“I love the suffering of riding up a hill.”
A lot of people will look at me with confusion when I say this, it’s because they don’t quite understand how it’s possible to enjoy hours of pain. I suppose it all boils down to a few things associated with hill climbing. The sense of accomplishment at the summit, the focus your training requires to ride up them and the fact that each of these hills has its own personality. I'm naturally light so hills do suit my physique, but climbs go beyond a genetic predisposition. Every rider shares the same sensations and experiences up a hill, regardless of who you are and what your goal is. That is, in a word, suffering.
There are 5 different categories of hills, identified and created in the 1930’s for the Tour De France. This was so points could be awarded towards getting the polkadot Jersey, therefore people raced to become the ‘King of the Mountain’. The categories start from 4 (easiest) to 1 (hard). Then the final one, the one I enjoy the most, the Hors Catégorie (HC), which translates to ‘beyond categorisation’. For more jovial categories, see the table below.
The Passo Erbe in the Dolomites of Northern Italy, is a great example of why I love hills. We’ve had a very turbulent relationship. The Erbe is 24.8km long, 1400m of ascent and averages at around 6% incline, but ramps up to 16% for large stretches. It is my perfect climb, long, steep and beautiful.
But what is it about a long, steep climb that is so appealing? And why did Erbe and I have such a fractious relationship?
Once you’ve decided to pedal up a hill, for whatever reason. You have to work hard to get there. For me, this involves 4-6 months of progressive building towards the specific demands of the terrain. The Passo Erbe, is super steep in sections and as well as long and you need to be efficient at delivering high power at low cadence. A structured plan that builds the base that allows you to keep going, the targeted efforts in zone 5 to cope with the ramps and all the training in between is needed for you to get there.
The thing I enjoy most about this climb and any climb is the sense of freedom. When it’s just you and your bike, you hear the tyres on the tarmac and your breathing takes centre stage. There’s no one else around and all you think about is getting to the top. The effort is freeing, the time you have to spend to get to the top is freeing. You feel disconnected from everything, it’s just you and the hill.
The hard work required to get up a tough climb is next level. It’s about setting a good honest pace, one you can maintain. You know you’ve over cooked it if your legs are burning within the first 5 minutes. You have to work for every pedal stroke, there is no soft pedaling or easy option. It’s hard graft. With any graft, you get what you put in.
Being in and around nature on a hill is extra special. Each ascent has its own topography which changes and evolves as you work your way up. The Erbe starts with beautiful wooded valleys, idyllic fields and is dotted with old Tyrolean villages and progresses to barron exposed rock. But both are beautiful and give you a narrative and context throughout your ascent. Studies prove that reconnecting with nature resets the mind and body; stress reduction, short term memory improvement, creativity, clarity of vision and improved concentration to name a few. When I get to the top,I feel reset not rested.
On the journey you're constantly playing tricks on yourself, if you don’t break and stay positive, the hill will chew you up and spit you out. I’ve cracked a couple of times on the Erbe, a combination of mental and physical fatigue got the better of me, I wasn’t prepared. So when I had to stop, I felt this self loathing coursing through me. But you can’t be beaten, you need to learn from it. I beat the Erbe, by myself and tagain during the Haute Route. The journey for this hill was 4 years long and there are many like it. It’s not driven by Strava stats or kudos, the desire comes from within and that’s why it feels the best.
All these elements, and so many more, combine to make riding up a hill the best feeling on a bike. I’ve had many happy moments in sport, but nothing compares the hard work, the struggle and the ultimate reward of riding up hills.
If you’re feeling inspired, take a look at the hills that frighten that you might not have contemplated then commit. Target it and start the training, then you let me know how it feels at the top.
I hope you've enjoyed the read, if you have any questions off the back of this, drop me an email email@example.com.
* (Rob's jovial hill categories)
|The local||Chalkpit hill or Swaithes lane (London), these are steep short hills usually found in your Innerfight Endurance local hill climb (TBC), an event where you bury yourself into the darkest pain cave for 3 or so minutes to claim the ‘King of the Mountain’ title. This requires brute strength and power, lightness is advantageous but maximum wattage is the key.|
|The click||Just a short little click, anything up to 15 minutes of climbing, usually found in rolling scenery. It can be a real fear factor for the riders who haven’t experienced bigger mountain ranges. Box Hill in Surrey is a fine example, not really hard, but hard enough to sometimes cause fractures in a peloton or your Sunday social.|
|A hill||Exactly as described, a relatively long hill, nothing short enough to blast up, nor long enough to go through hell and live to tell the tale. Wales has a couple of these and the lower slopes of mountainous regions|
|The Alpine climb||Anything found in an alpine region seems to go on forever. They are at or over 1000m of elevation and take a lot of training to get up.|
|Hors catégorie||These are ones that I enjoy! The really tough ones, beyond categorisation.|