Saturday 30 October 2021

Winning on Winnats (Part 7): Maddie Heywood on the National Hill Climb Championships

On the eve of the National Hill Climb Championships at Winnats Pass we hear from Maddie Heywood (Team Watto), who is now doing her third Nationals and has steadily climbed in the rankings each time. She went from 16th on Haytor Vale (2019) to 7th on Streatley Hill (2020). Maybe tomorrow could see the Londoner end up on the podium.

Maddie at the 2020 Nationals on Streatley Hill (photo: Tim Phillips) 

"I feel so lucky in the UK that we have such an incredible hill climb community. This year, being a part of the UK hill climbing season, making new friends and having friendly chats on start lines and finish lines I have really grown to love not just attacking hills, but the entirety of the event. Being around like-minded individuals and being able to share our passion for brutality and also the desire for shiny light bike parts has given me a new lease of life.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am very competitive and a strong lover of hills. I particularly like steep ones (as that’s what I am good at), with minimum flat bits, so I am very excited about the hill being on Winnats Pass this year.

What I am less excited about is the never-ending cold I picked up during my triple hill climb weekend: double header (Chippenham and Severn) [Bowden Hill and Hinton Hill respectively] on Saturday, followed by Monsal Head on Sunday.

I had a go at the Nationals back in 2019 up Haytor Vale. I learned a lot from this race, such as to sort mechanicals out before the day of the race as I was stuck in the small ring on my road bike which wasn’t ideal for such a varying hill. I also later learned that a 2-hour ride to the start and smashing up the long hill as a warmup wasn’t the best prep. 

Last year at Streatley I learned a few more lessons such as don’t try new wheels on race day (wheelspin galore) and don’t try rollers for the first time on overgrown grass.

In terms of actual climbs – I think I am very suited to Winnats Pass as you have more time in vo2 max territory and I also do better on steep sections of hills as I am a ‘true’ climber and, for now, quite under optimised on the flat. Haytor Vale felt more like a time trial effort than a hill climb, and Streatley was great but a little on the short side of things for me.

This season I signed up for a hill climb training plan with Becky Hair and Natalie Creswick. This included turbo sessions, strength and conditioning, and webinars on race prep and confidence etc. I have absolutely loved being a part of this. 

The way Becky and Natalie have helped us prepare mentally for the race has been incredible, including using mantras, and planning for the things you can control on race day and fully documenting those things you can’t control and trying to find some peace with that. Anyway, I won’t give away any more of their amazing tips but it has been incredible to have their support at this time.

I have also been coached by my partner Daryl Maffey, who has used the sessions created by Natalie and Becky as a base and adapted these, structuring them around my menstrual cycle. He ensures I get sufficient rest to shift enough fatigue after my first season of road and crit racing for the new ladies’ team (Team Watto-LDN) and obtained my Cat 2 license in July.

But oh my, the competition is fiercer than ever! This year we see the reigning National Champion Bithja Jones go up against Mary Wilkinson who favours slightly longer hills. Rivalling those two is Illi Gardner who has also been taking course records by huge margins this season and absolutely stunning competitors and spectators. Rebecca Richardson is also on the startlist, so it is going to be quite a battle for the podium.

Joanna Blackburn and Frances Owen, both incredible time trialists and quite new to hill climbs have absolutely owned this season. Then there is Becky Hair and Jessica Evans who I am somewhat evenly matched to. Jamie-Lee Wright has also taken some incredible course records this season in Guernsey and is one to watch.

This season has seen fewer women’s entrants in hill climb races overall, due to the road race season being extended which has been a bit of a shame. However, year on year, it is amazing to see the attitude to women’s cycling improve with equal prize money becoming the norm. 

I know most people that sign up to hill climbs don’t do it for the money but it’s the impression it gives, and I am excited to see the day when it is equal in all aspects of women’s racing. I really think hill climbing has led the way here."

[Maddie sets off from the cattle grid near Speedwell Cavern at 10.26:30 seconds am on Sunday 31st October] 

Related posts

Winning on Winnats (Part 6): Illi Gardner and Vikki Filsell on the National Hill Climb Championships

Winning on Winnats (Part 5): Becky Hair on the National Hill Climb Championships

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

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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