sat down and hammered it, just coming in under 10 minutes for the climb with a 9.52. this translates to about 18.5 mph for the 3.1 mile climb. i think. (should have checked the garmin).

looking back at the steepest bit

there was some sort of kerfuffle at the top with the times. apparently someone went off in the wrong slot due to a DNS, and all sorts of crazy shenanigans broke loose. a stern-looking lady in a luminous tabard managed to quell the hordes and set things right. it involved taking a minute off everyone from 61 onwards. apparently. i’d like to add that for my start slot i had no countdown. it was almost amusing. the timekeeper and starter looked confused and a bit haunted. he got me wrong and the guy in front, we both were sent off rather suddenly, with a ‘you better go now actually, yes, go go’. quite disconcerting.

the finish was at the ponderosa cafe. we shared the space with legions of terrifying bikers who queue up to assault the horseshoe pass on high-powered motorbikes. i imagine they’re usually inside Chris Boardman’s course record. brief results are below. i won a lovely shiny medal for my efforts, although the image depicts two cyclists lunging for the line, which couldn’t be further from the truth for the solitary, existential quagmire that is the hillclimb.

1. Richard Handley UCI Raleigh 9.23

2. Dan Evans ROS CC 9.33

3. John Findley Southport CC 9.39

4. Paul Jones BSCC 9.52

5. Mark Lovatt Planet-X 10.18

6. Darren Biggs Deeside CC 10.38

Next week sees the action shift to Brighton for a two-stage humdinger. I’m seeded this time, as is Pete Tadros who will probably absolutely thrash the pants off everyone in a showstopping demonstration of uphill power.

startled onlooker

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