Wednesday 26 October 2011

National Hill Climb Championships this Sunday!

We're now well into the British Hill Climb season, and all over the nation cyclists are pitting themselves, their machines and their tortured calf muscles against some of the most challenging roads in the country. If you've never been to a hill climb event before but harbour a wish to return to simpler days of cycling before television and multi-million pound sponsorship contracts, these smaller-scale events may be precisely what you're looking for. Run in most cases by local clubs, they work on an individual time trial format with riders setting off alone at one-minute intervals and aiming to complete the course in as short a time as possible. This ensures that, rather than the "hours of standing around for a minute of excitement" as experienced at stage races, spectators are able to watch riders for a period of time corresponding to the number of entries - in this case, with 150 names on the startlist, some 2.5 hours with the first rider setting off at 11:01 (remember the clock change the night before).

Sunday the 30th of October brings the highlight of the hill climber's calendar with the National Championships, this year being held in the Long Hill course. Known to the local cycling club as J9/13, the 7.145km (4.44 miles) route is set among some of the most beautiful scenery Derbyshire's Peak District has to offer and has an average gradient of 1:31 or 31% - however, the course profile below shows that some sections are considerably steeper with ramps in several sections including a very steep one shortly before 5250m and another close to the finish.

Course profile - click for larger view

Course Details

Timing begins at a postbox (53°19'7.20"N 1°59'11.25"W) on the left and around 15m past the Mevril Road junction, 28m from the Vaughn Road junction on the same side, heading south away from Whaley Bridge on Buxton Road (the A5004), then heads uphill through trees to a medium left bend 319m after the start. A straight section follows until a tighter left bend 611m from the start - the trees are thicker here, making the bend potentially slippery due to leaves and moss on the road surface if it's been windy or raining. Punctures will also be more likely in such a situation.

The Shady Oak, Fernilee
Having rounded the bend, the riders begin Long Hill and come to another medium left 928m from the start and a sweeping right 150m later. The road is much more exposed here and could be subject to wind. The Shady Oak public house is on the left, 1555m from the start (53°18'30.97"N 1°58'37.92"W), at which point the gradient becomes more challenging. There are more trees lining the road as it passes through Fernilee, then trees on the right-hand side after 2518m - from the left, the road becomes very exposed here and can be treacherous if the wind is blowing from the east. The extreme right of the road offers slight relief as the wind blows upward over the thick forest, but riders taking this option will be at great risk of puncturing. A sweeping left bend then leads into a right almost tight enough to be considered a hairpin 2905m from the start, then the riders pass Fernilee Reservoir on the right with no shelter to either side and arrive shortly at the halfway point.

Now 300m above sea level, the race enters an exposed section running along a hillside. In places, the terrain rises very steeply on the left, leading to a possibility of mud on the road - however, this section is straight and shouldn't cause problems except for the potential for punctures due to small stones in the mud. If it's windy and blowing from the east, this section can provide shelter; if it's blowing from the west, it can be very difficult. There is a medium 90 degree left-hand bend 3729m from the start, a short way past the lay-by on the right, then a pair of "rumble strip" traffic calming devices before a sweeping right bend 4079m from the start.

Having rounded the bend, the riders begin a long straight of some 1020m with only a very slight bend towards the far end - however, this section is the most exposed along the entire parcours and can be very challenging in wind. Another rumble strip in the left carriageway warns riders of the tight 90 degree left a few metres ahead: a challenging bend due to a dirt track leading off to the right (hence dust, mud and stones on the road) and, just around the apex, a stand of what appear to be hawthorn trees - as the road layout will tend to push riders towards that side, this is likely to be another puncture blackspot.

Fernilee Reservoir
(image credit: PMurph CC BY-SA 3.0)
Another straight section of around 487m follows, described by local cyclists as tending to be sheltered from prevailing winds, and leads to a tight 130 degree right. Just ahead, a tall tree can be seen standing alone on the right-hand side of the road, marking a tight 90 degree left 5981m from the start followed by an easier right 120m later. After 6307m from the start, the road is once again lined with woodland on both sides which may once again cause punctures and slippery conditions.

After emerging from the woodland, riders come to another 90 degree right 81m later followed by a gentler left 277m later. The route then enters a final straight section of 217m before coming to a lay-by (53°16'28.61"N 1°57'11.56"W), where a car and officials will be stationed to record final times. Riders will continue past them and the right-hand corner for Goyt's Lane a short way beyond to the next lay-by where a van will be waiting to take them back to the race HQ located in the Whaley Bridge Bowling Club (53°19'33.86"N 1°59'5.33"W). Prizes will be awarded here after the event.

Recommended spectating points

The grassy banks near the start (53°19'7.01"N 1°59'10.94"W), though crowds are likely to be largest here due to residents of the nearby housing estates coming out to watch. Current British women's champion Lyn Hamel (HerbalLife-Wheelbase) will set out at 12:40; current men's champion Dan Fleeman is not participating, leaving 2008 champion Matt Clinton as favourite - he'll set out at 13:30.

The large lay-by at the first bend (53°18'57.05"N 1°59'17.96"W). While maps show that there is lots of parking here, expect it to be full on the day unless you arrive early.

Wasteland area shortly before The Shady Oak (53°18'37.35"N 1°58'44.92"W).

The Shady Oak public house and its car park (53°18'30.47"N 1°58'37.20"W) - offers excellent views in both directions along the road and over the Goyt Valley in addition to a selection of real ales, Peroni lager and excellent food. What better way to enjoy the race? Once again, don't expect there to be much space in the car park.

Grassy bank on the right, just past The Shady Oak (53°18'22.68"N 1°58'36.48"W). Excellent views up and down the road, potentially a very good spot for photography.

All points along the moorland section between 53°17'44.54"N 1°58'30.31"W and 53°16'51.30"N 1°57'8.53"W. Be aware that this section is 300m+ above sea level and very exposed for much of its length, so be sure to take warm, wind and water proof clothing. Hats, gloves, thermoses of tea and hipflasks of whisky (ideally Laphroaig) are also recommended.

The final section between 53°16'47.59"N 1°57'3.68"W and 53°16'28.59"N 1°57'11.85"W. There is plenty of room around the finish for spectators without crowding the timing car and officials.

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