I haven’t made the annual pilgrimage to a bleak northern hillside for a few years now, so it was great to get up above Stocksbridge last weekend to see the National Hill Climb. The climb was a late substitution for a southern massif where some kind of confusion and delay doomed the event before it had even begun. There was much speculation as to the reason why, the usual armchair anarchists with their withered fingers pointing at various people in fits of incoherent rage, but as with most things, the truth is typically very simple and underwhelming.
So/Hwæt I found myself on a hillside, desolate. Although it wasn’t that desolate because the sun shone and it felt almost balmy. I had to take my coat off at one point. I observed the following things:
- Large numbers of participants and spectators. The event has grown in size from a field of 120 to a full field of 300. That’s quite a leap. It makes the event last a heck of a lot longer, in fact, you are watching cyclists from 11am until 3pm. This is both good and bad.
- The event is in some sort of refractive meta-world, where people take amazing pictures of people doing amazing things and this makes more people want to take more photos and more people want to ride and do amazing things. The narrative of the national hill climb is gloriously simple and very photogenic.
- The spectactors are getting ever more visceral and gladiatorial. It has always been thus, but there is a newer sense of the mountain stage, the madness of mankinis and of demented scarves.
- There are a number of people riding fixed, which represents a resurgence of sorts. It’s as though they read some overly-romanticised chapter in a book and thought it would be a great idea but didn’t really see the downside until it’s too late.
- The community surrounding the hill climb is unlike any other. It is uniquely convivial. The only thing I’ve experienced which is close to it is, paradoxically, the 24hr and End to End bunch of nutters.
Fiona Burnie and Andrew Feather were the outright winners. Glyndwr deserves a mention for winning the vets prize. From a slightly biased point of view, it’s always a treat when the out and out climbers win this event.
Here are some amazing pictures by Martin Wilson of Rare Mags fame.
I took a roll of film with me, keeping it nice and old school. I opted to double expose. It came out with some lively juxtapositions.