Holme Moss and Jackson Bridge (Try Hard 2.0: Try Harder)

Holme Moss is a bit of a humdinger. It’s one of those long and gradual (some might say Alpine, they’d be a bit wrong though) northern inclines which are almost entirely pleasurable to ride up in the right conditions, but almost entirely revolting to race up in any weather. However, the Hill Climb gods were smiling down benevolently at the hardy competitors and apart from the inchoate chill of late autumn, it was a lovely day.

the children of the north are forced to carry their bikes uphill before they earn the ‘privilege’ of riding them.

I recce’d Holme Moss beforehand, using a 64″ cog. It felt tall. In fact, i doubted my ability to race it up there, so i geared down to a 60.5″. On the way up in the race I remember thanking the Lord that I’d made the switch. Bad things would have happened if I’d tried to turn the bigger gear over. 65″ is for winter base miles, it’s not for a hillclimb up the side of Holme Moss.

Richard Lilleker near the top of Holme Moss.

Since i’ve put the geared bike away i’ve really enjoyed my hillclimbs. Although i use the word “enjoy” cautiously, insofar as there is any enjoyment to be found in the lung-ripping splendour of a time trial uphill. I like riding the Bob Jackson, it feels lovely. I like not having gear anxiety – but only once i’ve got it rolling. Opting for the correct cog beforehand is a bit like trying to choose a cake from a particularly well-presented trolley; you only get one shot and if you choose the wrong one the experience is somehow tainted. You still get through it, just, but with a gnawing sense of regret that things could have been so much better if you’d gone with the one you first picked up, rather than getting sidetracked and tempted by a racy little number served up on a frilly doily.

Today’s events both had a strong field. Matt Clinton was riding. I suspect he fancies his chances this year at the Rake, and with good reason. He was on form. Also on the startsheet was Josh Teasdale, last year’s junior National Champion, currently riding for Omega Pharma Lotto and doing his training rides in classics country with Tom Boonen. That’s cheating. He was a very nice chap though.

that’s cheating, that is.

There were also a whole hatful of northern hill people, including Sam Ward of the Otley and some other chaps. They were all ferociously fast and stick thin. It made for a real bunfight on Holme Moss. Well, behind Clinton anyway. Teasdale came in a second under 7 minutes, Ward was 7.03 and I managed 4th in 7.13. I was pleased with this, and also happy with the gear choice.

My main reason for riding up North this weekend is because the second event was the “Granville Sydney Memorial” race. It’s held in honour of the 6 time national champion who died in 1973. My reasons are largely sentimental, as was my decision to ride fixed. I’ve been fully immersed in the history of the National Championship for quite a while now, researching and interviewing various people, and the Star Wheelers are a really important part of that landscape. I was lucky enough to meet Graham Sydney earlier this year and his name is the first etched on the trophy that honours his brother’s contribution to the sport. Andrew Pearson is doing an amazing job in running this event and attracting a decent field. He promotes it actively and the club were out in force to support.

Jackson Bridge is a real armripper of a climb. I opted for a 57″ gear. Conditions were great and i think i paced it well. However, there were 5 seconds between 3rd and 8th, and i ended up 6th, so have a vague sense of what could have been. I was out of the saddle pretty much the whole distance and stopped the timekeeper’s watch at 4.50. The gear felt absolutely perfect and as much as it hurt i really enjoyed this climb. The height gain is quite pronounced with a fantastic view out across the valley and to Holme Moss and it’s definitely snuck into my secret list of top ten climbs.

the view out over Jackson Bridge

Ian took some fantastic photos, in particular the one below which wins the prize (so far) for best hillclimb face of 2012. It is up there with Luke Smith’s epic ouchface from last year’s National.

Early contender for PainFace 2012.
Winner of “Painface of 2011”, Luke Smith.

Next weekend sees the Burrington Classic. I’m now calling it a ‘classic’ in a shameless piece of club promotion and mythmaking. It’s worthy of the name though, this year there are more than 70 riders heading to the Coombe in the pursuit of glory. That makes it a very big field, second only to the big league of events like Catford, The Horseshoe Pass and Monsal Head. On a side note, there are a staggering 28 Bristol South CC members on the startsheet. This is fantastic, Bristol South is an active and exciting club.

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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