Official event title: RTTC 2020 National Hill Climb Championship sponsored by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors.
If you're reading this, I'm hoping it's because you've seen my campaign to try and flood the 2020 National Hill Climb Champs (Sunday 25th October) with female entries and now you're wondering, what am I letting myself in for?
If it's your first time going to a hill climb (HC) or even any time trial (TT), it can feel a little daunting so this article is all about trying to take some of the edge off for you and hopefully channeling those butterflies positively.
Before I tell you about all the wonderful people that line climb and all the cake waiting for you at the end, lets cover some of the basics.
Are you eligible?
The first thing you need to figure out is whether you are eligible to take part or not. All this means is that as the event is a national championship you need to be part of a club that is affiliated with CTT. To do this you can either speak to a committee member of the club you are on or you can look for them by following the link. If your club is not on this list, I can provide you with two possible options.
How do you enter?
Great, now you're eligible! So let's talk entering. The CTT website has an area where you can search for events local to you as well as national events. You can enter into anything through this page now that you're eligible. With regards to my campaign, it's a little more complicated just because it's the first time anything like this has been done for CTT. Follow the google form to express your interest in a funded place (please do this, I would like to fund as many women as possible), but just make sure to read the disclaimer at the top of the form! If you're unsure whether yourself or your child is a junior rider, CTT has some information on this, but to summarise: you are considered junior up until and including the year you turn 18. From January 1st the following year, you are now senior.
Great, now you're entered! So what the heck even is a hill climb?
Possibly one of the more unique disclipines within cycling and something that seems to be almost endemic to Britain. Hill climbs are a very traditional, popular and celebrated part of the British racing calendar. Held every year on the last weekend in October, spectators line the streets for what is arguably one of the most spectator friendly outdoor bike races. Often held on steep gradients it provides fans of the sport to see the string of competitors for longer than a meer flash of lycra followed by the distant call of expensive hubs. They get to see every grimace and crunched gear change of the climb whilst spurring you on with mixtures of cowbells, whistles and shouts. Hills are regularly decorated by spectators beforehand with an array of motivational quotes and riders' names chalked onto the road. Put this kaleidoscope of sensory harmony together and you won't even realise you're most of the way up the climb already whilst you've been taking it in!
If this blog post could have sad sound effects they would kick in here. 2020 was set to multiply the fantastic experience of riding through crowds in your very own personal Tour de France summit stage finish as we have been fortunate to be able to close the roads just for the event. Coronavirus had other ideas. Unfortunately this year as it stands on 20.8.2020, there is a no spectator rule due to social distancing. We're really hoping and praying this changes, but equally Reading CC are hoping that your experience albeit different to normal, will not be dampened. We are hoping you leave feeling accomplished and rewarded (and deserving of loads of cake).
Picture credit (left)
The main covid induced difference that has most seasoned riders concerned this year is that there is no holding on the start line due to social distancing measures. Normally riders would be held up on the start line, readily clipped into their pedals. The silver lining to this is that often riders newer to the TT scene find it unnerving to be held up with both feet in the pedals and can opt not to be held, potentially losing a bit of time right at the beginning. Everyone will be starting this years hill climb with one foot on the ground*, so no need to worry about being held up for the first time. Instead its worth practicing getting started from this position (like you would at any traffic lights, roundabout etc). It's better to take it easy and if using clips, focus on clipping in rather than panicking to get going. Missing the pedal would be a frustrating start to your climb. Focus on going like you would at any traffic lights and once you're in, let the race begin and ride hard!!! It's worth practicing this start at the bottom of a hill and getting used to what gears are the best starting gears for you. You won't be starting on a super steep gradient so anything with a bit of a slope is a good place to practice.
*There is chance something called a fox stand may be used, which is essentially something that riders can hold on to with one hand to balance and clip into both pedals. This is yet to be confirmed, but riders would be expected to hand sanitise before use. Nobody will be forced to take this option if it does become part of the event.
To try and put you (hopefully) even more at ease, or at least get you pumped for the challenge- I have gone out and videoed myself and Matt climbing up the hill that this years nationals will be on (it took us a few takes -meaning a few hill reps- so I can only apologise for the parts where I am fighting for my life). To put you even more at ease, I did it in a 36-25 gear ratio with water bottles and full kit. None of that weight you will be carrying, you'll likely have easier gears and you only have to get up it once! Easy, right?!
Now that you've seen my underwhelming attempts of the climb (and even more underwhelming attempt of being a vlogging sensation), I thought it would be great for you to get some advice from some of the top women in the hill climbing discipline.
“Hill climbs are some of the most fun and friendly cycling events you will do. There is absolutely zero judgement on times but just a lot of encouragement and respect from the other riders and people who have come out to support. The atmosphere is fantastic, regardless of the climb length, and despite saying I would never do one when I first started cycling, hill climbs are now some of my favourite events to ride when I get the chance. Have an idea of what power or time you think you can do and try to pace it well. Then just aim for improvements!" - Hayley Simmonds, 2019 National Hill Climb Champion, Team GB.
