Urban Hill Climb – Swain’s Lane

Today was my first ever hillclimb event and it was pretty much exactly as I expected. Painful.

It is a discipline I’ve never really looked at doing as I’m not the lightest, not the most explosive, nor usually interested in trying to be really fresh for a 2 minute effort (at the expense of other training). However, I signed up as soon as I could because the hillclimb is:

  • prestigious (everyone knows Swain’s Lane)
  • convenient (no need to ride 25miles to get there)
  • competitive (plenty of specialists and plenty of RPR)

In short, there were lots of reasons to have a crack and see what happens.

The climb

The UHC uses Swain’s Lane, but not the entire ‘official’ segment as used by the 100 climbs series. The UHC starts a little bit later and finishes at the end of the cemetery, just before the speed bump. You’d wish it ended sooner though.

swains 2.png

The first half is pretty tame, letting you accelerate up above 20mph (albeit briefly) as the grade sits around 5-6% to the cemetery gates. There is a brief respite before rounding a slight bend to see the road suddenly towering above you, somewhere in the region of 18%. Here the road narrows, the gradient bites and the walls either side seem to close in on you as the most painful section approaches.


For such a varied climb in gradient, pacing was important. Simon Warren suggested the following:

Swains Lane 3.png

For pacing, I looked before at what I was capable of doing for ~1:40-1:50 and it was in the region of 600w. I did 574w for 1:35 on Thursday and that was a couple of hours after a lifetime best 15min effort. I realised to a large extent that pacing isn’t so important, you just have to go mental and hang on.

I had a chat with Didier when I was in the HQ to get some tips from someone who’d ridden the course, did a few reps of Highgate West as a warm-up and then headed to the starting tent. With 30 second gaps between riders the time seems to pass even quicker when waiting to be set off. I could see some other riders shaking as they waited – maybe cold, maybe nervous.. There were a lot of people watching and a hell of a lot of noise coming from the top section. I was a little nervous too… the day before I was pretty run down and could barely pedal on my commute. I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond now in an all out effort. With a lot of people watching.

The ride was over very quickly! I started out hard to get up to speed sitting at 750w for the first 20 seconds or so. This was a little bit hard (I can’t sustain that for 1 minute, let alone to the top) and after a glance at my Garmin, I dropped the power (slightly) for the next 25s or so until I began the steep section.

This bit was awesome as suddenly the crowd was deafening and cameras were flashing everywhere. I wish I had ridden with my GoPro because the experience was the kind that makes your hair stand on end.

Credit: Justin McKie

Any idea of pacing or awareness of speed went out of the window – it was just an all out struggle from here. Once I crested the steepest section, and the climb flattens, I tried to get out of the saddle to  ‘sprint’ the final section. Nothing left in the legs. I almost fell over as I dragged my handlebars to begin rocking out of the saddle but my legs couldn’t keep up. I went back into the saddle and spun my way to the finish, fading at the end.

Swains Lane 3.png

I was done afterwards. Climber’s cough. Basically unable to breathe deep for the rest of the day or I’d break out into a coughing spree. I couldn’t stand for five minutes as my legs wouldn’t support me. I came in 15th overall in 1:35:293, about 4s behind the top guys. And 14s behind the top guy (Isaac Mundy – his time is not a typo), who simply destroyed the race.

After recovering…it was time to have some beers and watch everyone else suffer instead. And see if there were any good pain faces going on…


Results @ StuWeb

Ride on Strava

Thanks for reading.


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