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  5. Episode 4: “Hill Climbing”

Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 4

Episode description

Hill climbing is arguably the hardest discipline in cycling and one in which many riders collapse as they cross the finish line. It’s a compelling spectacle for the thousands of spectators who line the course at events like Monsal Head, but the inner battle waged by the competitors is equally demanding.

In this fourth episode of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, co-hosts Timothy John and Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, sit down with two of Britain's most successful hill climbers: Adam Kenway (Vitus Pro Cycling Team, p/b Brother UK) and Rebecca Richardson (Team Brother UK-OnForm). 

Adam is a former British hill climb champion and twice a winner at Monsal Head - arguably the discipline's most prestigious event. Rebecca is the Welsh hill climb champion, the

reigning women's champion at Monsal Head and a podium finisher at the 2019 National Hill Climb Championships.

Equipment, tactics, pacing strategy and a willingness to 'go deep' in pursuit of success, even if it means engaging inner demons, are among the topics covered in this fascinating conversation with two riders who have mastered a discipline that is outwardly simple and inwardly complex. 

Please note, this episode was recorded before UK Government measures to enforce social distancing. Brother UK strongly endorses the government's advice and urges listeners to this podcast to #stayhomesavelives.
 

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Episode 4: “Hill Climbing”

Episode contents

  • 00.05 – Introduction
  • 00.40 – Coming Up
  • 01.51 – Part One: Meet The Guests
  • 03.34 – Part Two: String Wheels and the Magnificent Seven
  • 08.55 – Part Three: Dark Places and Strong Finishes
  • 15.54 – Part Four: Flat Caps and Frying Pans
  • 31.22 – Part Five: The Long and The Short 
  • 39.08 – Part Six: Hacksaws and Dremels
  • 43.17 – Part Seven: The Catch
  • 52.51 – Part Eight: Just Have Fun
  • 55.54 – Part Nine: Social Shoutout
  • 57.02 – Part Ten: Reflections

Transcript

Timothy John 

"Hello and welcome to the new Brother UK Cycling Podcast with me, Timothy John, and my co-host Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, better known to the cycling community as Road Phil. Phil, good to see you." 

Phil Jones 

"Thanks, Tim. I’m really excited that we’ve got this podcast together at long last where we’re really going to dive beneath the surface of what’s really going on in the road cycling scene, bring some of the best riders, the best managers and the best personalities behind the sport, get them in the studio and start telling the story of why this sport is so great in the UK." 

Coming Up

Timothy John

“Coming up in today’s show: Adam Kenway, a former British hill climb champion, twice a winner at Monsal Head and a road rider for Vitus Pro Cycling p/b Brother UK."

Adam Kenway

“Basically, I get the hacksaw out. I cut the bars down, take a bit off the saddle, get the Dremel out and Dremel various bits off. The line is what the RTTC say. They say you’ve got to

have two brakes (if you’re riding a fixed, you can have a locking rear wheel), so two working brakes, and a rear light.”

Timothy John

“And Rebecca Richardson, also a winner on Monsal Head, the reigning Welsh hill climb champion and a rider for Brother UK-Team OnForm.” 

Rebecca Richardson

“I suffered from post-natal depression. It sounds so dark, but in those warm ups, I’ll draw on some of those bad places I’ve been in, mentally, to really draw out, in comparison, the positive pain that I’m going to feel on the hill.”

 
MUSIC

Part One: Meet The Guests

Timothy John

“Our guests today have mastered arguably the hardest discipline in all of cycling. The hill climb is the most demanding, the least forgiving of all the cycling disciplines. It’s an event

where the competitors literally race to the point of collapse. 

“If an uphill time-trial conducted from a standing start and requiring no more equipment than a clipboard, a stopwatch and a bicycle stripped to the bone seems like an exercise in simplicity, well, think again. 

“Within such a basic test of physical prowess lies a world of tactics, pacing, equipment choices and a mental battle as ferocious as the action visible to the thousands of spectators who

line the courses at the very biggest events. 

“Those spectators, of course, are only one component of a wider social scene. The hill climb is a discipline where rivals cheer each other on. They share lifts to events, as well as tips, tactics and other competitive information that in another branch of the sport would be considered highly confidential. 

“Adam Kenway of Vitus Pro Cycling Team p/b Brother UK was the National Hill Climb Champion in 2016 and twice a winner of the event at Monsal Head, arguably the most prestigious

hill climb of them all.

“Rebecca Richardson of Team Brother UK-OnForm is the reigning women’s champion at Monsal, she’s the reigning National Hill Climb Champion of Wales, and she’s a podium finisher at last year’s British championships, capping a season that yielded 18 consecutive victories and numerous course records. This season she’ll compete in hill climbs as a Brother UK-sponsored athlete.”

Rebecca Richardson

"Good morning."

Timothy John

“Look, before we go any further, we’d better discuss the wheels in front of us, because they have a vey unique feature. Rebecca, they’re your wheels. Tell us about them.”

Rebecca Richardson

“Yep, so there’s a set of wheels here, and what’s unique about them is that the spokes are made of string.”

Timothy John

"String."

Rebecca Richardson

"Yeah, string."

LAUGHTER

Timothy John

"You're not even kidding."

Rebecca Richardson

“I’m not even kidding. I saw a picture of these wheels about a week ago, and it was like spaghetti on the floor! The string is tensioned through the hub. It’s pretty scary, actually. I’ve never ridden on them. I will do on Sunday. I do fully trust them, but they look like they defy all laws of wheel building. They are the lightest set of wheels in the world available to buy. They come in at about 750g for the pair."

Timothy John

"For the pair?"

Phil Jones

“That is insane. Now, Rebecca, you brought them in this morning, and we were all like: ‘Where are the wheels? Where are the wheels?’ And you put them in your hand and go: ‘Oh my goodness. I’ve never picked up a wheel so light in my life.’ For most people, buying one wheel that weighs 750g is a thing, but this is a set of wheels! It’s incredible."

