The British Hill Climb Championships is as close as you’ll get to a continental race atmosphere in the UK – Grand Tour visits apart – with this year’s joust with Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery taking place on Pea Royd Lane, Stocksbridge near Sheffield in South Yorkshire in front of a large, exuberant gallery.
Vocal assistance was much need on this day with competitors having to brave rain and hail squalls.
The original venue was Shelsey Wash in Worcestershire but was changed some four weeks before the big day.
This year’s edition fell to 33 year-old solicitor from Bath, Andrew Feather (BCR Racing); this was his 12th hill climb win this year off 15 starts so it’s fair to say his championship win double underlined his status as Britain’s number one anti-gravity specialist of the moment.
Congratulations, Andrew, coming in to the race you had 11 wins of 14 starts?
“Yes, and in the other three I was second, third and fourth so my season ends on 12 wins off 15 starts.”
The venue was changed not too long before the event took place, did that cause you any upset?
“I suppose it would have been better for me if it had been on the original choice, it’s closer to home and I wouldn’t have had to stay in a hotel but the organisers tried to replicate the original venue as best as possible in terms of length and grade.
“It was a really steep, short, sharp climb at 860 yards with a 14% average.
“The grade changes made it a tough climb; it was steep up to the bridge then there’s a false flat and it kicks again after that – a difficult climb to find a rhythm on.
“I’d done a few recce rides on it beforehand – when I was riding other hill climbs in the area I visited the climb on the way home to see what it was all about.”
Tell us about your training/preparation please.
“Most of my training is done commuting to work – that’s a 40 miles round trip per day – and this year I went to the French Alps just before the hill climb season started at the end of August
“I did some of the famous Tour de France climbs and seemed to do quite well comparing myself to other riders on Strava:
“Alpe d’Heuz – 9th out of 81,500 between Adam Yates and Ryder Hesjedal. I did the whole climb in 44 minutes.
“Col de la Colombiere – 1st.
“But the Alpine climbs are very different to the short sharp climbs we have in the UK.”
Last year when we spoke to the winner Dan Evans, he told us that he was very careful with his food coming in to the race.
“I’m not particularly strict, I had ice cream and chocolate brownie the Saturday night before the Nationals on Sunday.
“I keep to normal diet and had a decent breakfast pre-race; life’s too short.
“That said I was four kilos lighter than last year, 67 down to 63 kilos and that made a big difference.
“In hill climbing your power to weight ratio is key.”
And you were an elite road rider previously?
“I raced for Saint Piran, the Cornish team, and held an Elite licence between 2014-2017.
“I finished road racing in 2017 but decided to do the hill climb season properly in 2018.
I found that the road races in my area were too flat, I actually used to race in Scotland (places like Ballater and Stirling) quite a bit because the courses suited me better.
Tell us about the winning bike.
“It’s the new Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi Mod, weight 5.8 kilos, I run a single 44 tooth chainring with 11 to 28 on the rear.
“I have specialist hill climbing wheels by Hunt wheels. [a pair are sub one kilo and only for riders up to 78 kg. ed.]
“I didn’t bother taking the bar tape off to save 30 grams.
“I ran SRAM Red Etap on the bike; I changed gear maybe five or six times.
“The bike I used for the Nationals last year (2017) was considerably heavier – just under 8 kilos; the new lightweight machine made a really big difference.”
Tell us about your pacing strategy for the Nationals.
“I made sure I didn’t start too hard and immediately go into the red.
“It’s a difficult climb to gauge as it’s very short with changes in gradient.
“A hill climb cannot be won in the first 200 metres, but it can be lost.
“The crowd carries you through at the end – it was a fantastic atmosphere.
“You need to control your adrenaline – try to remain calm and focused throughout.
“Any panicking or gripping the handlebars too hard is wasted energy.”
How was your recovery from the effort?
“Not too bad, there are folk at the top to ‘catch’ you and I was OK after a minute or two – it was cold up there though.
“I had no ill-effects next day.”
What’s still on the Andrew Feather ‘to do’ list?
“Next year will definitely be another year of hill climbing.
“It’s not been confirmed but I’ve heard that the championship will be in the south west on a longer climb, away from the short, sharp climbs of recent years.”
With thanks to Andrew – will we be talking to him next autumn as champion for a second year?
If his 2019 form replicates his 2018 season he’ll be hard to bet against.