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Brother UK Cycling Podcast – Episode 16

Episode description

This special edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast previews the 2021 National Hill Climb Championships.

Winnats Pass, a savagely beautiful climb at the heart of the Derbyshire Peak District, will host the championships for the first time in 40 years. Brother UK will proudly serve #Winnats21 as an event sponsor.

This episode contains insights from eight expert witnesses, including the Brother UK-sponsored athletes Adam Kenway and Rebecca Richardson. Adam was crowned British champion in 2016 and has finished on the podium on four other occasions. Rebecca is the three-time and reigning Welsh hill climb champion. Both have won the prestigious Monsal Head hill climb. 

Event organiser (and rider) Nick Latimer has worked on staging this year’s championships for two years, regularly engaging with Castleton Parish Council and other authorities to

secure the essential road closure. Additionally, he has secured sponsorship from Brother UK and others to help meet event costs and donate to local good causes.

Mechanic Rick Bailey offers fascinating insights into the hill climb community's unique approach to cycling technology. Photographer Tony Wood speaks in glowing terms about Winnats’ scenic qualities, while journalist Larry Hickmott offers his views on the value of hill climbing as domestic cycling’s ‘feel good’ scene. He offers a rundown of the pre-race favourites, too. 

Jack Young, the newly-crowned Shropshire junior hill climb champion and a young man with autism, celebrates hill climbing’s inclusivity. And Phil Jones MBE, Brother UK’s Managing Director and the podcast’s co-host, offers his views on a range of topics, from Brother UK’s sponsorship of the event to the congruency achieved by top-class athletes like Rebecca. 

The episode is presented and produced by Timothy John, a journalist and consultant. 

 
 
 

 

The Brother UK Cycling Podcast

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Episode 16: National Hill Climb Championships Preview

Episode contents

  • 00:02 – Episode introduction
  • 00.36 - Coming Up
  • 03:27 – Hello And Welcome
  • 04:55 – Part One: Hill Climbing's Unique Appeal
  • 17:43 – Part Two: Winnats Pass
  • 28.08 – Part Three: Hill Climb Bike Tech
  • 34.45 – Part Four: The Hill Climb Community
  • 40.29 – Part Five: Photographing Hill Climbs
  • 44.14 – Part Six: Sponsoring WinNats21
  • 49:38 – Part Seven: Social Shoutout

Transcript

Timothy John

“If your passion lies in elite British road racing and you want an inside line on the teams, riders, organisers and sponsors that make this sport such a compelling spectacle, you’re in the right place.

“I’m Timothy John and joining me for every episode is my co-host, the Managing Director of Brother UK, Phil Jones.”

Phil Jones 

“Thanks, Tim. It’s great to be here. We’re going to use this platform to talk about all the key issues surrounding the sport. With special guests, deep dives into hot topics and plenty of chat, we’ll keep you informed about all things UK racing. Stay tuned!”

Coming Up

Timothy John

"Coming up in this in-depth preview of the 2021 National Hill Climb Championships. 

"WinNats21 organiser Nick Latimer tells us why sponsorship from Brother UK and other has been critical to bringing the nationals back to the home of British hill climbing."

Nick Latimer

“We had to get sponsorship. Brother were one of the biggest ones. They came back really quickly, said what they could do to support us, and it’s immediately a load off your mind.”

Timothy John

"Adam Kenway, the 2016 British hill climb champion, explains why Winnats Pass is a brutal ordeal, even for the best."

Adam Kenway

“It’s hard. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s a hard climb to get up, especially if the weather’s not on your side. On the wrong day, if you get a big gust of wind, it’s wet, it’s slippy, the best of riders can put a foot down and struggle to get up to the top.”

Timothy John

"Tony Wood, whose images have come to define the British hill climb scene, tells us why Winnats Pass is a photographer’s dream."

Tony Wood

“Physically, Winnats is spectacular like you wouldn’t believe. You’ve got to see it to believe it. The fact is, it’s massive. It’s just a win-win-win. If ever you said to me, ‘Where’s the place they should have a hill climb?” it’s Winnats for more reasons than I’ve got time to tell you.”

Timothy John

"Jack Young, the newly-crowned Shropshire junior hill climb champion and a young man with autism, celebrates the inclusivity of the hill climb community."

Jack Young

“I’ve made friends with a lot of people at hill climbs. I go there, do it, and then you can just discuss it with everyone afterwards, because everyone’s had the same experience with it, and everyone’s really friendly.”

Timothy John 

"Rebecca Richardson, the three-time and reigning Welsh hill climb champion, tells us why an optimal work-life-sport balance is her ultimate marginal gain."

Rebecca Richardson

“The biggest thing I’ve done is focus on general life satisfaction. That’s a marginal gain. You need to hit the training right, but you need to hit all the other areas of your life right as well, in order to become a happy athlete.”

Timothy John 

"Bike mechanic Rick Bailey offers an insider’s view of the weird and wonderful world of hill climb bike tech."

Rick Bailey

“Aerodynamics, rolling resistance, drillanium…you name it, it will appear at some point. Walk around the pits, so to speak, and there’s all manner of crazy creations.”

Timothy John 

"Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net, celebrates hill climbing’s feel good factor."

Larry Hickmott

“As a grassroots sport, it’s absolutely huge, and it’s such a great spectator sport as well. It plays a huge role in the feel good factor of the sport.”

Timothy John 

"And Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK, and this podcast’s co-host, describes the hill climb’s unique appeal."

Phil Jones

“The hill climb scene really is so honest. It’s about the communities, it’s about the support for each other, all the different riders who are there, the people banging frying pans at the side of the road. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you’ve never been to one, you really ought to go. It really is, genuinely, a fantastic place to go and experience.”

 

Meet The Guests

Timothy John

"Hello and welcome to this new edition of the Brother UK Cycling Podcast, where today we’re previewing the 2021 National Hill Climb Championships, which this year will be held at the home of British hill climbing, Winnats Pass. 

