THE National Hill Climb Championships will return to Winnats Pass in Derbyshire on Sunday for the first time since 1977.
Some 300 competitors will be tackling the 985-yard Peak District climb starting with the junior boys at 8am followed by the junior girls, the senior men and then the women with reigning champion Bithja Jones (Pankhurst Cycles) starting last at 10.30am.
The event is sponsored by Irwin Mitchell Solicitors and promoted by Rutland CC and myHillCycling.co.uk on behalf of the North Midlands District Council.
Winnats Pass has been the venue for the National Hill Climb Championships on 10 previous occasions, the first in 1947 but not since 1977.
The steep and continuous gradient of Winnats becomes slightly steeper further towards the middle with an average gradient of 16% and maximum of 23%.
Last time the event was held on Winnats Pass in 1977 there was no women’s category so the first ‘Queen of Winnats’ will be crowned on Sunday with them starting last.
Reigning women’s champion Bithja Jones, from Reading, will start last in a bid to repeat her success of the last season.
“I’m really excited and a little bit nervous which is always good really,” said Jones.
“I can usually transform my nervous energy into some good rides. I’m very proud to be scratch rider but I think it’s going to be really close.
“The women’s field has stepped up, all of the strong riders in the women’s field have stepped up since last year.
“I’ve been up Winnats three times and every time into a pretty strong headwind. It’s such a funnel that it will be either a headwind or tailwind.
“It’s a great climb, it’s brutal and honest. There’s no hiding or hairpin bends or anything, it’s just steep and quite long.
“I think it suits me because I’m quite good at the power climbs, it’s a little bit long for that but because it’s so steep it suits me.”
Veteran rider Jones will be starting 30 seconds behind rival for the title Mary Wilkinson (Yorkshire Road Club) who finished runner-up last year and has had a stellar season with a host of wins to her name.
Wilkinson showed her form last weekend winning the Halifax Imperial Wheelers’ Ripponden Bank hill climb finishing 25 seconds clear of her nearest challenger.
“The standard of women’s hill climbing has gone through the roof and that’s one of the things that I’m really loving this year is having that real push from every direction so I was gutted when she wasn’t there,” added Wilkinson.
“The nationals are going to be interesting and there’s quite a few people who are going to be in the mix, hopefully I will be one of those.”
It will be a first National Hill Climb Championships for the up-and-coming under-23 rider Illi Gardner (CAMS Racing) who was in dominant form at the University of Bristol CC hill climb last weekend.
Meanwhile, Rebecca Richardson (Team Brother UK) could also provide a challenge after winning on Mam Nick earlier this month.
Further challenges could come from Monica Greenwood (Macclesfield Wheelers), Joanna Blackburn (Team Bottrill) or Frances Owen (Fibrax Wrexham RC) amongst a host of other names.
Spindata predicts that Gardner will take top honours ahead of Wilkinson in second and reigning champion Jones in third.
The men’s competition could not be tighter with a host of challengers headed by reigning champion Andrew Feather (HuntBikeWheels.Com).
Feather finished a single second ahead of Tom Bell (High North Performance) last season and the pair have been trading blows throughout the hill climb season.
Just last weekend Feather beat his rival on the Ripponden Bank hill climb by one second before Bell reversed the result the following day on Nick O’ Pendle winning by three seconds.
“It has been but not much different to last year,” said Feather.
“Both of us were really close last year, it’s just we didn’t race as much against each other last year.
“It will just come down to who has got the legs on the day, who wants it the most and who is in the right mindset.
The Winnats course record stands at three minutes and 11 seconds and was set in 1966 by Pete Greenhalgh.
Despite Feather and Bell being favourites former national champions Adam Kenway (Team Brother UK) and Ed Laverack (Backpedal) will be in close attendance.
Also in fine form this season has been the Team Lifting Gear Products/Cycles In Motion team-mates Andy Nichols and Kieran Wynne-Cattanach.
Spindata predicts that Bell will take victory ahead of Feather with Harvey Weinberger (AS Test Team) in third.
With no recent races on Winnats to compare themselves Feather says anybody could take the title on the 900-metre climb with 170 men starters.
“It’s all well and good people saying it’s a two-horse race but I don’t really agree with that and it could be somebody nobody has ever heard of who puts out a cracking performance,” added Feather.
“I’m going to do my best and it’s pretty tight at the top between a few riders.
“I’m feeling quite positive, I’ve trained well all year and got some good results so I can’t do any more than my best.
“It’s a great climb, really iconic and there should be some good crowds. It has been a long old season traveling up and down the country so I’m looking forward to hopefully finishing the season with a good result.
“I really like the climb, it’s really steep and wind conditions I think if it’s a southerly wind it might be a tailwind on the final stretch which would be good.
“Pacing is going to be key. In the nationals there’s a lot of adrenaline so it’s always tempting to go out at 600 watts and realise you’re not going to be able to sustain it for however long it’d going to be.
“You just have to rein it in for the first minute or so and hopefully it will all come together.”
After winning the National Hill Climb Championship last year the last junior boy starter will be Tom Williams (Webbs 1902 CC).
Williams has not ridden an open hill climb prior to the nationals so his form is unknown.
William Smith (Verulam CC) finished fourth last season but is also yet to ride an open hill climb this term.
Meanwhile, Tomos Pattinson (Halesowen A&CC) is in good form after finishing runner-up in the Welsh Championships and Fibrax Wrexham RC hill climb.
Spindata predicts that Williams will take the win ahead of Smith in second and Pattinson third.
Juvenile Amelia Cebak (Team Milton Keynes) is the final junior girl starter after finishing seventh in last season’s event.
Junior riders Sannah Zaman (Bigfoot CC) and Lilja Raine (Myhillcycling.Co.Uk) are amongst the junior girl competitors.
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