The Struggle - British Hill Climb Champs Report

An unforgettable day on The Struggle for the 2023 British Hill Climb Champs…

Joe House
By Joe House


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Sunday 29th October is, I’m sure, a day that will live long in the memory of everyone that attended, both riders and spectators. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.


I’ll start from a rider’s perspective…


What’s it like racing the National Hill Climb Champs?



Waking up and heading to Ambleside, I was full of excitement. I’d watched all the videos and content I could consume from the 2022 Championship from Old Horseshoe Pass, which is what spurred me on to make this my main goal of the season. The atmosphere I’d seen meant I had high expectations of the day, and I was hoping that the crowds of people who had lined The Old Shoe last year would be there, cow bells, pots and pans in hand, eagerly willing the participants up the hill… I certainly wasn’t disappointed!



I arrived, set the bike up and headed to the start area. Arriving at the bottom I could feel the nerves starting to build. I’d made sure that I’d prepped right, although I’m not sure the curry for our friend’s birthday in Kendal the night before was the best prep (as good as it was). I’d had my early morning pasta, steadily drank my Fusion Fuel, and had the alarm set for the 20-minute pre-effort Beta Blast.



The Hill Climb community is one-of-a-kind, although this is my first year, I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Seeing the wide variety of people making their way up the hill that day to watch just reaffirmed that it’s a community that I want to be part of but, it also confirmed that there were quite a few people who’d be seeing my pain face…



The next 14 mins are a bit of a blur, the only distraction from the effort was people shouting your name as you go past. Initially I was confused, thinking ‘who’s that!?!’ but after the fourth or fifth time I somehow managed to get enough blood from my legs to my brain to assume they’d had the foresight to print out the start sheet.



The final 2 and half minutes though, they are 2 and half minutes I’ll never forget.



There’s a small section of respite on The Struggle, the 4.24km 8.5% climb heading out of Ambleside… but from that you can see the final kick and begin to hear the ringing of the cow bells.



I knew my friends and family were somewhere in the last 500m. The slight downhill allowed me to regain my senses. Enough to spot my friend Brad just at the start of the crowds. All I remember is him saying ‘It’s gonna get loud’ and he was right. The legs started burning again, instantly, but the roars of the crowd made you keep going. Every turn of the pedals was met by another scream of encouragement. Any thought of throwing in the towel evaporated.



These amazing folk, some who’d already been up, some who were waiting for their turn, and some who were there just for the atmosphere gave everyone something extra in that last 500m. It’s rare you can ride your bike and feel like you’re going up the Alpe d’Huez in the Tour, but that last 500m was exactly that, if not better. The crowd of people parting in front you made you feel like a superstar – there really is no other way to describe it.



After being helped off the bike at the end and sitting on the floor for a while I was delighted to spot the VOOM team with a table of Recovery Fudge… which I may have taken more than one piece of.



Then it was my turn to be a part of the crowd…



What’s it like Spectating at The National Hill Climb?



I’m not sure which part of the day I enjoyed the most. The effort up was pure type 2 fun, lungs busted, legs heavy with lactic acid… but being part of the crowd was something else. People’s passion and support never wavered, if anything it got louder as the day went on.



Due to the intervals that people set off you’re not waiting long between competitors coming up. The next few hours flew whilst waiting for the duel between Andrew Feather & Ed Lavarack to take place. If you didn’t know, these two are the ‘heavy weights’ of the Hill Climbing world, and I for one, was more excited to see these two for a few seconds than I was to get back to the car and warm up!



After the final two riders it was time to head back down, sign off and slip away.



I do wonder if many people down in the town wondered what was occurring. Surely the masses of people, all genders and ages in their cycling gear must have been an indication but I don’t think that any of them will have any idea of the community that was gathered all the way up the hill.



If there’s even a small part of you that wants to give it a try, I implore you to do so. Find your local cycling club, find your local hill climb and give it a go, you won’t regret it



The National Hill Climb Championship was by far the highlight of my season and quite possibly the best day I’ve had involving a bike and I can’t wait for next year!



I’d like to say a massive thank you to everyone involved, especially the organisers and sponsors for making it happen, and an equally big congratulations for all the money raised for the Great North Air Ambulance – a truly worthwhile cause.

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