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Ain’t no mountain high enough

Hill climb enthusiast (sadist?) Tom Kennett shares the rundown of an epic Hill Climb season, featuring seven events including our own John Bornhoft Memorial Hill Climb, Catford & Bec and the National Hill Climb on The Struggle in the Lake District.

After a solid season of training, on September 23, I set out to achieve my lofty goal of finally going sub-4 in the KWCC John Bornhoft Memorial climb on Leith Hill. I am pleased to say that my fitness and weight were exactly where I wanted them to be, leaving no room for excuses. 

However, I was way too enthusiastic at the start and pushed myself too hard, resulting in a 2 minute power PB in the first half of the climb, an unsustainable pace for a 4-minute effort. Despite falling a few seconds short of my PB and not placing as high as last year, I was proud to be the fastest wheeler and thoroughly enjoyed the event and the atmosphere at Cowbell Corner.

Also was great to see such a huge number of Wheelers riding, with shout outs due to Alessandra Scaduto who won the women’s classification, as well as Adam Cook and Jack Hartrey who could both have easily won on another day.

Cowbell Corner on Leith Hill

The next day, I participated in the Westerham CC-Brasted race, which was an genuinely interesting event held on the course of the 1931 National Hill Climb. Although it was the last race I had signed up for and had the least motivation to place well, I ended up finishing 11th in a competitive field and achieved my second (and more appropriate) 2-minute PB of the weekend.

I was joined that race by Jasper Griffin, who then rode a very similar season after this to myself. He did great despite having over-hydrated the night before. We capped the day with some efforts and recce’s of races to come…

A couple of weeks later, it was time for the ill-advised Double Double.

Saturday 7th October featured Brighton Mitre’s double hill climb, with the morning on Steyning Bostal. I can confidently say that the race headquarters and organization are some of the best out there; even if you’re not keen on the double climb, I’d still recommend giving the morning climb a try.

Steyning Bostal is an odd climb with two ramps and a decent amount of flat in between. This requires careful pacing, something that I learned the hard way during Leith Hill. However, this time around, I made sure to plan properly and come up with a doable time that would hopefully secure a top-five finish. I was pleased with my performance as I finished with a time of 4.29, just under my goal of 4.30 and good enough for a top 5 in previous years; however, the strength of field meant that this time around, it wasn’t even good enough for a top 10! C’est la vie.

3rd place at Titch Hill Climb

In the afternoon, we moved on to the Brighton Mitre’s Titch Hill climb, probably the weirdest “hill climb” course I’ll ever participate in. It was essentially the other side of the Steyning Bostal climb, 5km long with an average of 2.9%. It was a course for those who love suffering on the flat as much as lightweight climbers. I managed to snag third place and my first-ever podium finish in an open event outside of novelty bike categories. Jasper also had a fantastic performance, getting his second lifetime-best result of the day with a well-earned 8th place.

On Sunday, we took on the famous Catford’s Yorks Hill climb. This time we had a bigger crew of riders, including Dani Quesada who did particularly well, earning 4th Veteran. It was amazing to see everyone taking part, and we were one of the better represented clubs. Jasper, Dani, and I won the team prize for the club/team with the three riders with the quickest times, which was a particular season highlight.

Dani, Tom and Jasper win the Team Prize at Catford

Finally, we took on Bec’s White Lane climb in the afternoon. By this point, my legs were starting to feel the burn. However, after winning the team prize in the morning, we were all motivated to try and repeat the feat. My warm-up went well, and I was quietly optimistic for another decent result… until I managed to puncture thanks to a stray nail on the road. This was a less than ideal development ten minutes before my start time. I managed to switch wheels so at least wasn’t a DNS, but suffice to say it wasn’t my best work.

That all then leads us up to the big one; the National Hill climb up on The Struggle in the Lake District. From KWCC it was myself and Jasper, and after a couple of recces and my learnings from previous endeavours, it was clear that the key for us to get good results would be riding at a controlled pace, leaving it all on the road for the last 500 metres (which hover around 20% mostly).

The crowd and noise was honestly unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I felt like I was grinning the whole time, although in pictures it looks more like I’m in pain. That wall of noise was probably the highlight of my cycling life so far, and honestly one of the most life-affirming things I’ve ever experienced.

Photo by Nate Rawsthorne

In the end, my efforts were enough for a time of 15.30 and 85th, having been predicted by SpinData to finish 103rd. I managed to beat quite a few people who had gotten the better of me this season, and must admit there was a cruel satisfaction in watching some of them grind up the final few metres having clearly gone too hard too soon.

That said, that all paled into insignificance compared to the feeling of amazement watching Andrew Feather, Ed Laverack and co do their thing – absolutely super-human and humbling, making 20% gradients look like a false flat. Which paled into further insignificance compared to how good the beer and pizza afterwards tasted…