"Today, I’m joined by my co-host, Phil Jones, the Managing Director of Brother UK. Phil, great to have you with us."

Phil Jones

"Hello, Tim."

INTERLUDE

Timothy John 

"Well, how exciting to be only days away from the 2021 National Hill Climb Championships on Winnats Pass. 

"We’ve been busy gathering expert opinions from inside the hill climb community, and during the course of this episode, we’ll bring you insights from those very much in the know. 

"Brother UK-sponsored riders Adam Kenway and Rebecca Richardson will start among the favourites to lift the senior men’s and women’s titles respectively. We’ll hear from both.

"Mechanic Rick Bailey is Rebecca’s partner, a fine rider in his own right and a man with a detailed knowledge of hill climb bike tech. He’ll tell us how and why to make a hill climb bike lighter and faster. 

"Organiser Nick Latimer is well-qualified to describe the event’s organisational and logistical challenges, having worked on  it for nearly two years.

"We’ll hear too from journalist Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of VeloUK.net, from photographer Tony Wood, whose images have come to define the hill climb scene, and from Jack Young, the newly-crowned Shropshire junior hill climb champion, and a young man with autism whose found a home in the close-knit community of hill climbing." 

 

Part One: Hill Climbing's Unique Appeal

Timothy John 

"Phil, sum it up for us, will you, please? What makes hill climbing such a wonderful part of British cycle sport?"

Phil Jones

“Well, the hill climb scene is so honest, isn’t it? It’s such an honest scene. It’s about the communities, it’s about the support for each other, all the different riders who are there, the people banging frying pans at the side of the road. It’s absolutely brilliant. If you’ve never been to one, you really ought to go, because it’s just fun. There’s dogs, there’s tea, there’s flasks. There’s a myriad of different people. It really is, genuinely, a fantastic place to just go and experience.”

Timothy John

"Well, a really nice summary there, Phil, and you’re certainly not alone in your admiration for this unique discipline. Larry, of course, has seen more races than most of us have had hot dinners, including this year’s edition of the Monsal Hill Climb, and Nick, naturally, he's deep inside this community, both as a rider and organiser. Let’s hear firstly from Larry and then from Nick about what makes this scene so special."

Larry Hickmott

"There are races like Monsal that are so hugely popular. You know, I saw Malcolm Elliott there, I saw Russell Downing there, lots of familiar faces there, everyone having a good chat and enjoying life, and that’s what I mean by the feel good factor.

“There is that big bond between everybody, and you do see the same sort of names keep coming up over and over again, who are doing the hill climbs during the season. It’s a fantastic discipline.”

Nick Latimer

“You get riders going once every minute, or, in the national champs, once every 30 seconds. You keep on seeing these people, every minute, every 30 seconds, for quite a long time. We get quite big fields. At the nationals, we’re going to have 300 riders, so you see 300 of these people going up a really steep hill, trying as hard as they can, pain on their faces, weaving across the road, and it’s a spectacle.”

Timothy John

"Banter, camaraderie, pain faces…what’s not to like? Some great insights into the appeal of hill climbing there, Phil, from Larry and Nic. It’s a unique discipline, ins't it? 

"Brother UK has been at its side for a while now in the form Adam and Rebecca, our sponsored athletes, but at the nationals, we’re going to go one better. We're going to step up and

be an event sponsor, I believe." 

Phil Jones

“Yes, we are. Chris and Nick reached out to me, maybe a couple of months ago now, and just said: ‘Look, we have this gap, effectively, between what we’re yielding in income from the entry fees and what it’s actually costing us to put on the event.’ 

“I do understand the position, because what they’re trying to do is to keep this tricky balance between the riders wanting the lowest entry cost they possibly can and the commercial realities of, how do you put on a national championship at this scale? 

“It’s not just a case of, let’s quickly all turn up and do it. They had so much to do: all the parish council liaisons, they had to the road closures, they had to get an HQ together, health and safety, barriers.

"All of these things end up costing serious sums of money, and even with the amount of entries that they had, and the entry fee, it still is not enough to cover the costs of delivering the event without commercial sponsors.

“And that’s where people like us come in, to effectively help out, to bridge that gap so the event can be put on and at least wash it’s face. But what I’m really hoping is that it does more than that, because the organisers, Nicholas and Chris, have committed to give any profits back to local causes, and, for me, that was so good. 

“I know it’s taken a lot of time and energy to win over the parish council, the National Trust, all of the various stakeholders to get this national championships on.

"So if there’s some way, where even if there’s a small profit, where it can be given back to the local community, I think that’s going to be a really, really good thing, and that’s one of the key reasons why we put in some money to help them deliver this great championships this year.”

Timothy John

"Well, brilliant that we’re able to sponsor the National Hill Climb Championships, and especially when, as you say, Phil, not only will Brother UK’s support help with the cost of staging the event, but also in boosting the funds of local causes. 

"Helping the communities around Castleton has been more than a gesture for the organisers of Winnats 21. Doing a bit of good in the local area was central to their ambition to bring the national championships back to the home of British hill climbing, as we’ll hear now from Nick."

Nick Latimer

"Winnats Pass is the hill that has held the National Hill Climb Championships more than any other hill, but it hasn’t been held on there for something like 40 years because there used to be another road that went in the same direction, then that road collapsed, and it made it very difficult to close Winnats to host the national championships. There hasn’t been another hill climb on there since [the old road collapsed], not even another club event. 

“I just thought, ‘We can try, because I know some sportives go up Winnats Pass and manage to close it for short periods of time. It must be possible to get a road closure on there. There’s no harm in seeing if we can get one.’

“We got in touch quite early on with the local parish council, who, at first, really were not keen on the idea. They didn’t want us to do it. They didn’t want us to close the road. But we addressed, as well as we could, lots of their concerns about the inconvenience. That’s why the event is quite early in the morning. 

“We kept on engaging with them, which I think was important. We went to several parish council meetings. Any money we make will go to the parish council and any charities in Castletown. They ended up saying: ‘Ok, we’ll let you do it.’ We thought: ‘Brilliant.’”