Rebecca Richardson

“Yeah. And they do look amazing as well. It’s not just that they’re so light. They have this unique look to them. The string is white. We’ve got some black carbon rims. Lee of Zed Wheels, who hand builds each wheel individually, is so well versed on his subject. I will not do these wheels justice. A conversation with him would be far better. I’m really privileged to race on them this hill climb season, and they might have a little opener at The Magnificent Seven event on Sunday.”

Timothy John

“And where is that held, Rebecca?”

Rebecca Richardson

“This is a really unique competition that really encompasses the concept of community. Adam has done it before, so he can probably talk about it.”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah. It’s a really great event. Basically, it’s seven hill climbs, which is why it’s called Mag 7. It’s a massed start hill climb, so all the riders set off behind a car that marshals the event. All the hill climbs are closed road events. The car drives you to the first hill climb, and as you turn onto the climb, the car will shoot off, and it’s the first rider to the top.”

Phil Jones

"No way. Carnage."

Rebecca Richardson

"It's incredibly bonkers."

Adam Kenway

“In the first one or two events, you get to know who your main competition is. Then you just tail them: ‘I know I can beat him in the sprint, so all I need to do is just hang on his wheel and go in the last 10 meters.’ Obviously, they have different opinions and try to put you in places where you don’t want to be. It’s a really good event. Marc Etches puts it on.”

Rebecca Richardson

“He also runs Monsal. I did hear that [Mag 7] also includes Blake Street hill climb. It’s a 25-second sprint.”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah, that caught me out last year. I hadn’t done any of the climbs before I went to the event. The local riders knew them like the back of their hand, so the car went, and I just saw everybody sprinting full gas, and I just thought: ‘Yep. I’m not going to do very well at this.’”

LAUGHTER

“They were finishing at the top, as I was just starting. It’s quite crucial just to recce it so you know the climbs. But that’s true of all hill climbs. It’s quite a crucial part of the event: really knowing the climbs inside out, knowing where to ride, what the road surface is like, tyre pressures, because the last thing you want to do is wheel spin. Dropping 5psi might save you from spinning your wheel or bumping everywhere to actually getting some good traction and getting the power down.”

Phil Jones

“So do you set that on the day? You go on the morning and think: ‘What is the temperature? What are the road conditions like?’ You’re doing that on the day, are you?”

Rebecca Richardson

“Yeah. In the lead up to any hill climb, you do find that you finish one hill climb and then you start looking at the next one, and then you spend the whole of the next week looking through it, so by the time you get to the ride, you pretty much know what pressure you’re going to ride, and you will have talked to a load of people, too. Do you remember Riber?”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah. I remember speaking to you the week before at another hill climb. So you go to a hill climb, find the headquarters, and the first thing you talk about is the next week’s hill climb and how to tackle it. ‘Oh yeah, you have to be careful on that bend. It’s a bit slippery. And watch out for cars.’”

Rebecca Richardson

“On the morning of Riber, that’s a notoriously slippy one. I’d recced it the day before. Your competitors, your main competitors, are giving you this information They’re saying: ‘[The corners] have been brushed clean, but it’s still slippy.’ So we’re all sharing information.”

Adam Kenway

“If anything, I thought it made it slippier, because they brushed it. They made it like glass.”

Timothy John

“This is the perfect lead in. Immediately, you’ve taken us to the heart of the issue, which, for me at least, is to go and stand on the side of a hill and watch a hill climb. It seems like a gloriously simplified version of bike racing. It’s you against the clock. And yet, when you start talking to the people who have got it nailed, there is a world of complexity beneath it, whether that be equipment, whether that be tactics, all wrapped up in this wonderfully supportive community. We hope to cover all of those topics and a few more today.

“The most obvious feature of the hill climb, as Phil touched upon, is this incredible physical effort that’s required to be successful. You literally ride until the point of collapse. Adam, I know straight away from previous conversations that you’ve got a view on that, but give us a sense of that physical endeavour. [You race] from a standing start and you go deep.”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah, and to be fair it probably starts an hour before the event. You get there, you get your number pinned on, and you have to mentally prepare yourself. You’ve got to think that you’re putting yourself in that place. You’re not riding with anybody else. Nobody’s pushing you. You’ve got to be prepared to turn yourself inside out, which I think is one big thing about the hill climb. It’s not like a road race, where it’s a gradual burn effect.

“You have to think, in a minute’s time, you’re going to put yourself in a place where your body doesn’t really want to go, and, if anything, it’s trying to stop you doing that. That’s why it’s hurting you so much. To do that, I find it starts with the warm up. I hate the warm up more than the event, but you’ve got to put yourself almost in the same place as you are in the event, so you put your headphones on and…

“And also, because these events are so popular, with so many people there and you know everybody, there’s always someone coming to have a chat, so you hurt yourself during the

warm up as you’re chatting to people, so that’s all part of it. And that’s one thing I’ve found out: I don’t like the warm ups.”

Timothy John

“What’s your take on that, Rebecca?”

Rebecca Richardson

“Yeah, I completely agree with Adam. I hate warm ups. They are a necessary evil. I put music on. It gets you in that place. But to put your body in that much pain takes a certain kind of person, I think. It plays a role in deciding why the community is the type of community it is, I think. It attracts a certain kind of person. 

“My own personal experience of that pain factor I think comes from earlier experiences of your life that might not have been physical pain but might have come from a different place. I suffered from post-natal depression. It sounds so dark, but in those warm ups, I’ll start drawing on some bad places I’ve been in mentally to really draw out, in comparison, the positive pain that I’m going to feel on the hill.

“There are those aspects, but other times, a hill climb can be really enjoyable. Beeley Road: the head space before that was more like, ‘I’m going to really enjoy this climb because it’s

so nice.”

Adam Kenway

“I’ve won on Beeley three years on the trot. Normally, I turn up to the Beeley, and it’s the only hill climb of the day. I focus on it. I want to do it. Normally, it goes to plan. 

“This year, I did Riber in the morning, because it was the fortieth anniversary of the Riber hill climb. It’s one of my local courses, so I wanted to support them. I won that. Riber is a really brutal climb, horrible.”

Phil Jones

“What do you mean, ‘brutal?’ Describe ‘brutal’. Is it gradient? Is it length? What is it?”

