Inspired by Isadore Apparel’s #ThisIsMyClimb I got to thinking about my favourite hill. At 82 kg (on a good day) or a shade under 13 stone (181 lbs for our US friends) the words ‘hill’ and ‘favourite’ are not terms you will usually find me using in the same sentence. If Conquista had a hashtag for climbing it might be something more like #ThisIsMySmallHillThatIhateLessThanOthers or perhaps #RailwayBridgesIcanGetOverWithoutBeingDropped.
Over the years I’ve made a point of travelling to some of the most famous mountain climbs in the world. I’ve tackled most of the TdF Alpine ascents, a few in the Pyrenees, the Giant of Provence itself, Mont Ventoux. There are a few Swiss monsters too I’ve managed to conquer. Various trips to Italy and seen the Stelvio and Gavia passes and even a few little lumps in Adelaide at the Tour Down Under. The conclusion I’ve reached is that climbing is not really my thing. I mean it’s ok, if you are just tapping along enjoying the view. But no matter what I try, I don’t go uphill fast.
There is a bit of a myth amongst the pro peloton that there are no mountains in the UK. Well, there might not be any mighty cols to bag, but the island is far from flat. Rather than 20km long slogs, sprinkled with ramps and switchbacks, we tend to favour the short sharp affair. If anything I prefer the longer more shallow terrain where you can find some sort of rhythm and just grind it out.
There are some hills that I can get over. Well, more lumps than hills. These are the ones that involve a rapid descent immediately before. Gravity is a bitch at times, but momentum can be my ally and with a decent approach I can usually get over “sprinter’s hills” without being gapped. I’m not very popular with the guys I ride with though, because invariably I launch a huge attack on the preceding descent which strings everyone out and totally destroys any group harmony.
The ‘Wooltonberg’ allows something of a run-up, a decent flat road proceeds the narrow ascent. However, a blind 90 degree corner at it’s foot tempers the approach somewhat. Only once have I swooped around the corner at full pelt to be confronted with a car coming the other way. Once was enough to ensure a more cautious approach subsequently. Traffic is very rare on this stretch, due to the fact it’s a dead-end road to cars. We have normally tackled this climb at the end of our regular Saturday Social ride “The BandY”, meaning a sharp left-hander at it’s foot. There is a much more favourable route of attack from the opposite side, which allows greater visibility in case of anything coming down the hill and a slightly more gently right-hand curve. Wooltonberg Rebel Joe Earley has previous for attempting the “wrong entry method”. His actions earned him a Strava KOM which he held until I somehow managed to (correctly) re-calibrate the #Strava segment which just happened to be in my favour. Imagine that.
Woolton Mount (it’s official title) gets it’s nickname (from us) due to the massive cobblestones that populate its full 0.1 km length (perhaps you are beginning to understand a little now why this is my favourite hill). These stones would not be out of place in the Paris-Roubaix or Tour of Flanders. They are massive. And, despite the fact that it must be fifty years or more since any agricultural vehicles had the opportunity to churn-up the surface, the stones are spectacularly misplaced. Or as our mate Alex Nurse eloquently puts it: “Surface is a bit jarg at the bottom towards the far wall”. The entire length of this 100 metre monster is walled on both sides, with trees overhead – meaning it gets little sunshine. The surface is made more hazardous due to it normally being covered in moss and almost permanently damp.
The “Hell of Woolton” – as it is rarely, if ever referred to, climbs an impressive 8 (eight) metres in total. The 7% (seven) gradient is pretty much consistent throughout its entire length.
Although when approaching from the left your momentum naturally takes you towards the right hand side at the bottom of the climb, this route is littered with holes and debris. And in the winter the slippiest of the stones can be found here. Many a time my front wheel has gone from beneath me, and only just been recovered in time – one of those heart-in-mouth moments when you feel certain you are about to hit the deck. A marginally safer and less jaggedy route to the summit lies along the left hand side, and I’d say it’s profitable to take a slightly slower entry to the ascent in order to pick out the better line of attack.
Gear selection is critical, too low and you will spin out before the summit, too large and you will lose crucial momentum. The effort is just 20 seconds, so there is no margin for error, no section to recover on. One mistake and it’s game over – better luck next time buddy.
Towards the top the massive continental style pavé give way to a real hotch-potch of smaller more traditional UK style cobblestone, gravel and dirt. The final 10 metres of this epic ascent level out and you are forced to hit the brakes, otherwise you would crash headlong in to the facing brick wall. In order to continue, a dismount is required and a 90 degree right hand turn, up four shallow steps. To my knowledge no-one has ever attempted a CX style / bunnyhop attack of these steps. Whilst surely massive ‘kudos’ awaits the first to achieve this, none could be so foolish as to attempt it (I’m looking at you Geraint Parry). There is then a flattish 50 metres or so of paved surface, up to the final set of steps, before we are back in more familiar territory and a ‘normal’ road.
So there it is – #ThisIsMyClimb – The Wooltonberg, a hidden gem of Belgianesque beauty and endeavour. 20 seconds of full-gas wobblybobbly uphill effort. The only “mountain” that the official keeper of all cycling records – #Strava – allows me to be the King of.
Check the map below if you want to seek out the segment and have a crack at taking my crown – and good luck…