Timothy John 

"Wow! Forty years since the nationals were held on Winnats Pass. Times have changed since 1980 and nowhere more so in hill climbing than in the women’s sport. 

"Nick told me there are 65 entries in the senior women’s category, and at Brother, we’re fortunate to have two of the pre-race favourites: Rebecca Richardson, who races in our colours a sponsored athlete, and Mary Wilkinson of  Crimson Performance-Orientation Marketing is a member of the Brother Cycling family. 

"Phil, I know you’re looking forward to the senior women’s race as much as any event at his year’s nationals.”

Phil Jones

“When you look at the start list for this year’s nationals, I think the female start list is particularly strong, and I think it’s going to be hotly contested. The short list for the men’s is probably three favourites that might be competing for that number one slot, but I think it’s wide open on the women’s side of the field. 

“Mary’s riding very strongly, Rebecca’s in great shape at the moment, I know. Bithja Jones. There’s a long list of names of very, very strong athletes who are in peak condition; who have peaked for the nationals. And I think Winnats is such a perfect place for it. After everything that everyone has been through, to then put this on in one of the most iconic national hill climb venues this country has, with history going back over 50 years. 
 
“People may not realise that there’s never before been a female rider crowned national champion on Winnats , so I think that accolade, given the historical context of this climb and what it’s meant to national hill climbing, to be the first ever female to take the national hill climb title on Winnats, I think it just adds a little extra kudos to that victory, because that will be

remembered for all time.”

Timothy John 

"It’s hard to imagine any of the senior women seriously targeting the national title needing an extra incentive, but the chance to be crowned on Winnats Pass must be a major motivation. 

"You know, Rebecca is a pretty inspiring figure by herself. As well as being a parent and running her own business, she’s a three-time Welsh hill climb champion, a winner on Monsal

Head, and a strong advocate for getting more women into the sport."

Rebecca Richardson

“I’ve seen the sport of hill climbing, in the women’s field, rise significantly in the last two years. But not only have I seen it rise in the area of hill climbing but in general, across the cycling community. Women’s sport is on an exponential rise. You can see it in increased coverage of women’s tour races, and it’s fed down in to the hill climbs. 

“We have a new generation, too. I’m part of that generation, or I’m part of the generation gap, being in my mid-30s. The community of hill climbers is quite diverse. You have older generation, my generation and younger generations. Now, you’re starting to see my generation come through and starting to organise, starting to be vocal. 

“Really, what I’ve seen in the last two years is that as a community, men and women alike, we’ve started to say: ‘Hey! Hang on a sec. Why have we got some anomalies, like unequal prize money?' I’m talking about grassroots level, so it’s like a fiver here, or a tenner there, but it matters. The principle matters.

“By addressing these anomalies, which are quite often historic: cycling used to be a male-dominated sport and women were considered a bit too fragile to ride a bike and compete: they should be making teas in the headquarters. But really that perception of women has changed, I’d say.  

“I really advocated for equal prize money in any event where it wasn’t the case, in 2019. In most cases, the prize money was changed without any question, and that has continued to

be the case. 

“Since then, we’ve seen a big increase in the women’s fields. This year, I’m already seeing more women at events, at club level as well, which is really great to see.”

Timothy John 

“Well, that’s Rebecca, and, as we say, it’s hard to imagine a stronger advocate for women’s cycling. She’s proved again and again that she can walk the walk, as well as talk the talk.

"Rebecca’s a bit more than an athlete. She runs her own architect’s practice, brings up her son Arthur and somehow finds time to train and perform at the highest level. Not only is she a top hill climber, but this year she set a new record for the Brecon Beacons Circuit and won the inaugural British  road bike time-trial championships. How on earth does she do it?"

Rebecca Richardson

“I think the biggest thing I’ve done is focus on general life satisfaction. That is a marginal gain, I would say, in terms of training. You need to hit the training right, and that’s something that I know I achieve, but you need to hit all other areas of your life right as well, in order to become a happy athlete.

“It’s not just a case of turning up and winning. It’s a case of repeating that. How do you repeat that? It’s dependant on a more holistic, sustainable view of how you operate.

“I have spent quite a lot of time adjusting and adapting my life around my work and how I look after my family to ensure those two things are the priorities and they are in a good and healthy place, as in my work is healthy, my financial stability is healthy. And then my family: are they happy? Am I spending enough quality time with them?

“If I’m hitting those two things right, I feel that I’m validated to go and do my training. I get more of a quality session, because I’m motivated. I know that I’m being a balanced person, a responsible person, That really helps me in my training.”

Timothy John

"Well, you don’t meet an athlete like Rebecca every day, do you? It's interesting to hear her use the word ‘responsible’ there which is a key word for Brother, and all the work we do to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and behave as a responsible business.

"Phil, this is very much your area of expertise, isn’t it? I know you’ve read widely on high performance cultures, whether that’s on the bike or in the boardroom. I guess what Rebecca’s saying there will be very familiar to someone leading a major business?"

Phil Jones

“Yes, without a doubt. Almost every coach you talk to, who has reached the top of their game globally, talks about athlete congruency, which is having this absolute balance between all areas of their life, as one of the keys to unlock their best performances and get into this ‘flow’ state, where they can just perform, almost without thinking about it, or overthinking it.

“They’re just arriving in this total state of balance, where it’s just about the process of delivering all the things that they know they’re capable of, and pushing aside the pressure, and just being ‘in the moment’ to deliver.

“The management of all of these various elements of your life which can influence how you feel mentally, as well as physically, is vitally important. The mental game know in any sort of sport or business leadership is as important as that physical gain.

“Sometimes in life, maturity gets you there. Sometimes, you’ve got to be coached there. Sometimes, you’ll have a life-impacting experience that naturally gets you there, even if you’re at a younger point in your life.

“But when you get that moment when it begins to unlock and when you realise that these things must be balanced and that you must have this internal congruency, then, and at that point, things really begin to work for you, so I can really understand what Rebecca is saying there.”

