National Hill Climb Championship 1999

Sunday 31st October

Promoted by Lancashire Road Club on The Rake, Ramsbottom

Been there; got the hat, jersey and medal The 1999 championship was the Lancashire Road Club hill climb up the Rake in Ramsbottom. It was billed as the World's Richest Bike Race thanks to generous sponsorship from Lepp's jewellers in Bury who had offered a Rolex watch every year for breaking the course record.
The course is a short one at only 875 metres, but what it lacks in length it more than makes up for in steepness, with a long section near the end with a gradient reaching 25%. It runs on residential roads from the centre of the town and the combination of riders moving very slowly, a closed road (every year, not just for the national championship), and being close to lots of big towns means that it always attracts a good crowd.
Jeff Wright was the expert on the Rake, having set the course record on three separate occasions so I thought that the only way to beat him would be after very thorough preparation. Going to Dover's Hill three times last year had worked well, so I went one better for 1999 - my ride in the 1999 championship was on my fourth visit to the hill (and thirteenth ride up the climb). I also made an effort to ride more of the shorter events, so did Monsal Head for the first time (1 minute 26 seconds), and made the trip to the south of London for the Catford and Bec hill climbs (1:52 and 1:49 respectively). Event poster
The championship was on Halloween and was cold but dry. There was a very slight headwind but otherwise conditions were fine. The organiser, Peter Graham (himself a three-times champion and former Rake record holder), was so concerned that riders would have problems slipping on fallen leaves that he arranged for Bury Council to come and clean the road the day before. This championship was the first that allowed reserve riders, so altogether there were 130 riders on the start sheet.
National Hill Climb Course 1999 - The Rake This was my fourth competitive outing at the Rake so I knew what to expect. You have to tread a fine line in the first 300 metres, where the gradient is about 12%, between getting quickly up to speed and going so hard that you can't sustain it further on. The middle third is the easiest at 8% so riding on a fixed wheel you can sit in the saddle and get the gear turning nice and quickly. This gives you about 30 seconds to prepare yourself for the last 300 metres, which averages about 20%. Here the surface is also very uneven but you have the consolation of the crowd being the loudest here. Just when you are ready to keel over, the course ends with about 30 metres that is almost flat so there is scope for losing lots of time if you don't keep going right to the finish line..
I had convinced myself that if I was ever going to get the course record, I should use the same gear that Jeff Wright had set the record with, 42x19. This didn't allow for my preference for lower gears, or that Jeff had been riding 180mm cranks, and sure enough when I got to the steep section I felt extremely overgeared. There had been no time checks along the course so I didn't know how I was going, but as I laboured near the top I was telling myself to get a move on because it felt like I was going to come about 5th, certainly not a winning ride.
The benefit of being last man off on a closed road event is that when you finish you can lie in the road without being run over, and this is what I was doing when Rob English broke the astonishing (to me) news that I had won. Overgeared or not, 2-22.2 was my best time on the Rake, while Jeff Wright was some way off his Rolex-winning form five seconds behind. Richard Taylor had led for over an hour but ended the day with a bronze medal, six seconds further back.
Although I was a long way off the course record (more than 8 seconds) and yet again the Rolex wasn't to be mine, Lepp's did give me a very nice Tudor watch instead. I was also given a very nice national champion's jersey that I wore all afternoon in the Shoulder of Mutton pub at the top of the hill. And that was the end of 1999, a disappointing year on the road despite having an elite licence and being very well looked-after in the Terry Wright Cycles Raleigh Racing Team, but a good hill climb season with eleven wins from twelve starts.

The 1999 top ten

Pos. No. Name Team Time
1 120 Jim Henderson Terry Wright Cycles Raleigh R.T. 2-22.2
2 115 Jeff Wright Team Travelwise 2-27.2
3 45 Richard Taylor Chesterfield Coureurs 2-33.9
4 105 Tom Anderson Holme Valley Wheelers 2-35.3
5= 15 Dave Ebbrell Blackburn & District C.T.C. 2-38.1
5= 85 Richard Binks Huddersfield R.C. 2-38.1
7 110 Gary Baker Team Angliasport 2-38.6
8 90 Mark Lovatt Pro Vision Planet X 2-38.7
9 65 Rob English Cambridge University C.C. 2-38.9
10 100 Brian Green Oldham Century C.C. 2-39.6
Team: Blackburn & District C.T.C. 8-08.4; Ebbrell, Carl Helliwell (2-44.5), Ian Stott (2-45.8)
Course: START at lamp post No. 3 outside the public library in Carr Street, Ramsbottom. Proceed via Carr Street, Tanners Street, Rawson's Rake and The Rake to FINISH at the lamp post opposite Exeter Cottage, Chapel Lane, Holcombe Brook approximately 120 yards before the junction with Helmshore Road.
Length 875 metres
Height gain 98 metres
Winner average power 530 W

The Rake Course Profile

Return to Hill Climbs page