The Monsal Head Hill Climb

Way back in the beginning, cycling started off as something to do on a long, hot summer’s day. I remember adventurously going out for a very gentle spin on a clear, crisp winter’s day dressed as all beginners are – completely inappropriately. It ended with tears in the shower after nearly freezing to death and vowing never to ride my bike at such a silly time of year. 

Since then I have learned how to dress appropriately (in terms of temperature regulation at least) although nothing that I have found sufficiently protects me from getting the pain of icy wind blasted feet. I now really enjoy riding my bike all year round. You cannot beat the feeling of being wrapped up warmly and enjoying the way that the winter sunlight creates white rays that dissect the leafless, tree lined tunnels whilst spinning along on a club run. Through joining my local club and learning about the cycling calendar it was revealed to me how cycling changes through the year. One curiosity of the seasons of cycling is the Autumn tradition of the hill climb.  All clubs have them, often on the same hill that has been used for generations and they always happen sometime between the leaves beginning to turn orange and the trees being completely bare.

My first ever cycling event was the club hill climb. No fancy equipment or training is required, the ride out is your warm up and warm down and it’s a nice day out. Just a few minutes of effort for a few pounds entry and the reward of having ridden my very first ‘real race’. At the time I thought I’d slogged my guts out – pushed my self to the limit – really emptied the tank and was pleased with my time. In truth, it was early days, compared to what I now know about bike racing I was barely trying.

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A couple of months ago I was out for a drink in Derbyshire with my lovely girlfriend and saw a poster for the Monsal Head Hill Climb. It is now in it’s 85th edition and is a very prestigious event. The hill is steep but pretty short by cycling standards and the record stands at still less than one and a half minutes. I’d seen the pictures plenty of times, there are always large crowds lining the road, an enthusiastic commentator blaring encouragement over the PA system and a classic peak district pub at the top. I’d always wanted to have a go at it so whilst I was filling in the entry form I realised the my best results from past races were rapidly becoming out of date. This would probably be the only chance I’d get to ride the famous event. This would be just the encouragement I’d need to get back on the bike (checking my Strava account revealed that I’d only been on two bike rides in the last six weeks) and retrieve some emergency fitness. So I entered, gave my self a few weeks to start training again but assumed my meager results would not earn me an entry anyway.

Well I got an E-mail a week before telling me I had a ride. The hill is apparently suitable for fixed gear riding which was perfect – I had just the bike. Some miscalculations and a little bit of reckless abandon led to me being at the bottom of the valley, five minutes from my start time with a 46×17 gear. I told myself that I like to ride slightly over geared so I’d be fine. I could hear the crowd at the top cheering at roughly one minute intervals as the riders appeared into view.   When I finally got into the view of the crowd I heard less cheers but initially shocked and then sympathetic “oooooos”. Indeed you can see some people laughing at my rather embarrassing effort. I felt more like I was drowning than anything. I did get to the top, wasn’t last, and didn’t die.

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The event is spectacular. There were so many competitors and triple the number of spectators. An excellent atmosphere in a wonderful setting. I really recommend that anyone who can tolerate a two minute effort has a go. I’d suggest bringing the appropriate gearing though.

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The Monsal Head Hill Climb is open entry. Entry costs £9 but you will need some kind of racing results to qualify.

All well established clubs run time trials and I would say they are they best way to have a go at racing. The majority are ten miles and run during summer evenings. Lots of clubs also run hill climbs. An easy way to find a local club is here

Club time trials cost around £4 but come with a warning. They are very addictive.

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