INTERLUDE

Part Two: Winnats Pass

Timothy John 

"We touched earlier on the quality of the senior women’s field at this year’s National Hill Climb Championships, and later in this episode will turn our attention to the men. 

"I think it’s fair to say that how ever strong the competitors are this year, and there are some very, very high-quality athletes on the start list, the star of the show this year will be the course: Winnats Pass.

"Someone whose become intimately acquainted with this jewel of the Peak District is photographer Tony Wood, who's conducted a number of shoots on its brutal ramps, including with Brother UK’s Adam Kenway." 

Tony Wood

“Physically, Winnats is spectacular like you wouldn’t believe. You’ve got to see it to believe it. The fact is, it’s massive. There's so much space around it. On other hill climbs, you might be tight on the road, like the one at Sheffield a couple of years ago. There wasn’t much space either side of the road, whereas at Winnats, it’s in a big valley; in fact, it’s the pass through it. I think it’s just over a kilometre from cattle grid to cattle grid. It will be spectacular. You can get huge crowds there, with social distancing, and it’s just a win-win-win. 

“If ever you said to me, where is the place to hold a hill climb, it’s Winnats for more reasons than I’ve got time to tell you. For those people who haven’t been, it’s unbelievable. It’s so

spectacular. I know the hill well. I’ve done a few photoshoots there, most recently with Adam [Kenway]. I am spoiled for choice, and I love it here, yes.”

Timothy John 

"What a brilliant description there from Tony. ‘Spectacular’ sounds about right, if his pictures are anything to go by. Give @tonywood29 a follow on Instagram, if you’re not following him already, because you’ll see some brilliant images. 

"Tony mentioned Adam Kenway there, and, of course, Adam will be well known to followers of Brother Cycling. He was crowned National Hill Climb Champion in 2016 and has been on the podium on a further four occasions." 

"Adam’s a Derbyshire man born and bred, and Winnats Pass is among his favourite  climbs."

Adam Kenway

“I love Winnats. I do like Winnats. I live local enough so it’s about 35, 40 minutes away. It’s hard. It doesn’t matter who you are, it’s a hard climb to get up, especially if the weather’s not on your side. On the wrong day, if you get a big gust of wind, or it’s wet and slippy, the best of riders can put a foot down and struggle to get up to the top. 

“I’m so glad that I’ll be able to race Winnats when I’m at the peak of my performance. It’s just an amazing climb. It’s so iconic anywhere.

"I remember when I was growing up. The chap who got me into cycling was a pro. One of the first stories he told me was when he used to go up Winnats when the Tour of the Peaks finished there. Pro riders would get off and walk up there. It was after 70 miles so I do have to give them a bit of a let off for that. 

“It’s such a brutal climb, and such lovely scenery. It’s just a nice place to be, if you’re walking, or anything like that. It’s just a beautiful part of the world.”

Timothy John 

"Adam’s endorsement, I think, speaks volumes. He’s been at the very sharp end of men’s hill climbing for seven years, and as a son of the Peak District, he knows all about Winnats Pass. 

"Phil, it was interesting to hear Adam talk about Winnats bringing pro cyclists to a halt back in the day, but you were telling me off air that at least one rider from the golden age of 1960s hill climbing had no trouble in conquering its gradients." 

Phil Jones

“The stat I love the most in all of this is that the course record for Winnats is still held by a gentleman called Peter Greenhalgh, and it’s been held since 1966, despite all of the advancements in technology - bikes, gearing, and everything. 

“In 1966, Peter Greenhalgh did this course in 3.11.08. What’s outstanding about that is apparently he rode over on the day of the championships from Nottingham. He had a bit of a cold

as well: a cough and a cold, so he wasn’t in peak form. And he rode it and did that time which to this day still stands.

“And after the championships, he rode home and did a race in the afternoon, which I believe he won. And I believe he did it on a fixed wheel, too. So you’re on a steel bike with a fixed wheel, you’ve ridden from Nottingham with a cough and a cold, and you’ve gone home again afterwards.

“And here we all are, 55 years later, and your performance on that day still stand despite all of the advancements in bike technology, and that is why I think hill climbing still remains an absolutely honest sport, and I’d love to see whether any of the riders are able to break that record [this year].

“Winds play a big part on Winnats. Anyone who’s ever ridden Winnats will know that the wind plays a big part. It can either be your greatest friend or greatest foe. Clearly, with that record in 1966, it’s highly likely that there was a tailwind in play on that day.

“I think that given, here we all are in 2021, if we get a real good tailwind on the day, with the condition of all of these athletes who are competing, then the course record may be up for grabs.”

Timothy John

“Well, that’s a good shout, Phil. We know that several of the favourites have been setting unofficial course records in training, including Adam. Here he makes a very interesting observation on how, when it comes to Winnats, the relationship between speed and suffering is counterintuitive.”

Adam Kenway

“Climbs are totally different at race pace. If you’re going up steady, it’s horrific, because it’s a six or seven-minute climb. But the hill climb event, because it’s a little bit shorter, from cattle grid to cattle grid, it’s going to be, I reckon, about three minutes,

“The very steep bits don’t feel as steep because you’re going over them so quickly, and you’re getting over them to the next flat stage, so you have to make sure that you pace yourself properly for that race pace effort and not for a training effort, as such.

“It’s so easy to be scared of Winnats and [be] holding something back, holding something back, because you don’t want to stop and put a foot down. You need to get everything out, but also pace yourself because it is a climb that comes to you, but you still need to put the effort in at the start.

“I was up there on Sunday. Unfortunately, my Wahoo broke that day so I didn’t have any data. It’s a shame I couldn’t upload anything on Strava, because recently it's been quite nice.

"Tom Bell’s been up and broke the course record, Andrew Feather’s been up and broke the course record. I’ll probably get up there before the nationals and put another time out there; chuck another time into the hat.” 

Timothy John

"I love the fact that the competition among the favourites has begun on Strava, even before the official event.

