Friday 29 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 4): Frances Owen on the National Hill Climb Championships

Having a field of over 70 senior women at the National Hill Climb Championships at Winnats Pass, in the Peak District this Sunday, will be a momentous occasion - even more so given that the last time Winnats Pass was the venue for the National Hill Climbing Championships, in 1977, women's hill climb races didn't exist. 

I have been speaking to different women who will be competing at the event, and there is a real mix of riders. Some are elite experienced, sponsored riders, while others are newbie racers with a local club, no sponsorship. Frances Owen is the latter. In this, her first full year of racing, Frances has found that she has a talent for time trials and hill climbing, and is pretty excited about taking part in her first National Championships.

Photo credit: Dave Doohan

"Steep, straight and consistently brutal - Winnats is a power climb....and a beautiful one at that. I couldn't be more excited to revisit it on Sunday!

I did my first hill climb last year [at Longstone Edge, Peak District], and was super excited for Streatley,  but then Wales went into full lockdown and my hopes of attending the Nationals were quickly ended!

I’ve been racing since April this year, completing my first “season” of time trialling, riding for my local club - Fibrax Wrexham Roads Club. It’s been surreal, I got a little bit excited at finding out I wasn't totally rubbish and I raced pretty much every weekend over the Summer. I am quite proud of what I’ve achieved - I came 5th in the National 100, 8th in the National 25 and 2nd in the BBAR (Best British All Rounder), posting a time just 7 seconds off the 100 mile competition record last month whilst making my best attempts.

Knowing I’d be feeling the fatigue by Autumn, I told myself the hill climbs would be a ‘bonus’ at the end of the time trial season, and not to focus on them too much or worry about results, and so I’ve been looking forward to the hill climb season all year! I live in North Wales, with monster climbs right on my doorstep that make Winnats seem easy! As an out of the saddle ‘mauler’, for me, the steeper the better - Winnats will just about do!

In terms of training, I don’t have a coach - I do my research, set my own sessions and stick to them pretty well, but I like the flexibility of being able to move stuff around life, weather and crucially, how I feel. It's very much a trial-and-error process but I think it’s worked out so far this year! Since switching from time trial to hill climb training mid-September, my training has become either very very hard, short intervals, or very very easy recovery. I love this sort of training - you are so focused on the interval you are in, and every session feels like a major success when you finish!

I love seeing everyone’s dedicated hill climb bikes, but I am admittedly just a little bit jealous! I’ll be riding my summer road bike - a Cervelo R5. I'll swap out my saddle for a cheap carbon one, and put lighter tyres/tubes on the stock DTSWISS 1450 wheels, but that’s it. It’s a very nice bike, incredibly stiff, with Dura ace, di2... but it weighs in at 6.8kg. I know that is some 2kg more than some bikes, but I don't want to tinker with it too much, and I’m not sponsored or supported, so without spending thousands, it would be pretty hard to knock any weight off! 

Frances racing up The Struggle (photo: Ellen Isherwood)
Plus, at 59kg, physically I don't consider myself a hill climber! I could probably afford to lose the kilos off my butt before justifying spending more money! 

I see body weight as something to experiment with, and reckon it will take a few years to find my ideal race weight. Sitting around 63kg most the Summer seemed to give me the numbers for the TTs. I’ve obviously lost what I reasonably can for the hill climbs, but I don't want to sacrifice power.

I’ve had a couple of wins on the hills this year - Great Dun Fell, Riber, Bank Road, and my club's host event, the Horseshoe Pass. The other hill climbs have been 2nds (and one 3rd) behind hill climb legends Rebecca [Richardson], Mary [Wilkinson] and Joanna [Blackburn]. 

I don’t know how I’ve ended up ranked in the top 10 on Spindata, and in reality, I don’t have such a high expectation for the Nationals, as there are many strong unranked women. If I can try my best, and put in a good ride, I will be happy whatever the outcome! 

Sunday is going to be so much fun - I fully expect the crowds to be wild and I am so excited to see what the women at the pointy end can do - I think it could go any way! It's this growing community that makes hill climbing special. 

One of my most rewarding moments this year was not a race I was in, but one I went to watch. I coach children's cycling for my club and one of my Go-Ride girls set off up the Burway [Shropshire] in her first hill climb, at just 10 years old, and absolutely smashed it. This kind of support has been more than returned, and I hope that I can do everyone proud on Sunday. Good luck everyone - see you on the hill!"

[Frances sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.27am on Sunday 31st October]

Related posts

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

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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