Rebecca Richardson

“It’s like a dragon’s tail.”

Adam Kenway

“It starts off quite shallow, fast. You tend to put in loads of effort at the bottom and go quite fast. Then it flattens off and you think, ‘I’m fine.’ The second half of it is horrific. You turn through a hairpin and it goes from flat to 25 per cent.”

Phil Jones

“Oh, ok.”

Adam Kenway

“It’s bumpy and slippier, so where you want to get out of the saddle and put the power down, your legs are burning. The crowd is quite near the top, and you can hear the crowd from quite a way off. You think: ‘Come on. I need to get to that crowd. I need to get to that crowd.’ Once you get there, you’re normally ok, because it’s the finish.

“A couple of years ago, I was sick after it. That’s always in my head. I wasn’t very well. I think I had a sickness bug in the week and probably shouldn’t have competed, but, as athletes,

you tend to ignore that. I was really ill at the top. That’s always at the back of your head, because you don’t want to be in the same position as you were at that time. 

“So, this year, I did Riber in the morning, won that and was over the moon. Then I had to drive from Riber to Beeley. I shot down the A6. I got a quick coffee, because I need coffee. I’d practiced Beeley in the week. I knew exactly what power I was going to do. I was going to start off at 450w and then at the top squeeze it to 480w. The first two minutes were fine, and then my legs just went. 

LAUGHTER

“First it was 430w. Then it was 420w. I felt like I was crawling because it’s a local hill and one I know well. Again, that’s quite a mental thing. I knew I wasn’t going to do well, but you have to carry on."

Rebecca Richardson

“I had the opposite experience to you. I did exactly the same as you. I did Riber, then Beeley, and then I actually did three in a day. I did Bank Road. 

“I did the opposite to you. Riber, I’d never ridden before. I thought: ‘I’m going to do the minimum I can to try and win this.’ The night before, I was worked out what I thought would be the

minimum power output to beat my competitors on Riber. 

“I did Riber, it was horrible. Then I had to drive straight away to Beeley. I found out through the grapevine that I had won Riber, just. Not my normal, which is about 10 seconds. And then at Beeley, with no preparation, by comparison with the normal mental stuff, because I had no time, I was rushing there, it was freezing cold, I had to ride the hill. I actually got there about two minutes before the start. 

“But Beeley was one of those really nice rides. I just ticked up though the trees. Then you get to that final corner before the long straight, and then you get this surge. You know that road race surge you get. You feel on top of the world. People think that you’re smiling. I just had loads of power.”

LAUGHTER

Adam Kenway

“It’s the best feeling when you get that. If you time it right, you get power right through the climb and finish it off so well.”

 

Phil Jones

“I think a good insight there is, I went to the National Hill Climb Championships for the first time ever in 2018. I think it was Pea Royd Lane. I experienced all this for the first time, and it was weird. People were banging frying pans and wearing fancy dress, running alongside. People were riding the climb in a flat cap or in fancy dress. 

“It was almost juxtaposed with everything that you think about with elite road racing, for example: having your power-to-weight ratio dialled, having your kit sorted, a lightweight bike. And then you see one of the competitors [at the National Hill Climb Championships] grinding up, dressed as Superman, doing the same hill climb as riders like you, the elite, going up at top speed. 

“I thought: ‘This is really special.’ Everyone is so happy. They were having such fun. There were families. The fancy dress, the atmosphere and the supportive environment: I could just see how addictive it could be to become part of that community. I even thought: ‘I’ll have a go myself one day.' It motivated me to think: ‘Do you know what? I could do that. If a guy can go up dressed as Superman on a bike like that, then I could go up.’”

Adam Kenway

“I totally agree. Basically, everybody starts somewhere. One of the things about the hill climb community is that it’s so appealing and everyone’s so friendly, and everyone can have a go. You get such a wide range of abilities. 

“The hill climb was what got me into road cycling from the start. I was 15. I did a bit of mountain biking. I did work experience at a bike shop. It was the last week of October, and it was

in Leek. That year, the National Hill Climb Championships were held on the Cat and Fiddle climb, very local to it.

“I went to watch and saw the riders with their fancy kit. I did have a road bike: a really old one with down tube levers. It was my pride and joy at the time but, looking back, it was a bit of a hack. We had a load of fancy bikes in [at the shop] for this event. I was like a kid in a sweetshop. 

“I didn’t have any kit, or any shoes. No helmet. Admittedly, that week, the bike shop owner gave me a new set of shoes, tights, helmet and a cycling top. We rode out to watch the event.

From that point, I just wanted to be able to do a national hill climb. Years later, I won it, and couldn’t believe it. I thought: ‘What did I do?’”

Rebecca Richardson

“I won the Burway this year, which isn’t an open at the moment, and should definitely be, because it has been a national. Chris Boardman won it. That’s another part of the hill climb scene. Every climb has a name, and it has a history, which I suppose is unlike road racing. I can’t really tell you who has won all the Premier Calendar races. But when it comes to hill climbing, the competitors know everything about each climb. We’ve gone into depth.”

Adam Kenway

“I think hill climbing has never been so popular. If you look at the last five years, every course record has been broken. I go to hill climbs now to break course records, because if I don’t break them, I probably won’t win. I know what I need to do to break the course record. 

“I used to go to every hill climb and think: ‘Ok. I can do two in a day and probably win both of them. Now, I’ve got to be so precise in what I do because there are so many good riders out there. It is and of funny: straight after, you’ll probably have coffee with them and talk about what you’re going to try to do to be a them, and when you’re rolling back down, you’ll probably cheer them on. That’s one of the great things about hill climbing.”
 

Phil Jones

“Do you think there’s an underlying deep respect between everybody? ‘Hey. A nod to you. I know that you can put yourself in the pain locker like I can,’ and there’s something about that mutual respect.

“I’m wondering, when you go to that place, and it’s probably a place where most people can’t go, where every part of your body is saying, ’Stop! This is really hurting!’ You might think

you’re at your full capacity, but there’s that full capacity plus a little bit more. Are you always searching for that little bit more in that dark place?”