"We talked earlier about the top female contenders - Bithja Jones, Mary Wilkinson, Rebecca Richardson etc. - and we said we’d look at the form guide for the senior men.

"Adam mentioned there that he’d been checking out the Strava times of Tom Bell and Andrew Feather. I know you’re one of the data Phil, so can you tell us a bit more about Tom and Andrew’s times on Winnats and their power outputs?"

Phil Jones

"I’m always interested [in performance data] and wonder what sort of power output you need to win. Clearly, power to weight ratio plays a really important part. This is one part of the sport where the weight of the bike is not regulated in any way. Clearly, if you can get yourself in great condition, balanced with your power output, and then you’ve got a light bike…

“Dremmel really out to be sponsoring this championship. How Dremmel don’t sponsor the hill climb championships I don’t know because all sorts of bits are being chopped off and sanded down to make these bikes lighter.

“But when I had a look [at the Strava data] it was very interesting because Tom Bell holds the KOM for this course in 3.25 and his power output was 437w with an average speed of 16.8kph, which is just over 10mph, which I just think is amazing.

“And then Andrew Feather, who is one of the top hill climbers in the country, clearly has a very different frame to Tom, in terms of his build. His output was 523w. He did that in 3.27. I’m always thinking: ‘Ok, think of this in your own life, when your next sat on your WattBike or your turbo trainer, or out on the road: just hold 523w and see how it feels.'

“This is the sort of level that you’ve got to be at to have a fighting chance to win a national hill climb championship.”

Timothy John

“Yep, agreed. 100 per cent. There are so many fascinating contradictions at the heart of hill climbing. We’re going to talk in some detail about the tech, for example, which is, on the one hand, obsessive, but on the other is, frankly, not that expensive.

"But perhaps the greatest contradiction is this mix of grassroots sport and elite performance. Mary Wilkinson was a mountain runner for Great Britain, what's known in the UK as fell running, and that's another discipline which, if you put it inside a stadium, would be an Olympic event in a heartbeat and the athletes would be household names.

"Adam kind of embodies this, doesn’t he? I was lucky enough to watch him go wheel-to-wheel with the WorldTour boys on the Cow And Calf climb at the Tour de Yorkshire a couple of years ago. There was no question that he could hold his own at that level. I know you’re a fan too, Phil.”

Phil Jones

“I think Adam’s very motivated at the moment. You can just see in his face that he really wants to put on a great performance at this national championships.

"I’ve been lucky to know Adam for a few years now. When we sponsored the Vitus Pro Cycling Team we got to spend time with Adam. He’s very, very professional person indeed. He really applies himself and takes his riding really seriously, but he’s also a very humble and nice guy underneath it all.

“Put him on a bike in a hill climb and he’s got a ‘beast mode’ switch. If you’ve ever seen pictures of him, particularly taken from the front: you just see these wide shoulders and gritty determination; this pain in his face where he becomes committed to the cause of squeezing out every single ounce of energy from his body. Every muscle is working, and he really wants to make sure he leaves everything on the road.

“I can remember talking to him once after the hill climb in Sheffield, and he told me he always rides through the line. He never stops. He just carries on riding. He’s in such a place where he needs to almost to come down, because he’s so far into his hurt locker, he’s got to gently come out of it, so he rides on through the line to start to recover, to get his heart rate down, to regain focus.

“That blur of that last 40m or 50m when your heart rate is at its maximum, lactate is screaming, and every muscle of your body is saying, ‘Stop!’, these hill climbers have got this ability to be in the darkest of places, yet find a little bit more. And I think that is a genuinely incredible characteristic of those athletes.”

INTERLUDE

 

Part Three: Hill Climb Bike Tech

Timothy John 

"Well, if athletic performance wasn’t reason enough to follow the hill climb scene, the bike tech is something else. It’s a brilliant mix of hacksaws and high-tech; Dremmels and very niche, ultra sophisticated solutions.

"There aren’t many people better qualified to discuss hill climb bike tech than mechanic Rick Bailey, who as well as building and fettling his own bikes, also looks after the machines of his partner, Rebecca Richardson."

Rick Bailey 

“On the technical side, because it is such a niche…I mean, you can turn up on any bike. You can get an off-the-peg road bike from any bike shop and turn up and race on that. You can turn up on your Tour de France race bike, but for a hill climb, you could make it better.  

“The tech does play a part, whether it’s reducing weight, rolling resistance. You can get really quite specific in terms of the set-up. It will vary from course to course, rider to rider,

and that’s part of the beauty of it.

"You can go to a hill climb and find such a variety of bikes from fixed gear, to people saving weight, to people trying to out do each other on aerodynamics, rolling resistance, drillanium…You name it, it will appear at some point. Walk around the pits, so to speak, and there are all manner of crazy creations!

“People love fretting about the little things: ‘Let’s take off the crimp from the cable end. Let’s take off the water bottle cage.’ All of these little things. If you leave it on, it will be a bit of a mental block. I know when I jump on my hill climb bike, it’s a machine built for a purpose. It’s like strapping yourself into a race car or something. 

“Everyone wants to get on their bike knowing they’ve done everything they can to reduce the weight, to improve the rolling resistance, and to know that it's built for the course, as well.

The courses vary so much: short courses, long courses, steep courses, flat courses. You want to change your bike and alter it to make sure it performs on that particular course.”

Timothy John 

"Well, there’s Rick Bailey, a man who races on a steel bike with extreme geometry, tailored for the sole purpose of going uphill fast. 

"Phil, I know you admire Rick’s approach, which is the total opposite of throwing money at a problem or trying to buy speed." 

Phil Jones

"Yeah, I love Rick, and what he tries to do is to make modifications that are accessible by everybody. It’s not that he can afford modifications that other people can’t. He does stuff on a tenner, in order that it can be replicated, and I just think that is so good, because it means you can replicate that on your own bike.”

Timothy John 

"Very true. And it’s not just Rick. Adam has a super bling Specialized which he uses for road racing and event the occasional hill climb, but on Sunday, he’ll be riding a machine without a spare gram of excess weight."

Adam Kenway

"I’ve had my hacksaw out, and I’ve had my Dremmel out as well. My Dremmel’s been working hard in the last couple of days!

"My hill climb bike will be around 5.6kg, probably within a kilo of anybody’s bike. I think the lightest you’ll be looking at is probably 4.6kg. I don’t think anybody is racing on a bike lighter than that. 

“You still have to have it so it’s useable. The last thing you want to do is to have something break on the day. To be fair, everybody’s done that; the top players, I’m sure. Everybody’s pushed the limits a bit too far and lost something, or something’s gone wrong, because it’s too lightweight or they tried to have one bolt missing which hasn’t worked and then they’ve had to dial it back to the point where they know it’s reliable, you can get the performance out on the day, and it’s as light as it can be.

“But there are more lightweight bikes coming out now, which are almost at hill climbing weight as standard, which is really exciting. My Specialized, to be fair, is at UCI legal limit: it’s

about 6.7kg, 6.8kg, which is still super light, but I can certainly feel the difference with another kilo off the bike.”

Timothy John 

“I mean, just to recap there: Dremmels and bikes as light as 4.6kg. There’s plenty on the tech side for hill climbers to geek out over, but I guess, Phil, if you’re going uphill, weight is always going to be the primary consideration, ins't it? I know you’re a huge fan of the tech, Phil. Are there any ultra light weight solutions that stick in your mind?”

Phil Jones

“If you recall, Tim, when Rebecca came to record an episode with us on hill climbing when we were in the studio that day - it seems a long time ago, now: a couple of years, maybe - she brought a set of Zed string wheels with her. 

“I don’t think either of us had ever experienced a set of wheels that were so light in the hand. It’s the lightest set of wheels I’ve ever lifted in my life. It was quite incredible, and you wonder how a set of wheels with spokes made from spring can cope with the forces, but they do. 
 
“These are the levels of technology [available]. Yes, there is a price to access those wheels. You can’t make string wheels in your garage at home. That’s a very specialist product,

which is an expensive product.

"That’s an example of the top hill climbers using some of the top, premium equipment, but generally speaking, it’s still a very accessible sport in that you could buy a bike and with a few simple modifications, significantly change the weight of a bike and roll up and compete."

Timothy John 

"That’s very true. Despite the incredible technology that’s available, and, as Adam says, off-the-peg bikes getting lighter and lighter, you simply don’t need to spend thousands of pounds to compete in a hill climb. 

"And let’s not forget that not everyone is mechanically inclined. Rebecca, for example, is the first to admit that she’s far more comfortable, if that’s the right word, with the physical side

of hill climbing."

Rebecca Richardson

“There’s a bit of a running joke with Rick and friends that, give bike to me and I’ll break it [laughs]. And I say, well, that’s because I ride it. I’m not very good at thinking beyond that because probably it is just one step further than I can take in. 

“When I was on the team, I remember another running joke: Who had the dirtiest bike? I did because I didn’t have time. I definitely didn’t have that extra half day to strip it down and

clean it up. 

“So meeting Rick, who’s a mechanic and loves the tech, and just can’t bear to see my bikes in the state they are, he just sort of took control of the bike situation, which I’m very happy about.

‘I really, truly appreciate and understand the need for good equipment, and I’ve learned a lot about how much equipment can improve your performance. I would never run my bikes as I used to in a race, maybe a few years ago. I’ll always want a clean chain, I’ll always want to think about drivetrain efficiency, tyre selection, the right wheel selection. 
 

"Things have definitely evolved, but I definitely still break bikes. I don’t know how I do it!”

INTERLUDE

Part Four: The Hill Climb Community

Timothy John 

"The hill climb scene is about more than super strong riders and ultra light bikes. 

"If you want to truly understand what makes hill climbing such a special community, you have to understand the fundamental relationship between the competitors and the climb."

Nick Latimer

“If you compare it to other aspects of UK cycling, it is really quite different. I do a lot of time-trialing, and it's great, but it’s nothing like the hill climb community.

“People help each other a lot, and that stems from the fact that when you’re riding a hill climb, you’re not really thinking: ‘I’ve got to beat this other person.’ You’re just got to get to the top of the hill as quickly as you can and ride the hill as best you can. It’s you against the hill.

"Everyone has that feeling. When they finish their race, they don’t go back to their car, they get off their bike, walk a short way down the hill and cheer on everybody else coming up, trying to get them to go faster, trying to get them to beat the time they’ve just set.

"It’s a really nice community, it’s very supportive, and this is why we hope that national champs will be such a good event.”

Timothy John 

"So a pretty clear distinction there from Nick between hill climbing and other cycling disciplines: the primary goal is to beat the hill, rather than other riders. 

"Even this, however, only tells part of the story. For Rebecca, the diversity of riders attracted by hill climbing speaks volumes for the unique nature of its sporting challenge and the spirit it inspires.”

Rebecca Richardson

“The hill climb community has a great spirit. It is a really grassroots sport, still. It’s still very accessible, which I think is why it’s so popular across such a diverse range of genders and ages. You’ll get 12-year-old kids riding up a climb.

“Recently, at the Burway, I happened to notice a 66-year-old man who had a 4.6kg hill climb bike that he’d been working on for three years. It turned out that he is actually the current national champion, from Haytor in 2019.

“I just thought isn’t that amazing. You’ve got a 66-year-old man and a 10-year-old girl at the same event, alongside Richard Bussell, who is one of the best time-trial/hill climb athletes in the country, and you’re all there on the start line together, cheering each other on.

"It’s such an unusual setting. It would be like having Greg Van Avermaet competing in the same race as a 10-year-old, and that’s possible in hill climbing.

“Hill climbing is just an incredibly fun type of sporting event. Because of the fact that anyone can ride up the climb, it makes it hugely diverse. And everybody goes through the same level of pain, no matter how fast you go up it. Everybody gets the same cheer from the spectators. The spectators are just really happy to see people give it a go.”

