Swain’s Lane is London’s most iconic climb, and 2016 saw the return of the Urban Hill Climb to the road. Organised by Rollapaluza and sponsored by Rapha, this was the first time the event had gone ahead since 2013 and attracted cyclists from across the country to test themselves on the 900m course.
I was one of the relatively early starters, off 24th of the 300-ish riders on the day. Because of this early start (14:44), the visions I had of hoards of rowdy fans ten-deep on each side of the climb roaring me on wasn’t quite the reality. As it was, there was a scattering of spectators across the course and a couple of larger groups outside the cemetery gates and towards the end of the steep section who still provided plenty of encouragement as the struggle became increasingly real.
The 1m56s it took me to complete the climb was everything I expected it to be. I went out hard but tried to avoid going flat out in the first 300m. Looked down and saw my HR was already well above 180 by this point. Uhoh. Knuckled down and tried to get up the steep part as quick as possible, and then with the finish line in view and my HR up at 190 I put everything I had into getting to the line as fast as possible. You need to be able to give the steep section full welly, this is definitely where you’ll gain and/or lose most time. I rolled over the line, lay on the floor for 5 minutes struggling to breathe, move and think and eventually peeled myself off the tarmac and staggered around for a while. Totally broken. Writing this 3 days later my breathing still isn’t 100%, not sure if it’s just in-vogue but can definitely see how exercise-induced asthma could be a thing.
Semi-recovered from my effort, we went back onto the climb to watch everyone else’s misery. By this point all the early starters had made their way back onto the climb to spectate and there was a proper wall of noise coming up the steep, walled section of the climb. