Winnats Pass: First-Hand Experience

Ian Gallon
Ian Gallon

Racing Committee Member
Ian recants his last-minute call up to the National Hill Climbing Championship in the Peak District

When I heard about the Hill climb being on the Iconic Winnats pass, I thought “wow it has to be done, but will I get in?”. But as the entry was based on Spindata results, only the fastest 150 men would get a ride plus any remaining places not taken up by females and juniors. As Mick Chappel had said to me they can only say “No”, but you’ll get your fee back. Looking at spindata I was in the 2000s.

So, I did Tan Hill climb and my stats improved a quite a bit – a top ten finish but I could have caught hypothermia after the rain fell the finish line. I continued to see my stats fall but I still thought Na! I’ll not get in. There was plenty of discussion on the hill climbing page, about how many places were up for grabs for us older fellas, would the V40’s, V50’s and V60’s be quick enough to race against the fastest men in the land. How many females would enter or juniors. I wont lie, I was hoping only 50 or so would enter, then a 100 or so places would be available for us old geezers to sneak a place. Any how, I continued to race the hill climbs in the hope to complete the BAR and hope the Spin data stats continued to improve. The entry closed and I received the normal emails of entry. But while eating and drinking at Colin Atkinson house (MCC) on a Friday night, an email flashed up on my phone to say I was in the National, Whaat! Shock horror! Col I’m in! Really! Yeah look! Get In! So back to our curries and beers (clearly not hill climb prep or counting our calories). I was later to find out, I was only a reserve and 7th on the list but I was told by a few peeps to book a room as you’ll get a ride and don’t worry, you’ll be racing.

The weekend arrived, no prep or a ride up the pass was done, only Colin’s words of I’m putting a 28 cog on the back, its a ….. of a climb. If he was changing his cassette, I’m gonna need more gears also. I went down early on the morning to ride up the Pass, into a stiff headwind and thought that was tough. At the top I bumped into Sharon D but while chatting the Bladon girls rode up, Angela Mc G was pushing her bike up the hill. The wind blew me and I unclipped, Oh dear I thought, do I need more gears, the reports say 70 mph winds and rain tomorrow. I should’ve put that compact chainset on me thinks!

The next morning (race day) it was pouring down, the weather report was right. Oh dear, that’s our worst fear but I’m hoping the wind report is totally wrong.

The drive to the headquarters was very wet one and the roads were flooded at times but I was hoping the weather would only get better. Anyhow I got my numbers, signed in and got my many freebies. I dropped off my warmer kit into the box for the finish line, looked at the live feed on the screen of the riders finishing up the Pass in the rain and thought well its definitely happening, cow bells were ringing and the rain pouring down. I got my bike out of the car while a lad was putting his back in and I asked what is it like up there? He said wet but the wind is helping you! Champion, I thought!

It was 2 miles to the start but I was very quickly very wet and the nerves were kicking in big style by now. But I still had nearly 40 mins till my start time but the problem was warming up and staying warm as I clearly wasn’t gonna stay dry was my main concern. The closer I got to the Pass, the more the nerves kicked in, the colder I got, the familiar sound of cow bells ringing, the clicking of wheels and then the sound of marshals shouting out numbers to the riders. 2 start tents, left for Evens, right for Odds, 30 secs gaps but then another massive downpour and luckily I sneaked under a bit of roof. T minus 20 mins, 15 then 10, that last hour took forever TBH. The Ladies turned up looking as cold as I felt, Morning, Hi Gemma, Angela, Hi, I’m freezing, me too but its not long now.

Time to strip, dump it on the floor under the shelter. As I was starting in amongst the females, I was wearing the reserve number 360, which was very confusing to see where my starting position was. I looked down and I had forgotten to put the timing chip on the bike! S…. 

Don’t worry mate I was told. OK, Phew.

The rain falls again, but I’m under a marshals umbrella by now. 361 is in my start tent but all I could hear was, Next? 5,4,3,2,1 go, every 30 secs, I’m called 360 come forward, 361 you’re in the wrong side go to the other side, have I got time? Yes! 30 secs, so I roll up with 20 secs to spare, have you the bike? Yes, I clip in, brakes on, garmin started, Deep breaths! I stand up, 10 secs, 5,4,3,2,1…Go!

As soon as I leave the tent the rain seems to have stopped, get in! I got to the 1st bend, trying not to go off too fast but fast enough, I caught a rider but I’m running out of gears already.

The road gets steeper, the cheers, the bells get louder, strange people are shouting and screaming encouragement at you, riders are trying not to get in the way and slipping on their way back down. The legs are hurting, I’ve ran out of gears! God its steep! The road is disappearing in front of me and I’m rapidly catching another rider! Phew! Just enough room to overtake. Then, as the Pass appears to go on forever, it gets even steeper, the crowds grow across the road, Boom! The screams get louder and louder, the rapid clicking of camera shutters, is all I can hear, amongst the cow bells. The Muckle boys are screaming! There’s Ali Mclean in front of me banging a pan with a spoon, Haha! This is mad! A flash of black and yellow (that’ll be NTR Mick and Aidan) Everything is just a blur, a mass of screaming people, keep pushing, don’t dare change gear, the legs are burning and dying, where is this last corner? The Pass is now single file and goes to 23%, more camera clicks, then 1 last push to the line. As I cross the line with nothing left to give, the legs are empty but then a marshal pushes my saddle and off I freewheel to the cattle grid. I slump over the handlebars trying to recover then carefully dump the bike. A nod and a wave to and from Gemma, while hurting, Angela appears through the crowds, I give her a final shout of encouragement as she crosses the line. As the 3 of us cover up and recover, we exchange a few Well done’s and we grab a hug off each other, which just typifies the NE spirit between the clubs in the region.

I walk back down the hill, trying not to slip in my cleats on the gradient! Did I really climb up this hill, I’m thinking. As I soon see the NTR gang, I’m still buzzing, they are still shouting at every rider, draped in flags and ringing bells. Brilliant, fantastic, lush and what a brillaint bunch of NTRs. But there’s Lois, Jonathon and Darren, also get in! I’m so, so proud that they all came down to experience the event with Mick, Aidan, Sharon and Ali. Colin bounced over for a man hug and to exchange a few well done. I’ve shouted a him at 3 other Nationals before so he was over the moon to repay the favour.

As I was starting off later in the race, it meant the hill was totally full of riders and supporters, making it a truly unforgettable experience that ill not forget in a hurry. The fact that so many NTR members and friends got into a car at silly o’clock, then stood in the pouring rain are the true heroes just to cheer on the likes of myself up Winnats Pass.

So thank you #TeamNTR for sharing an Epic day that I’ll never forget, for many reasons, on Winnats Pass.