Timothy John 

"Few competitors embody hill climbing’s inclusive nature more than 18-year-old Jack Young, the newly-crowned Shropshire series junior champion. Now, Jack has autism, and he says his devotion to cycling has helped him overcome several challenges in his young life."

Jack Young

"I got treated a bit differently at school. I just liked cycling. It was a bit of an escape from everything. You can just be on your bike for hours and just have fun with it.

“The teachers weren’t very educated on [autism]. They didn’t understand anything about it, really. They didn’t understand that I liked cycling, and I would have to work the things I was doing around cycling to understand it better.

“There’s nothing else I think about, really. I just always look forward to riding my bike. A lot of people have a lot of distractions from it, but I just like riding my bike and having fun with it.

“I’ve made friends with a lot of people at hill climbs, which is good. You just go there, do it, and then you can discuss it with everyone afterwards, Everyone’s had the same experience with it, and everyone’s really friendly."

Timothy John 

"Some valuable insights there from Jack, whose passion for cycling really came into its own when he and his mum Audrey decided on home schooling for Jack's senior school eduction.

"Something else that came out of our conversation was Jack’s super detailed knowledge of the sport’s history. I can't think of many 18-year-olds in 2021, who would identify Coppi, Mercx and Fignon among their heroes.

"You know, increasingly, the special skills of people with autism are being celebrated, and Jack’s natural focus on the bike to the exclusion of anything else is pretty closely aligned with the approach of many of the top hill climbers.

"It seems fitting, Phil, doesn’t it, that Jack would feel right at home in the hill climb scene?"

Phil Jones

“Yes, and that’s no surprise to me, Tim, because that’s something that I’ve witnessed first-hand when I’ve gone to these events: just the general inclusivity. I think that absolutely is the word, in its broadest sense.

“You can turn up, as a 50-year-old, dressed as Spiderman, on an old bike, and somebody will celebrate you. There’s every part of the spectrum, whatever your life story, whatever your lived experience, you’ll be welcomed in among the community and invited to participate, and even if you’re the last person across the line on the day, that in itself will be applauded, lauded, and somebody will say, ‘Great job’.

“And that, I think, is sometimes lacking in life nowadays, isn't it? We’ve all become so ultra competitive. But what I’ve seen in hill climbing is [an attitude that says]: ‘Let’s just enjoy it. Let’s make the sport bigger.' And, equally, some of its biggest stars support each other very, very well.

“They’ll share their tyre pressures, they’ll point out bits of the road that are slippy, and they’ll give advice to their competitors. This is where I think the ultimate honesty comes in. They just want to know that on the day, with all things being equal, 'I was the best.'

“’Even if I’d told you that there was grease on the right hand side of the road and you missed it, and I still beat you,' to some degree what that means is:  'I honestly beat you rather than withholding something for my competitive advantage,’ which is slightly different to most areas of competitive sport.”

INTERLUDE

Part Five: Photographing Hill Climbs

Timothy John 

"Now there are few sporting events, never mind cycling disciplines, that offer such an intimate view of the athlete’s suffering as hill climbing.

"Photographer Tony Wood has some incredible shots in his portfolio of riders on the limit, and he has some valuable local knowledge of the most demanding climbs in the north of England." 

Tony Wood

“The thing with hill climbing is, where else can you get as close to the athletes, and, in this case, cyclists, as you do with a hill climber? You’re within two or three yards of them on the hill, going up the hill. 

“I was at the Peaslow hill climb last year, the one near Sparrowpit, and Dame Sarah Storey was there. You’re watching people of that calibre and profile and they then thank you for

coming! I remember Dame Sarah Storey said to me: ‘Thanks very much for coming and taking photographs.’

“For me, it’s a great opportunity to see, let’s face it, world-class athletes. I look at the profiles of your Andrew Feathers of the world and reading his performance figures. He’s right at the top of his game and could hold his own with any athlete in the world in terms of his Vo2 output.

"And the beauty of it is, you get to within several yards of them and watching them close up, and it’s a win-win-win for me as a photographer. I guess it’s a win-win-win if you get a decent photo for them as well.

“I do try and find a couple of different places. If you’re looking at something like Winnats Pass, it’s fairly big. I’ve done test shots in the past. A lot also depends on the lighting I just move around and pick what is the best lighting and I'll take a variety of shots. Some work better than others but, within reason, based on the hills that I go to, I know what kit to take with me, and, normally, the best places to take the photographs."

“Like a lot of photographers, I know my set-up before I go to an event. For example, Monsal, at the top of the hill, most of the action is within the last 50 yards, so I can get away normally with a 70mm to 200mm zoom.

“I normally have two cameras with me, like most photographers. I’ve got one camera with a 70mm to 200mm zoom lens on, and it’s a full-frame camera, so you capture more per pixel so to speak, and it’s better in low light, and, personally, it’s something I prefer. 

“But on top of that, my second camera will have a wide angle lens on it. I will have a lens or two in my bag just in case I want to put on something else, but, within reason, I take two cameras with two totally different lenses: a mid-size zoom and wide angle zoom.”

Timothy John

"Well, a pretty comprehensive summary there from Tony, and if you haven’t seen his work, then do follow @tonywood29 on Instagram, because he has some fantastic images.

"Phil, I know you enjoy the photography from the hill climb scene, and that’s more than the riders, isn’t it? Shooters like Tony really capture the spirit of the day."

Phil Jones

“It really is a wonderful thing. Visually, photographers like Tony, Dave Doohan, and Larry Hickmott turn up to these events and share these pictures with us, which is just brilliant. 

“I think it is the faces. There’s a picture Tony took of Adam, only a day or two ago, where if you look at the definition of the muscles in his legs really indicated the sheer amount of oxygen that must have been pumped into his legs at that moment in time. It was absolutely phenomenal. You think: ‘I can see the energy that’s going in,’ even though it’s just a photograph. You can almost capture the motion of that particular moment in time.

