100 Greatest Cycling Climbs

2010-10-22, , Comments

100 Greatest Cycling Climbs

Standing in the rain on Constitution Hill, Swansea, waiting for the Tour of Britain to arrive, I watched a lanky chap striding up the cobbles. He carried a road sign over his shoulder — a red triangle, a warning. The triangle contained a picture of a slope and the number 100.

The sign carrier was Simon Warren, author of 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs, seizing the chance to advertise his book on what turned out to be the decisive climb of this year’s tour. Later that evening I visited the Tour of Britain website and entered a competition to win the book. Now, a few weeks later, I’m holding a copy in my hands.

It’s a shamelessly straight-up book. 100 climbs: arranged, graded, defeated. Constitution Hill, for example, rates 4/10. Remember though, on this scale, 1/10 means pretty damn tough, and 10/10 means lung-bustingly-knee-wrenchingly-ball-breakingly tough. Porlock Hill — the toughest I’ve ever taken on — weighs in at 9/10. There are harder climbs, oh yes.

The maps are useless, the route descriptions redundant (basically: the road goes up). The pictures are spoiled by the garish triangles slapped across them. It’s not the kind of book you’d imagine enjoying.

100 Greatest Cycling Climbs

I loved it. I read it from cover to cover, climb upon climb, savouring its remorseless rhythm. It’s a celebration of Britain’s hills: “the cyclists’ theaters, our stadia”. It’s a monomaniac’s catalogue, the diary of an obsessive. In the author’s own words:

The super-smooth road heads up straight and steep, first at 20%, then for a short while 25% before easing back into 20% and bending gently to the right. Near the summit comes the hardest section, a left-hand bend ushering in 30 metres of leg-breaking 25% before finally levelling as you enter woods and rumble, stars in your eyes, across a cattle grid to finish.