Thursday 28 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 3): Rebecca Richardson on the National Hill Climb Championships

In my mini series on women's thoughts on contesting the National Hill Climb Championships on the iconic Winnats Pass (Peak District) for the first time in history, we focus on Rebecca Richardson. The Brother UK racer has had podium success in the past at the UK Hill Climb Championships, when she was third on Haytor Vale in 2019. Based in mid-Wales, Rebecca was unable to compete in 2020. But this year the reigning Welsh Hill Climb Champion is back, and will see if she could add to her hill climbing palmarès.  

Rebecca at Monsal Head hill climb (photo: Anthony Wood)

"Last year was a bit of a wet blanket because a week before the Nationals the Welsh Government changed its mind about where we could go [because of the Covid pandemic], so being based in mid-Wales I didn't get to race on Streatley Hill.

So I’m pretty excited about the National Championships on Sunday, and pretty relaxed. I know that I’m in the mix in terms of maybe the top 10 hill climbers but this year is competitive. The level’s really gone up. What’s great about the women’s field now is that as it gets bigger you get more specialists. We know in the men’s fields certain riders go better over a short distance, and  some go better over a long climb. In the women’s field we’ve never had that depth and breadth of field in the past, but this year we have. We’re getting some consistent women in the sport, and then when you add in new women we are starting to see this range.

A climb like Mam Nick suits me. It’s about 7.5 minutes long for women. Anything that’s sort of 5-7 minutes or 7-10 minutes is more my cup of tea.

Mam Nick has been my favourite race this season, where I broke the course record. It’s a climb that, for a couple of years my friends had been saying I should go for, and I really wanted the course record off Lizzy Banks. It’s a really beautiful, iconic climb. When I did the hill climb I put in the best 7-minute power. A minute from the end I was numb with my head down, and I was really in a place I’d never been, physically. My sight was blurring – basically all the oxygen from my brain was going! 

I was really glad to get the record, especially after the disappointment at Monsal Head where I had a massive wheel-slip and lost power. I picked back up at the end, and when I got to the top I was like aaargh! With the field of riders there, I thought I wouldn't even get a podium place. So when I found out I was third, it was a surprise. Looking at the pacing on Strava, I was actually ahead of Mary [Wilkinson], when I had the wheel-slip. I was actually in line with Bithja [Jones], so I know my result could have been a lot better. 

Winnats Pass is not my kind of climb. If you talk to people like Bithja, Mary, Illa [Gardner] and Frances Owen they will say that they love anything that’s steep. Well, I’m the total opposite! Everyone who knows me, knows how much I go backwards when it gets really steep. It’s like when I get out of the saddle my body just doesn’t propel forwards like everybody else!

My partner Rick, lives about 30 minutes away from Winnats so we rode it with Lizzy Banks. We did a ride for the Cycling Podcast tech channel, doing a full gas effort about a month and a half ago. We worked out the gearing, and then I went back and did another full gas effort last week, and we’ve changed all of my bike gearing since.

I was back there on Tuesday this week, because I could see that the weather on Tuesday was looking pretty similar to what we’re going to get on Sunday. The thing about Winnats is that it completely changes with the wind. It’s like a gulley which faces the prevailing wind. When it's windy you get down draughts which are really really gusty. 

On Tuesday we had 28mph South-Westerly gusts and in the gorge in Winnats, on the actual climb, I had to get off my bike. I couldn’t physically ride up it because it was so scary. I had to walk down and my bike was getting pulled out of my arms by the wind. It was flying in the air like a kite! Then a walker in front of me fell over from the wind. 

If the weather is like that on Sunday it’s going to be really interesting. It will be just a case of who can actually get up it. I said that I don’t think I’m a contender but if the weather is anything like Tuesday, I think the advantage of being able to stay in the saddle will make the difference. So I’m going in prepared for the worst, basically. I'd rather have attritional conditions, as that might give me a chance!

In terms of bike set-up I’ve got a really special bike which was created by my partner and his business partner. They have a company called DreamBuild, and have a You Tube channel where they film dream builds – pro bikes, latest bike releases, and they work with manufacturers on projects. So my bike is one of their projects. It’s the S-Works Aethos that has string wheels and everything’s been geared towards being really lightweight. It’s their lightest frame and is around 700g. The whole bike is 4.7kg including disc brakes. Maybe it's really the wrong bike for the wind. I think for those conditions you might just want an old winter bike, or even a mountain bike!

Rebecca's S-Works Aethos as featured in Cycling Weekly

I think realistically, based on all my recons at Winnats, I am not going to be on the podium. But in my mind, that won’t be a failure because the success for me is that there are so many women now who are up there, and to be on the podium you have now got to be in top form, and a notch above

It is now like how the men have had to compete for several years. When you see 75 senior women and a full field of junior women – they’re talking about over 100 women - and you can’t even say whether you’re necessarily going to be in the top 10 because there are so many potential top 10 hill climbers, that’s really exciting. 

Even Cycling Weekly magazine recently featured three women hill climbers. They had a story about The Rake, with Mary [Wilkinson] leading the article, a profile on Bithja [Jones], and in the tech section they had my bike. So women’s hill climbing has become so exciting and unpredictable. People are talking about Bithja and Mary, but Illi has beaten Bithja this year. I personally think it will be between Mary and Illi. I think Winnats is too long for Bithja.

I’m really excited for Sunday,  because every time you go up Winnats normally, the traffic is so horrible, and I know the organisers have been working for about two years with the council to get this venue and have closed roads.

This is a unique chance, and because it’s a natural amphitheatre and quite short we’re hopefully going to get some brilliant crowds. They had the Nationals on Bank Road in Matlock in 2016, where I raced in what was my first open hill climb, and the crowds blew my mind; it was like the Tour de France. I can only imagine Winnats is going to be like that." 

[Rebecca sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.28am on Sunday 31st October]

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 2): Mary Wilkinson on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 1): Bithja Jones on the National Hill Climb Championships

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