“And then once you throw into the mix a diverse crowd with bobble hats on and cowbells and pans and all of these different things - people in the road in fancy dress and all that sort of stuff, really urging people on, and they’re pulling as big a face as the riders sometimes in encouragement - then actually that makes for a very, very special atmosphere.”

Part Six: Sponsoring WinNats21

Timothy John

"Indeed it does. Now, we’ve talked already about the unique spirt of the hill climb community, and it seems only fitting Sunday’s national championships will stand for something more than 300 riders grinding their way up Winnats Pass. 

"Nick Latimer, who together with Chris Myhill and a committee of volunteers, has put in countless hours to organise the event and raise vital sponsorship, not only so the championships can return to the home of British hill climbing, but so local causes can benefit too." 

Nick Latimer

“We had to get sponsorship, and I contacted many, many companies. I didn’t get responses from everybody, but was really, really pleased to get positive responses from quite a few, and often not sponsoring a huge amount, but when you added it all together, it was enough. 

“Brother was one of the biggest sponsors. They came back really quickly and said what they could do to support us. It’s immediately a load off your mind, because suddenly you realise, actually we do have enough money. 

"And, really importantly, when we set out to run this event, we made it very clear to the parish council that we’re not a profit-making company who are running a sportive through the Peak District to try and make some money. We’re just volunteers who have been asked to run a  event by a national body, who are getting no money for it at all. And, if we do make any profit, we don’t keep it, we don’t get anything. We’re going to donate it to local causes. 

“We wanted to make some profit so we could then go to the parish council and tell them: ‘Look, we’ve made this money. Who would you like us to donate it to?’ 

“And that was a really nice experience. I went to the Castletown Parish Council meeting and I was able to say, ’This is how much we think we’re going to be able to donate. Can you let us know who you like us to give x, y, z amount to?’ and they were really happy. 

“I’ve got three kids at a primary school in the Peak District, not Castletown Primary School, but in a village nearby, and I know how those schools struggle to get the funding they need. Castletown’s got something like 26 children in the whole school, spread over two buildings, and not many members of staff. They need help, so they’re going to be a beneficiary. 

“There are also things like the Castletown Playing Fields Committee, .Again, if you live in a village you come to realise the importance of the playing fields. It’s nice to be in the Peak District, but children want something to play on, and often there’s not much money to go around for things like that; to keep things in a nice condition and good working order, so we’re donating to that. 

“Then there are things like Castletown Village Hall, and Hope Valley College. That’s where we’re holding the event HQ, so we’re making a donation to the PTA there. Those kind of things."

Timothy John 

"So, wonderful to hear there from Nick that the sponsorship he’s raised for this year’s nationals, including from Brother UK, is going to make a real difference to the communities that surround Winnats Pass. 

"Well, Phil, you and I talked earlier about some of the pre-race favourites, but let’s get a final assessment from Larry Hickmott, the founder and editor of Brother UK-sponsored VeloUK.net."

Larry Hickmott

“In terms of the favourites, I haven’t looked at who is most well suited to that climb. I had some messages from people who saw the win by Tom Bell on Mam Nick. Apparently, that was very special, because he absolutely smashed the course record of the national champion, Andrew Feather. 

“Adam was second on the Bec.cc climb. Everyone thought Adam was going to win because he set a really great time on the climb there, which is extreme: one in four in places. It’s an extremely steep hill. So Adam is obviously going well. I think he’s a good bet for a podium place, but whether or not he can do the victory…You know, Andy Nicholls won at Monsal. There's a good half-dozen at least in the men’s scene who are favourites for the victory at the nationals. 

“And on the women’s side, as I say, Illi Gardener has been doing extremely well. The current national champion, whose name escapes me. I’m not great with some pronunciations sometimes, but she’s a lovely person to talk to and obviously a great rider, and I think she was a veteran as well this year. She’s definitely a favourite, and, of course, Rebecca, who podium-ed at Monsal. 

Timothy John 

"A nice summary there from Larry and, of course, the reigning British women’s hill climb champion, who’s name Larry struggles to pronounce, is Bithja Jones, and I hope I’ve got that right! Bithja won last month at Monsal Head too, so she’ll definitely start among the favourites. 

"Interesting there, Phil, to hear Larry emphasise Adam’s build up this year’s nationals. By his own admission, Adam is a man who thrives on the big occasion, and in hill climbing, occasions don’t get much bigger than a return to Winnats Pass after 40 years." 

Phil Jones

“It is indeed and it comes with an incredible history, as we’ve already discussed. 

“Adam will be really determined to put in his best performance on the day because, as a former national hill climb champion, he’s had that taste, and he wants it again. Looking at how he’s been training, the hours he’s been putting in, the hill climbs he’s been doing, he’s going to show up ready to do his best possible ride on the day. 

“I’ll just share a learning which has served me well. If you are circulating in the pits on the day, leave your engagement with the riders until after they’ve ridden, because they are so focussed on the morning to get their warm-ups their right, their head right.

"Clearly, this is a very, very important national championships, so I guess we all ought to just give them that little bit of space on the day until at least they’ve gone through that line and at that particular point, I’m sure you’re gong to get the best from them, in terms of engagement.”

INTERLUDE

Part Seven: Social Shoutout

Timothy John 

"Well, let’s wrap up now with a social shoutout. If you want to follow any of our guests on social media, here’s how to do it. 

"You can follow Nick and his Winnats committee on Twitter at @winnats21.

"Adam Kenway is on Facebook at @adam.kenway.9 and on Instagram @kenwayadam.

"Rebecca Richardson is on Instagram at @bocs_richardson and on Twitter at @rra_design.

"Rick Bailey is on Instagram @bikemechanicrick.

"Tony Wood is on Twitter and Instagram @tonywood29.

"Larry Hickmott is on Facebook at @velouk, on Twitter @velouk and @aussielarry, and on Instagram @veloukwebsite.

"And Phil Jones is on Twitter @roadphil for cycling and @philjones40 for business and leadership.

"Phil, thank-you very much indeed for joining me today, thank-you everyone out there for listening, and, as another winter of Covid approaches, do, please, stay safe."

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