Rebecca Richardson

“Well, it’s interesting this, because I was listening to a heavyweight lifter doing a talk recently. He said that a normal person can probably tap into about 40 per cent of their available energy. An athlete can tap into about 60 per cent, but then you’ll get scenarios like a motorway accident and a mum can physically lift the car to get her kids out, and then she’s tapping into about 80 or 90 per cent. 

“I think we’re always searching for that, but, unfortunately, in the preparation, you have to go to a very deep place to create a scenario that is really real to you; enough to tap into some extra level of adrenaline, so when the starter goes ‘3, 2 1’, you’re ready to turn yourself inside out. You can’t fake it. You have to put your body into a state where you’re willing to do that.”

Timothy John

“Let’s talk about the specifics of that. Adam, you and I discussed this before and you used the memorable phrase, which will always stay with me, that you didn’t think you were really trying until your arms went numb!”

Adam Kenway

“I think it’s because all the blood goes to the organs which you use. I can’t feel my fingers. At the end of a hill climb, people laugh at me, because I can’t speak that well, and I’m trying to take my Wahoo off my bike, and I’m dropping it because my hands don’t really work right.”

Timothy John

“There are two different worlds on either side of this table. There’s Phil and I who ride our bikes for fun. There are the people out there listening to this podcast who ride their bikes for enjoyment, presumably. And there are you guys, who are prepared to go deeper than deep. What is the motivation? What pushes you?”

Adam Kenway

“I’m just quite competitive.I like winning. I don’t like losing, especially at something that I think I’m good at. I want to win, really.”

Rebecca Richardson

“It’s the same for me, yeah. And then you’ll want to develop different things about your performance. You’ll start looking at the marginal gains, and so the mental side ends up being a marginal gain.”

Adam Kenway

“So there’s the dark place you put yourself in. I can only go there a few times a year. Leading up to a hill climb, I might not race for a week before or a couple of weeks before. I find that my body remembers where it’s gone, and it doesn’t like going back there.”

Phil Jones

“Oh, ok. The old muscle memory kicking in there, ‘eh?”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah. So I think it’s quite crucial that you get your body fresh for them, but also that you’re mentally fresh. It’s easy getting your body fresh because you know what to do, and your coach will help you with that or you’ve ridden for long enough that you know your body. Getting yourself mentally fresh and willing to put yourself in those places is different and that takes time as well, knowing how you cope with things."

Timothy John

“This is a fascinating conversation. We’ve already come a long way from frying pans and flat caps and fancy dress and riding purely for enjoyment. You guys are going to quite specific

places psychologically to deliver that performance.”

Rebecca Richardson

“However, for me that moment is like some sort of nirvana of mindfulness. We’re always talking about mindfulness. Many people practice it for athletic performance, but it’s a way of relaxation, being in the present. 

“But then, all you think about for two minutes, or five minutes or something like that, is that finish line and the hill. It’s like a tunnel vision. There’s no noise you hear, other than that

there’s something happening on the road.”

Adam Kenway

“People say: ‘I cheered you on,’ but normally I can’t remember it. I know it’s there. I know it’s helping me, but I can’t say, I can hear you shout, unless it’s a specific person I’m looking for. Say, for example, it’s a long climb, I might have said to someone: ‘I want you to give me a time: 'up' or 'down' or something to work on.'”

Phil Jones

“Having read lots of business books, I’ve heard that described as a state of flow, where space and time gets you to that point where time stands still, and they always say: ‘A zen-like focus in the moment.’ There’s no greater reminder of the moment than where you are, I guess, at the extreme perimeters of your physical and mental capacity, and you’re exploring that as an individual; as part of your individual journey through sport. It’s a real big thing.”

Timothy John

“And if that wasn’t enough - as Phil says, you’re in a zen-like moment - but I think another aspect that’s often overlooked is this huge tactical component. There must be something in your conscious mind, among all the pain, that allows you to focus on the tactical aspect of the race, so give us a sense of that.”

Rebecca Richardson

“That’s the preparation. That’s why you spend a week obsessing about the climb, so once you’ve decided to ride it, you know exactly where you’re going to change gear, what gear [to use]. You know exactly what your power is going to be, so that when you do the climb, you’re not making any decisions. You’ve already engaged auto-pilot.”

Adam Kenway

“You know exactly which line you’re going to take: which piece of tarmac, which stone you’re going to miss, which grid you’re going to clip. I’ve almost run spectators down because I know that’s where I’m going to ride and that’s where my line is. I know where the smoothest tarmac is, I know where the gradient eases off, even slightly, so I can accelerate.

“A lot of people ride on numbers. I really don’t, because in my head, I know exactly how I should be feeling at that point, and If the numbers say I’m doing poorly, it doesn’t matter does it? And if I’m doing well, that’s how it should be.

“I think that’s a great thing about hill climbs: everyone there does exactly the same hill and really feels the same pain because everyone’s doing the same climb. It might be a little bit longer for some. That’s what I think is so special about it. Everyone who does it knows how hard it is. There’s respect for conquering it, whether you’re first or last. Anyone who’s ever ridden a bike knows how hard it is to ride up a hill.”

LAUGHTER

Timothy John

“Are you processing the times already posted by your competitors or do you block that out?”

Rebecca Richardson

“You can’t process them, really. In that mental space, you’ve got to be thinking of nothing else but the end goal, which is the top of the climb. As we say, we’ve already decided which line to take.

“First or last, we all go through it. I remember my first hill climb. It was an open event. It was the 2016 National Championships at Bank Road. That was my first ever hill climb and it was a national championships. I was in at the deep end. I had no idea of my numbers. No idea where I’d lie within the competition, but I think it’s something that comes naturally to some and less so to others.

“I remember being in the car park. My mum had driven up with me. She was marking her school books and knitting. She kind of knew to leave me alone. I’d decided on the way up that I

needed to get into some kind of space. You hear all of these cowbells ringing. You have the car park, and you can hear the bells ringing in the distance."

Adam Kenway

“It really draws big crowds, and you can hear them from miles away.”

Rebecca Richardson

“It’s like being in a gladiator pen, I always think: you’re in the back, and you’re going to go out and face the lions. For me, it was a really great experience. I really drew off it.”

