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Preview: British National Hill Climb Championships

Joe Robinson
25 Oct 2017

A look ahead to the National Hill Climb Championships this weekend

This Sunday, 240 riders will be putting themselves through minutes of hell as they race the British National Hill Climb Championships. Hundreds of riders and spectators will descend on the small village of Hedley on the Hill, just west of Newcastle, in Northumberland.

The field of lightweight climbers will tackle the 1.7km hill, hoping to join a list of names such as Chris Boardman and Malcom Elliot as British hill climb champion.

Adam Kenway will be looking to defend his men's title after taking the victory on Bank Road, Derbyshire in 2016 whilst there will be a brand new women's champion with last year's Lou Bates absent from the start list.

Below, Cyclist takes a look at this year's climb, the favourites for the title, the kit they will use and the history of this uniquely British event.

The Hill

Returning to Northumberland for the first time since 2004, this year's British National Hill Climb Championships will take place on Hedley Hill.

At the base of the aptly named village Hedley on the Hill, the climb is 1.7km in length, with a total elevation gain of 128m.

Riders will have to battle against an average gradient of 7.5% with the maximum gradient topping out at a testing 16.9%. 

Although not as steep as years gone by, the riders will still be searching for oxygen as they drag themselves up the climb that has a current Strava KOM and QOM times of 4:09 and 5:29 respectively.

The steepest sections will come in the middle of the climb, with two pitches in gradient after 600m and 1.2km. 

One point of difficulty for riders could be the almost flat section at the top. After having punished their legs on the 17% ramp, riders will have to soon get on top of the bigger gears to race towards the finish.

The Contenders

A second consecutive victory at the infamous Monsal Hill Climb earlier this month has left current men's champion Adam Kenway in good stead to defend his title.

Despite Monsal being only 600m in length, Kenway managed to put two seconds into his closest rival, which is a significant time gap across such a short distance.

One struggle for Kenway may be the lack of steep pitches within this year's climb. Kenway flourished on the 20% gradients of last year's climb, Bank Road, which are not a feature this year.

Starting last, Kenway will have the thankless task of chasing down race favourite Dan Evans. Already with a handful of hill climb victories this year, Evans looks set to take back his title from 2014.

On a similar course to his victory on Pea Royd Lane, Evans will hope to use the constantly varying gradients of Hedley Hill to his advantage, taking his second set of national stripes.

Victory for Evans could be part of a husband and wife double, with his wife Jessica among the favourites for the women's title.

Victory for Jess Evans at the Urban Hill Climb on Swains Lane in North London confirmed her form and will definitely have her in contention for the podium.

Going toe to toe with Evans will be Joscelin Lowden. Lowden has taken five hill climb victories already this season including a few course records, making her one of the favourites for he title.

With defending champion Bates absent, all eyes will be on women's professional and former WorldTour rider Hayley Simmonds.

More accustomed to traditional time trials, Simmonds has previously placed well in the National Hill Climb and will be hoping to improve on her second in 2014.

The Kit

Any hill climb sees the weirdest and most wonderful bike hacks in a desperate attempt to shed any unnecessary weight from the bike.

Thankfully, UCI weight limits do not apply at the hill climb meaning that we are treated to some of the lightest bikes in the world for this single uphill time trial.

Popular trends include turning the chainset into a 1x, chopping the drops of the handlebars and even drilling holes into an already light carbon saddle.

Whilst this may seem like madness, when you consider hill climb victories come down to the finest of margins, it is understandable that riders will go the the nth degree to shed any weight.

The history

Quite simply put the hill climb is a quintessentially British event. Nowhere else in the world will there be such excitement surrounding a group of men and women slowly grinding their way up a single short and steep hill.

Traditionally taking place at the back end of autumn, the National Hill Climb is the culmination of two months of smaller races scattered around the country.

With the first edition taking place during the Second World War, the British National Hill Climb has been a permanent fixture in the calendar since 1944.

The first ever winner was Frank Worthen, who took the title from Vic Clark and Vin Taylor on Brasted Hill, Kent.

Since then a multitude of riders has gone on to dominate periods of the event, with some notable names among the previous victors.

Between 1988 and 1991, long before the wearing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France and smashing the Hour Record, Chris Boardman took four back-to-back victories as an amateur.

Alongside Boardman, multiple Vuelta a Espana stage winner Malcom Elliot also managed a victory.

The record for the most titles falls to Granville Sydney, who managed six titles in 10 years, with his first coming in 1963 and the last in 1973.

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