Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Pilgrimage

There is definitely a hint of spring in the air. It's still cold, but nothing like the ice and snow of a few weeks ago. So today, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the only climb anywhere near where I live that comes close to reproducing some of the feel of an Alpine col.

The climb up from West Dean village to the top of West Dean hill has lots of the characteristics found in the Alps. It's just a lot shorter. It's over 20 miles from where I live, so there is plenty of opportunity to warm up, and plenty of shorter climbs on the way to keep things interesting.

Leaving West Dean, the road kicks up for a short distance, hitting 8% or so before flattening out at a road junction. Turning onto the hill, the gradient starts out at a fairly comfortable 5 or 6% for a kilometer or so, until a hairpin is reached, leading onto a ramp of about 0.5 km. At this point the road kicks immediately up to 10% and stays there for a while, before gradually steepening, reaching 14% for the last third or so. As the gradient eases at the top, the road swings left before plunging down the far side. Reaching the top, I turned round and headed back. The round trip is nearly 45 miles, quite enough for an early season ride. It's a great climb, though.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Finding Climbs

We're well into 2015 now. The days are starting to lengthen significantly, and thoughts are turning to the summer. We're going back to the Alps again this year, with a new set of climbs to try.

One of the difficulties in preparing for Alpine climbs is in finding anything comparable in the South of England. The best I've found so far, near where I live, is on a 40 mile loop. There are couple of sections on this ride that provide significantly long climbs, albeit at moderate overall gradients.

The frst starts in the village of Easton, just to the east of Winchester. A short steep climb leads out of the village onto the top of the downs, then flattens for a while before ramping up again to the top of Cheesefoot Head. In the 7km or so the total height gain is only around 150m, but Cheesefoot Head is a decent climb that is a good work out if taken at reasoable speed.

The second climb starts in the village of Ovington, just to the west of Alresford. Alresford is a pretty market town that is one end of the Watercress line, a preserved steam railway. A short, steep ramp leads away from Ovington, and, after a brief drop, a gentle climb leads into Alresford itself. Once through Alresford, which can resemble a car park on weekends and holidays, the climb to Bighton is moderate, with some steeper sections. From Bighton, the climb steepens for a while, before a short respite. Just before the village of Medstead, the climb steepens once again, hitting 10%, a sting in the tail before reaching the top in the village itself.

Neither of these climbs is anything like Alpe d'Huez or the Col du Galibier, of course. But it is possible to get some level of preparation by riding them in a gear that is slightly higher than optimal, rehearsing the kind of low cadence, high torque effort that is needed when you run out of gears in the mountains