Adam Kenway

“That was a great year. I won it that year. There was no pressure because I’d been hit by a car the week before. I just turned up and just rode it. It was only three miles down the road. I got to the top and looked down. I know that climb really well. I thought: ‘That’s quite quick. I might get on the podium.’ And then, I won. The next thing, anti-doping came chasing me, so I had to do that. I didn’t get much atmosphere after that. I [usually] really enjoy it, straight after a hill climb, meeting and chatting to people, but that day, I didn’t get any of that.”

Rebecca Richardson

“From a spectator point of view, Bank Road is an amazing one to go to. If it’s your first time to go and watch a hill climb, or even compete in one, Bank Road is brilliant to go to. Even when it’s not a national, just an open, they get big crowds. They literally crowd the roads. No cars are getting through. It’s a Grand Tour feel. 

“It was my mum’s first competition to come and watch, so from a spectator point of view…Within 10 minutes, she was telling me how to ride this climb, which was amazing, but that’s

just how absorbing the whole scene is. 

“She’d gone off to get a coffee, and we she came back, she said: ‘Some of these riders are going off a bit too hard at the beginning.' I was like: 'How do you know this stuff already?’”

LAUGHTER

Phil Jones

“The launch of your mother’s coaching career, right there.”

Rebecca Richardson

“It’s such an easy concept to get around.”

Adam Kenway

“Again, it’s so easy though to listen to everybody. Like, you’re mingling, and someone will say: ‘It’s windy at the top. Don’t go too hard.’ So you think: ‘Ok, I’ll go easier at the bottom.’ You might not need to because you’re riding a different race to them. 

“I set the course record on Bank Road at around 2.18, I think. That’s s different climb to a three-minute climb, but some people prefer a climb of three minutes, so I’m using different

energy sources for that 2.18 climb that a three-minute climb. 

“You have to remember that it’s your race, and you’re riding it for yourself and nobody else and get on with it. That’s quite crucial. Everyone loves giving advice, but one of the crucial things is listen to everybody’s advice, but only pick a good one.”

INTERLUDE

Phil Jones

“You’re listening to the Brother UK Cycling Podcast.”

Timothy John

“You both talk really well about preparation, but there must be factors that are uncontrollable, like the wind, like the weather. How do you cope with that? Is it a matter of controlling the controllables?”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah, and I find that’s one of my strengths. I’m quite chilled out at the start. I see some of the riders whom I train with, day in, day out. They’re good hill climbers and should do better. They probably should have won national titles but haven’t, and that’s because they put too much pressure on themselves and can’t perform on the day. 

“You have to be prepared, but remember that you’re only going to do what you’re going to do. That’s it. There’s no point putting extra pressure on yourself. You know in yourself that you’re going to get everything out. I know I’m going to be almost passing out at the top of the climb, so why stress out and put added pressure on myself? Why do I need to think: ‘I

need to beat him?’ If I do what I do and get out what I can, then if I win, fantastic.”

Rebecca Richardson

“I had a bit of pressure going up to the nationals. People were saying: ‘You’re going to win,’ but, again, it’s listening to opinions. At the end of the day, just do the best you can. It’s really true that you lose a lot of energy in stressing. Quite often, I’ll think: ‘Just remember that ride you did with a group of people and somewhere during that ride you felt good and hit that climb and did your PB,’ and I just try and recapture that feeling. You’re relaxed. You’ve had your warm up so your legs are warmed up, and that feeling of fun, as well.”

Timothy John

“What other mechanisms, Rebecca, do you use to manage pressure? We spoke earlier about your approach to Monsal, up to and including booking a shepherd’s hut to reduce the journey in on the day!”

Rebecca Richardson

“Yeah, that was more like a whole season campaign type of approach. We’re both running up and down the country, and you’ve got to look at it as a whole. Like you say, you probably take a couple of weeks off. For me, I take some time off after road racing before starting a hill climb campaign. You’ve got to look at the season as a whole. For me, the biggest factor was stress, which comes from a lack of sleep and travelling, so if you can reduce some of those impacts…

“Before Monsal…I live in the middle of the countryside. For me, a hut in the middle of a field is going to be a lot more relaxing than a hotel room, and it was available on AirBnB, and it was close by, so I booked it. But it was more like a whole season strategy. You’ve got to get to the nationals, and that’s always the goal.”

Timothy John

“It’s interesting that you approach it as a campaign, as a distinct part of the season.”

Adam Kenway

“The nationals are held on different climbs each year. It helps some riders more than others. Let’s say that one year it could be a really short climb and another year it could be like last year where it was 14 minutes, so you have to design your race schedule and your training around that, so you might not do some of the short climbs as opposed to the long climbs as the nationals are going to be held on a long climb. You know that you’re really good on the short climbs, so you might say: ‘Ok, don’t focus on them at all. Let’s get some long, 10-minute efforts in and focus on that.' 

“You’ll define your hill climb season around your goals. Some people’s goals are Monsal Head, because they think that’s one of the biggest hill climbs of the year. Some people think: ‘Ok, I want to win the nationals.’ And then some people think, ‘Ok, I want to win my age category at Riber on the second to last weekend of November,’ and that’s great as well. It’s great

hearing people’s aims. 

“This year, the national hill climb will be about two-and-a-half minutes, three minutes, and, again, that will probably suit people who want to aim for shorter climbs like Monsal Head. It’s going to be interesting, it really is. You’ll probably find the podium is quite different.”

Rebecca Richardson

“For Monsal, my coach was recommending that I do a different climb that day, because Monsal was not suited for last year’s nationals, which was about 14 minutes, and I really was focussed at the beginning of the hill climb season on the nationals. Then I started getting all of these course records and wins, and it started becoming a bit of a tear: do I do Horseshoe Pass or Monsal? I entered them both and yo-yoed. Eventually I [decided on Monsal].

“I suppose you think, ‘Well, when will this happen to me again? I suppose I should try to win this very prestigious event. I should sacrifice a bit of my nationals training.’”

