National Hill Climb Championship 2001

Sunday 28th October

Promoted by Wrexham Road Club on Y Bwlch, Denbighshire

Team Champions 2001 - Rob English, Matt Sewell, Jim Henderson The 2001 championship was in the Liverpool District, which includes all of North Wales. The plan had been to use the Horseshoe Pass climb near Llangollen as in 1971 and 1981 but a landslide in autumn 2000 left temporary traffic lights on the Horseshoe, so the climb of the New Bwlch (pronounced Bulk; Welsh for Pass) near Ruthin was used instead.
In contrast to the adjacent and very challenging Bwlch Penbarras climb, at 1.9 miles long but with gradients no more severe than 10%, the Bwlch was the easiest championship course that I had ever ridden on. This led to speculation about whether the course would favour a roadman rather than a hill climb specialist (like me), but I don't agree with this argument. Even on this relatively shallow climb, over 70% of your power will be spent lifting your weight upwards so the winner would still need a very good power to weight ratio.
The course started in Llanbedr-Dyffryn-Clwyd and climbed 187 metres on the A494 road to finish just before the Clwyd Gate hotel. The course had a few long sweeping bends but the gradient was almost constant. Unlike in recent years the road was open to all traffic so the spectators were pushed off the road and onto the verges. Several of the faster competitors had difficulty when overtaking slower riders who had a line of cars behind them, but not by enough to affect the result.
National Hill Climb Course 2001 - Y Bwlch There were 115 riders on the start sheet and the weather was fine and sunny for the whole event, with no wind. Tom Anderson had won the silver medal the previous year and for some people was the favourite after a season racing professionally in Italy. Sure enough he did a superb time - I had said beforehand that only the winner would be able to get inside 7 minutes - and I only found out what he had done when I was waiting for my start with the timekeeper.
It was too late by then for worrying so I just got on with my ride. I had chosen a gear that would be comfortable to sit down and keep the pedals spinning because the climb was so long. I started steadily and gradually upped the pace - a time check half way up had me ten seconds behind Tom, but by three-quarters distance where Peter Graham (three times champion in the fifties and sixties) was standing I was nearly level. The only really difficult part was putting in a big effort for the final 90 seconds or so, but riding the low gear meant that my legs were still feeling fresh. I didn't panic when a tractor pulled out in front of me, and I finished with six seconds in hand over Tom. As usual I felt quite sick at the end but it soon passed and the ride back down the hill past all the spectators making their way back down for the presentation was pretty sweet!
Just as satisfying as winning the individual championship was Southport Cycling Club also taking the team prize. Unlike the last two years when I had ridden every event on my own, for 2001 I had strong team support. Southport CC is no stranger to hill climbing, (John Parker won on Winnats Pass in 1976) but had never before won the team championship.
Matt Sewell had raced as an Elite roadman all year, straight through from February when he had returned from a winter of training in Australia. By the time of the Championship he had already won the Wrexham Road Club hill climb on the north side of the Horseshoe Pass. Even though he was an early starter, the crowd of supporters we had brought with us were already in position to cheer him on. He led the race for ten minutes and his time was eventually good enough for 13th place. This was Matt's best ride in a Championship, improving on his previous best of 14th in 1995 (when he beat me by one place).
Rob English was new to the club, having spent a year working in America for a company who made recumbent bikes. A former World Champion on a recumbent, Rob has also raced with an Elite licence on conventional bikes. His best performance in the championship was 9th on the Rake in 1999. In 2001 Rob won the 41-minute Mount Greylock hill climb before leaving the States, and the Streatley and Burrington Coombe events on his return. At the Rake two weeks before the National, I had won and Rob came second so hopes were high of a good ride. He didn't disappoint and finished 18th despite being more suited to shorter, steeper climbs than the Bwlch.

The 2001 top ten

Pos. No. Name Team Time
1 115 Jim Henderson Southport C.C. 6-45.2
2 60 Tom Anderson Holme Valley Wheelers 6-51.4
3 110 Chris Myhill Chesterfield Coureurs 7-14.7
4 100 Ian Stott Blackburn & District C.T.C. 7-15.9
5 40 Rick Clough A.B.C. Centreville 7-20.2
6 67 Paul Watson Loughborough Students C.C. 7-22.4
7 72 Rory Wyley 7-23.1
8 105 Carl Helliwell Blackburn & District C.T.C. 7-25.1
9 17 Steve Feeney Leigh Premier R.C. 7-26.8
10 90 Dave Ebbrell Blackburn & District C.T.C. 7-26.9
Team: Southport C.C. 21-57.0; Henderson, Matt Sewell (7-31.3), Rob English (7-40.5)
Course: START at the northern end of lay-by on A494 in Llanbedr-Dyffrn-Clwyd approximately 100m before its junction with B5429. Proceed in a northerly direction along A494 for approximately 2.1 miles and FINISH adjacent to the forestry entrance gate just before the lower entrance to the Clwyd Gate Inn car park.
Length 3067 metres
Height gain 188 metres
Winner average power 422 W

Y Bwlch Course Profile

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