"The main thing to remember is to have fun, yes take it seriously and train hard, but overall just remember to have fun. The hill climb community are a friendly bunch so don’t be afraid to reach out with any questions as someone will always be happy to help. My key piece of advice is test out any new equipment and/or strategies before the Nationals and if you can ride the course beforehand that is really beneficial so you know what to expect, I found that massively helped with any nerves ahead of the day." - Hannah Farran, Northern Hill Climb Legend and co-manager of, as well as rider for Team Boompods (one of the top UK domestic women's teams, managed by women for women).
"When I entered the national 10 I told myself it doesn’t matter what other people do it gives me a benchmark, I can try and beat my PB or I can set myself a result to beat in the future. At the end of the day racing is something I love, the competition and the social side, and sometimes jumping in is the best thing to do! I think that really applies to hill climbing too, having fun while pushing yourself to your limit! Just doing the best you can do and feeling great about it afterwards." - Tasha Reddy, rider for Bianchi Dama Women's Team (also one of the top UK domestic teams) and Road Captain for University of Exeter Cycling Team.
"Practice hard reps of 4/5 mins. Make your bike as light as possible (taking bottle cages off). Practice getting out the saddle as much as possible on normal rides. Find the right starting gear that you can easily push off on at the start. Most importantly though, have fun!" Lili McLean, previously Southampton University Womens Captain and Andover Wheelers CC, lover of hill climbs.
Finally to finish it all off, James Scrivener, although not female, is known affectionately by his Reading CC clubmmates as Master Streatley. He knows Streatley Hill (the national hill climb hill) better than anyone after doing 36 reps of it during lockdown. He has kindly left us some notes on the event and what expect, as well as a handy checklist.
Before the Event: Leading up to the event, make sure you taper! Don’t go out for a huge ride, or do any big efforts in the days leading up to the even. Some people may recover quicker than I do (especially youngsters!) but my recommendation would be to only go for light spins from Wednesday onwards so finish any specific training on the Tuesday beforehand so that you are fresh for the event. I used to keep training up until a Thursday before a Saturday hill climb and kept wondering why my legs felt like lead on the climb, so don't make that mistake!
The day before the event make sure you are prepared - pack your bag well before you leave the house and go through the check list below. Make sure everything is good to go so you don't have to worry about packing on the day.
On the day: Make sure you eat and drink properly beforehand, but not too plentifully! Hill climbs are such short and intense efforts that you don't need to fuel as you would for a sportive, as you would probably feel sick afterwards! You do still need a good breakfast, but it should ideally be about 3 hours before your start time as you do not want a full stomach for a hill climb. You also don't want a full bladder, so don't drink too much either! If you feel peckish closer to the time then have something small like a gel or cereal bar.
Aim to arrive to the event at least an hour before your start time. This gives you time to sign-on, get ready, have a little warm up and ride to the start.
The Climb: Once you start the key on most hills is to not go too hard too soon, and Streatley is no different. From the startline you can't see the steepest part from the as the road bends to the left up the climb, and a lot of time can be gained or lost if you empty the tank too early. The start is a relatively moderate gradient (compared to the rest of the hill), so make the most of being able to accelerate off the start but then try to settle into a rhythm. As the road bends left the gradient starts to kick up and up, eventually passing a driveway on the left before the steepest section under the trees. Once you emerge out of the trees the gradient eases dramatically, but try to click through the gears and keep pushing those pedals all the way through the line, you can gain a lot of time by accelerating as much as you can on this section (however hard it feels)! Then, relax, breathe, and drink plenty of fluids!
In Covid times you may also need:
The whole point of this article and my campaign is to empower women to get to the start line too. We deserve as much representation as men do. As long as the start list is not 50/50, we do not have the equal representation we deserve. There is an argument to be had that people with better past results should only be getting entries to national events, regardless of gender. Whilst I sympathise with this argument, I also know that minority groups within cycling will not take to other start lines until they feel championed at every level. Until women feel able to access the sport, they will never have fair access to the same competing opportunities to get the results to get on national start lines.
Until we see equal entrants of male and female across every level and age category, we are not getting this right.
This national event has a high profile and is the perfect opportunity for us to bring more women into this part of the cycling world, hopefully becoming a catalyst for increased female entries elsewhere.
Ladies, thank you so much for your interest and willingness to be part of this, I have been overwhelmed by your lovely messages and I am so excited to champion you up that hill in October!
A massive thank you to the sponsors so far: Estrella Bikes, The Hub Cycleworks, Clinterval Coaching, Catenary Coaching, Frimley Bike Hub, Stayers Cycle and some kind personal donors that wish to remain anonymous.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you believe you are able to offer sponsorship for this event in exchange for marketing for your business, whether that be for even just one space!
Former full time road rider, trackie, off-roader, commuter, endurance rider, bikepacker, BC coach, CTT timekeeper, cycle mechanic and general bike geek.