Adam Kenway

“For Monsal, I’ve done that for the last…because it’s quite local for me. I rode out and watched Monsal before I was back into hill climbs again. I knew how it is. So the first time I did Monsal, I came eleventh. The second time, I came fifth. And then when I came first, I thought: ‘Ok, I might be able to win this.’ But the time I came fifth, I had a 1.34, and the winner did a 1.24. Now a 1.24, would struggle to get into the top ten.”

Timothy John

“What’s driving that, Adam? What’s driving that continual improvement?”

Adam Kenway

“I’m trying to think! Once you’ve been there, you want to go back again. You don’t want to give it up!”

Timothy John

“But in terms of the field, in terms of everybody getting quicker year-on-year, what’s pushing that? Is it equipment? Is it training?”

Adam Kenway

“It’s becoming more specific. Riders will focus specifically on 1.5-minute events. I struggle a little bit because I have the road climb as well, like you [Rebecca], have the road climb as well, and then you go to the hill climb, so sometimes you might lose that specific power, but then you’ve got to make up for that on details and get it right.

“Andy and I came second, and Callum won this year. Basically, there were two seconds between fourth  and winning. There’s not much in it: only a wheel slip and small details. Now, I’ve been second twice at Monsal. I’ve won it twice. I’ve been fifth and seventh. I’ve kind of got a good  record, and I know I’m going to get a good ride out of it. I know that if I just turn up, do everything I’ve done in the past, be relaxed and go for it. 

“The second time I won it, it’s funny, I think I was at the bottom of the hill. Joe Clarke was behind me. Russell Downing had just gone up, and he’s set his PB at 1.18. I was like: ‘Phew. Ok.’ I clicked down two gears. I changed down, and Joe Clarke, behind me, did exactly the same. We just nodded at each other as if to say, ‘If we’re going for it, we’re going for it.’ I did

a 1.16.2. I won, Joe came second, and Russ came third. 

“It’s just little things like that. Monsal is a weird one because you can hear the commentators at the top. You can hear the times that people have done. I heard that Russell had done 1.18 and was thinking, ‘That’s quick. I better go down a couple of gears.’”

Phil Jones

“Let me ask you a couple of questions because you mentioned gear there. I remember when I came to Pea Royd Lane, and I saw you in the car park, and I saw your bike, and I was like: ‘Oh my goodness.’ Everything had been cut down. It was like you’d taken a hacksaw to everything. I put my finger under it and lifted it up and went, ‘Adam, that is insanely light,’ and then, ‘What gear are you riding?’ And then I was like: ‘You’re going up in that gear? I’d need like 34-34.’ You were like: ‘Oh, no, no, no. I’ll ride a 39-something.’ 

“It made me realise the strength that you needed. To transpose this, if someone’s [road] racing, then the UCI regulate bike weight and all sorts of things. In hill climbing, is that regulated? If you can afford those stringy wheels that you have there, Rebecca, which should make a big difference to you - if you have a set of wheels that are 700g lighter than everybody else’s, that gives you an advantage.

“Your weight, your power and your kit is really what it’s all about, I guess, so how much emphasis do you put on those things? And on the basis that your bike, Adam, was like a cyborg bike that looked amazing, and Rebecca, you’ve got these amazing wheels now, how much time and attention do you spend on those things to help you in your overall performance in the season?”

Adam Kenway

"So, for me, it’s kind of a strange…it just goes together. At the end of the road racing season, I’m doing between 20 and 25 hours of training each week. You go into the hill climb season, and it gets cut in half because you do less mileage and more severe efforts. Suddenly, you’ve got time on your hands. You think: ‘What shall I do with all this time?’ The devil makes work for idle hands, kind of thing. Basically, I get the hacksaw out…”

LAUGHTER

“I cut the bars down, take everything I can off the saddle, get the Dremel out, and then you just think about what you can do. Hill climbers spend weeks and weeks and weeks cutting down their diets, while making sure they're eating right, getting lots of nutrition, things like that. But also, I think, some people go over the top with that. You still need your power, which is critical, I think, but if you can save a kilo off your bike, that’s a massive amount. That’s a good percentage. I have this little tally in my head. If I lose a kilo off my bike, that’s like losing three kilos off me, because it’s not on me. I’m not carrying it with me.”

Timothy John

"Where do you draw the line? Where is the line between safety and performance?”

Adam Kenway

“The line is where the RTTC says, which is, you need two brakes, and if you’re riding fixed, you’ve got to have a lock ring on the rear. Two working brakes.”

Rebecca Richardson

“And a rear light this year.”

Phil Jones

“Oh, yes, that’s new, isn’t it?”

Timothy John

“I can see you guys flinching at the thought of the extra weight.”

Phil Jones

“Does the smallest flashing LED cover it? How are you going to approach that?”

Timothy John

“With a drilled cover.”

Rebecca Richardson

“I think it’s really interesting what you pointed out about how you carry the weight. I’ve come to the same conclusion. You might say 'weight is weight', but I’ve come to the conclusion too that it’s where you’re carrying the weight. If your bike is lighter, I feel that’s better than having a heavier bike and being lighter. You’ve got to carry that bike up, rather than your body’s bio-mechanics all being connected some how. It’s fascinating.”

Adam Kenway

“I think its a percentage of the weight between your bike and your body. Roughly, the lighter you are, the percentage of the weight of your bike is greater to your body mass. So I think it’s a big thing, having a nice light bike. The longer I’ve done it, I get more relaxed with what I’m doing, and it doesn’t have to be as light as it used to be.”

 Timothy John

“What is the ideal physiology? When we think about road racing, for example, in the Grand Tours on those big, long climbs, the climbers are absolutely tiny, people like Nairo Quintana. In the Ardennes Classics, a powerhouse like Philippe Gilbert can be a force. Where does that physiological component fit within hill climbing, or is the difference made there in short courses or long courses?”

Rebecca Richardson

“There are some specialists out there now, especially for the short climb stuff, like two minutes, but in Britain, we don’t have long climbs. Great Dun Fell is the longest at 28 minutes. We don’t need to be really light. It can suit an all-rounder. My aim is to be an all-rounder: one who can target any sort of climb.”

