Hill Climb Preparation: The Rake, Jackson Bridge, Holme Moss

I’m oop north this weekend. it’s not been overly grim, apart from when i went to the Allerton co-op at about 9pm for some bread and milk, which was a bit grim. Whilst here I’ve taken the opportunity to do some hill climb reconnaissance for the National later this year. It’s being held on the Rake in Ramsbottom.

cards on the table

It’s a short, nasty climb which starts very steeply, then levels out a bit with a false flat before kicking skywards with a ramp of horrible steepness. In fact, it’s so steep that it has a pedestrian handrail built into the walled sides.

the view down from the top – handrail on the left

Reconnaissance this year is really important because i’m planning on riding fixed. The purpose is to discover the biggest gear i can feasibly turn over up the hill without my eyeballs exploding and my legs ossifying. It’s easy to follow the lead of others who have been there before, but the right gear for Jim Henderson, 5 times National Champion, is unlikely to be the right gear for me.

the view up at the steepest section. inconceivably vile.

The Rake isn’t a climb that suits me necessarily. It favours the shorter, compact, explosive riders who can get it all out in a bit less that 2 and a half minutes. I shall give it my all, which is the only thing you can do on this climb anyway. I rode it 4 times in succession today, twice fairly quickly, one of which was close to race pace, the other two were about getting a feel for the hill and how to pace the effort.

After the Rake i headed over to Jackson Bridge to have a look at the climb up to Tinker’s Monument. I don’t know why it’s called Tinker’s Monument. I do know that the climb is long and steep and i struggled on the first run up it. I fared a little better the second time and tried to push things a bit. The view from the top is incredible.

view out over holme valley

As with The Rake, there’s a considerable height gain in a very short space of time. It does have some respite, but on the whole it’s another really challenging ascent.

view up the climb, in a mirror, so sort of backwards

i like this climb, but whether i’ll still like it after the race is another story. I’m riding because it’s the Granville Sydney Memorial event. He is the most successful hill climber in the history of the National Championships. This is also partly why I’m riding fixed this year, it’s a slightly romantic decision linked strongly to the discipline and the past simplicity and style of hill-climbing. I’m also riding fixed because it’s suited to the Rake; i suspect a lot of the protagonists will also be riding one gear.

if Alpine hairpins were like English ones then no-one would get up Alpe D’Huez alive.

After hurting myself at Jackson Bridge, i then headed over towards Holmfirth for the last stop of the day, the gradual and long climb of Holme Moss.

the top of holme moss

It’s very much a roadman’s climb and needs a much bigger gear. In fact, it’s probably best done on a geared bike, but it’s unlikely i’ll have that luxury when i visit again. I put the 17 on there for today, giving me a round about a 61″. I’m sure it would have been fine, but i was feeling pretty spent by the time i got there. I didn’t struggle but it wasn’t a particularly good way of working out whether i’d got the right gear or not. I think a 61″ will be fine though, up if there’s a tailwind, down if it’s the other way.

they’ve kindly marked the distance to go. it’s neatly painted: 1 mile, 1/4 mile, 200 metres, each one a reminder of the pain to come. considerate.

Part of my reasoning centres on the ‘maximum speed’ of a given ratio. 61″ gives you about 18mph at 100rpm, which makes it unlikely i’m going to spin out going up Holme Moss, unless i’m about to smash the course record.

The calculations and thought that go into fixed hill-climbing make it more interesting, as well as a slightly anxious process. At a given point on a climb you will be overgeared and at another point undergeared, the key is finding the happy medium that allows efficient progress all the way up with out spinning to bits or grinding the pedals over.

surprisingly high up

it becomes a case of choosing the gear that you know you can push. it’s not about other people. if Jeff Wright rode a 61″, then that’s fine and dandy for Jeff Wright. Back in the day when most of the competitors would be on fixed, a range of gear choices would be seen, often 10″ or 12″ apart. The only way you can find what you need to ride is to head to the hill with a handful of cogs, a lockring spanner and some fresh legs.

By the end of the day i was absolutely knackered. My legs were gone. I looked at the garmin trace, essentially i’d done very little riding – driving from climb to climb and then doing reps on each one – but the height gain as a result was significant. I don’t think i rode much more than 10 miles, but it ended up being about 3700 feet of climbing.

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