Adam Kenway

“I’m the same. I like to be able to get up there on any hill climb. I’ve won the nationals once, but I’ve podium-ed four times. Winning it was amazing, but being consistent over those years made me happy, because I was racing against different people on different climbs. On one climb, I was racing against Callum Brown. On the next, I was racing against Dan Evans. It was kind of like really nice being able to focus on all the climbs and being able to enjoy all different events.”

Rebecca Richardson

“And I think you’re pushing yourself and you’re challenging yourself. ‘Can I do this?’ I did Harlech Hill Climb, which is held on the steepest climb in the world. I’d heard about this event in the summer, and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s a little bit like…It’s new to the scene, and I won’t do it because it sounds a bit gimmicky.’ But it’s just down the road from me, and I knew that, deep down, I was worried about losing. I was even a bit scared of the climb, because it was so steep. I’d seen the video: GCN did a video. I thought: ‘That sounds ridiculous. It tops out at nearly 40 per cent.’   

“And then about two weeks before, I was at a local road race, and a girl called Rachel, who rides for a local team, said: ’Are you going to have a go? Go on. Do it,’ and I was like, ‘No, no, no.’ I went online, because you can’t help it. Someone sparks an idea in your head, being competitive. I went online and read a write-up. It said: ‘Dan Evans will be competing, and Jess Evans, the four-time Welsh champion.’ But in my head, I went: ‘But I’m the current Welsh champion!’ And that just did it for me then. That was it. 

“I entered on the last day. When you enter on the British Cycling website, your name goes straight up. It sounds crazy, but up to that point, Jess Evans didn’t have a competitor. I just

put it in there right at the end.”

Timothy John

“I think we should add a little bit of context for the listeners. The Harlech Hill Climb is held on what is reputed to be the world’s steepest paved road.”

Rebecca Richardson

“Guinness Book of World Records.”

Timothy John

“And the video of you, Rebecca, riding in that race in your Brother UK-FusionRT kit, went absolutely viral. In the comments, people were saying: ‘She doesn’t sit down. She doesn’t sit down. She just goes and goes and goes!’”

Rebecca Richardson

“’That, again, was just mental preparation. I had no idea what I was going to do. My mum and dad came: really unusual. I did a recce about two hours before. It was a case of standing there going: ‘I don’t know if I can even get up this.’ The whole gear thing was: ‘What gear? What gear?’ It would have been a 36-28 for the recce and, actually, it was alright. It’s the first two bottom corners that are really horrible.

“So then I really had to decide what I was going to ride. I thought what I’d used [in the recce] was probably too easy. So I had no idea what I was going to do. I beat Jess by two seconds, but I didn’t sit down and there was a reason.

“My back gives me extreme pain on those short, steep climbs, and I knew my back would go. When my back goes, I know that I’m putting in the max effort. I decided that when that happened, I would think: ‘This is a good sign. Go with it. Accept it.' That’s why I didn’t sit down, because I was experiencing huge back pain about half-way up, but, for me, it was a positive sign: just keep doing what you’re doing.”

Timothy John

“This is flipping the laws of nature, because pain is a protective mechanism, isn’t it? Pain is the body’s way of saying, “Stop doing this! You’re causing me damage.’ 

“That leads me into a very specific question which I wanted to ask you both. Adam, when we’ve discussed this previously…I’m sorry, I’m putting this the wrong way around. The point I making here is that one of the most visible aspects of the hill climb is seeing the riders collapse and curl into the foetal position almost the moment they cross the finish line. That is the

most visual indication of how deep the riders go.

“There are differences of opinion on whether that is a positive thing to do or whether that is, ultimately, damaging, so let’s get your thoughts on that.”

Adam Kenway

“So for me, I’ve been there and I’ve done it several times, and I’ve learned not to do it. For me, it’s probably more critical on the shorter climbs where you get lots of lactic acid. It’s agony, but I find that if I don’t roll over the top, roll over the finish line...Normally you find on the hill climbs, because you take everything out of your body, you normally fall over as you cross the finish line, so you’ve got these people called catchers, and they catch you, and ask what you would like to do. Normally, they just lie you down on the floor with your bike in-tact, and you just stay there, basically, in agony, in the foetal position.

LAUGHTER

“But from past experience, I just say to them: ‘Keep pushing me. Keep pushing me to the flat,’ and I keep my legs rolling. I try to keep my heart rate up a bit, because I find that your heart rate, having gone up so quickly, comes down quite quickly as well. If you keep your heart rate up, it keeps your blood flowing, getting rid of that lactic acid, and I feel much better afterwards. I’m still in amazing pain, and, normally, I’m in amazing pain where no one can see me, and then I roll back round with a smile on my face. 

“One thing I do get though, I always get a migraine in the evening. I always get a migraine. Either it’s a really nice migraine, or really horrible.”

Timothy John

“A nice migraine?”

Adam Kenway

“If I’ve won, it’s nice one, and it’s worth it.”

LAUGHTER

Phil Jones

"Price to pay."

Adam Kenway

“I don’t mind it, but, if I don’t, I think: ‘I’ll have to try harder next time. I don’t want this migraine for no reason at all.’ I think it’s because your blood pressure is all over the place, and you’ve put yourself in a horrible place. At seven o’clock that evening, I can almost switch it on. I know I’m going to get a migraine that evening.”

Timothy John

“Rebecca, what’s your take on ‘the catch’: people catching you, laying you down, putting you in the foetal position? Is that something you welcome or something you try and avoid?”

Rebecca Richardson

“I’ve not really done that. At the top of the nationals this year, I put out my PB power over - I can’t even remember the time now. Fifteen minutes? I put out my PB power, without really feeling that I had. I don’t know why. I crossed the finish line. There was nobody really at the top of the nationals. Everyone was just before the line. So you crossed the line and it was just like…more. You were on your own.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, do they do it for a bit of a spectator aspect or something like that?’ And I got off the bike, and then all of a sudden a wave of nausea came over me, and I had to

lay down. It felt almost like I was going to faint. 

“I think it’s a really good point. I’d never really thought of it that way, in terms of lactic acid and keeping up your heart rate, and also having a migraine is so extreme. But I do know that feeling about winning and losing. I got to feel quite comfortable about winning this year, and I remember at one hill climb, Peaslows, which has been used for the national championships: you won this year, and I did too. 

“I rode it, and it was horrendous. I felt awful at the top. It’s an awful climb. The initial ramp is straight up through the trees, quite slippy. Everyone says, ‘Go hard at the beginning

because it gets easier.’ It doesn’t get easier!

LAUGHTER

“You hit the first ramp. You get up there quite quick and burn a lot of matches. You think: ‘Ok, now ease off,’ but then you realise: ‘I can’t. It’s still a wall!’ I got to the top, and one of my competitors, Lucy Lee, she started recording all of the other competitors coming up. She was like: ‘Oh, they’ve done 2.5 minutes.’ And I was like: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’m a minute slower or a few seconds slower than everyone else?’ I couldn’t clock it in my head. 

“I always thought I was quite a good loser, but all my friends around me said my face was like thunder. And then they announced that I was the winner, and the whole atmosphere changed around me. You don’t realise how affected you are by the win and the lose.”

Phil Jones

“Well, can I just ask you a quick question, before we wrap up and finish? You’re really selling hill climbing. ‘Wanted: participants for hill climbing. Go to your dark place! You will endure pain! Be encouraged by someone hitting a frying pan with a wooden stirring spoon! Wear a flat cap! Wear a cape!’ 

“It’s like: ‘Ok. Rewind a minute.’ But actually, in all seriousness, I think today’s podcast was about getting these stories out of you. You are two of the best hill climbers in the country, but also, I think, I wanted to make sure that we said to people: you can have a go. Just get your bike out, like you started, Adam, and have a go. Go and support some of these hill climbs. Get out of bed and go down there and take a frying pan. Have fun. Take the kids, and you’ll probably meet a load of new people and feel like you’re joining a new community. Would that be how you would sum up that community?”

Rebecca Richardson

“It's kids. It's families. Friends’ kids. Women. Men. It’s the most inclusive bike community I’ve been involved with. I was new to the scene this year. You’ve been involved with the scene longer than I have, Adam. But coming into the scene as a newcomer, within two weeks of the Harlech hill climb, I felt like I’d met friends. For a few seasons now, I’ve got into work and athletic life, but within the space of two weeks, I made proper friends and that’s just continued.”

Adam Kenway

“Yeah. It’s one part of cycling where everybody who’s there loves riding their bikes, loves being there. There are people there who don’t ride bikes and are just there to support the event. It’s fun. You need to go and just appreciate the atmosphere and watch people suffering, like you say, in Superman outfits, or you might get the odd man-king running up alongside of you. It’s all part of it.”

Rebecca Richardson

“And there’s like cups of tea and cake at the end in the local village hall. There’s something really basic about it all, which is just about human connection, which is something we all need and gets lost these days.”

Timothy John

“It’s a scene without a downside, it seems. It’s inclusive, it’s supreme athletic performance, it’s readily available: there are hill climbs all over the country.”

Adam Kenway

“And all you need is a bike. The first year I got on the podium, my bike was quite standard. It was only when I got into it that I started chopping bits off.”

Phil Jones

“You need to get out more, Adam. This whole Dremel thing has got to stop.”

Adam Kenway

“You just need a bike, a rear light, and just have fun.”

Timothy John

“Wonderful. Well, what a brilliant recommendation. Thank-you very much indeed for joining us Rebecca Richardson and Adam Kenway. 

“We do what’s called a ‘social shoutout’ so people listening can follow you on social media if they’d like to. Rebecca, where can people find you on social media?”

Rebecca Richardson

“Instagram is @bocs_richardson. Facebook is Rebecca Richardson, and Twitter is @rra_design.”

Timothy John

"Adam?"

Adam Kenway

“I’m not that great on social media. I haven’t got a Twitter account. I think my Facebook account is Adam Kenway, and I think my Instagram account is probably @kenwayadam.”

Timothy John

“And Phil, where can people follow you?"

Phil Jones

“Oh yes, you can find me on Twitter, primarily @roadphil. I’m also @roadphil on Instagram for other bits and bobs.”

Timothy John

“Great. And we very much hope that you’ll be following Brother Cycling, and we are @brothercycling across all three channels. Rebecca, Adam, thank-you very much indeed for joining us.”

Adam Kenway

“Thanks very much indeed for having us.”

Rebecca Richardson

“Yeah, thanks.”

INTERLUDE

Timothy John

“Phil, we’ve just been talking to Rebecca Richardson and Adam Kenway, and, luckily for us, both within the Brother UK stable. What an amazing conversation.”

Phil Jones

“It was amazing. One thing I got tuned into there was Rebecca did that super steep climb on 36x28 gearing, and I’m like, literally, how did you do it on that gearing? It just shows you how strong they are. 

“I think there’s a real insight from this podcast about human potential. Here it is in front of you, and you can always go further than you think you can. So what are your self-limiting beliefs, and how do you challenge those and push through to find the new potential for yourself? It was just fascinating to hear that in their darkest places, they want to go there!” 

Timothy John

“It was incredible how ready they were to talk about that: embracing the psychological aspect to get a better athletic performance. You and I have both been to hill climbs. It looks like the simplest thing in the world. It’s somebody racing up a hill again the clock, and yet today we uncovered layer after layer after layer, whether that be tactical, practical, mechanical, psychological, mental. You name it, they had something to say about it, and they sparked off each other brilliantly, didn’t they?”

Phil Jones

“They were excellent. In fact, it’s made me think I’m going to have a go at a hill climb. I am going to have a go at it. I might be on a 34-32 gear ratio, and I’ll probably take my Raleigh Banana bike along, so I’m not going to try and win honours. I’d never do that. But now I’ve been there and experienced it and heard more from these guys today, I think I’m going to have a go at one, and if you fancy having a go at one too, why not use this podcast to motivate yourself and get to a hill climb near you.”

Timothy John

“Absolutely.”

MUSIC

Phil Jones

“If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please hit subscribe.”

MUSIC

 

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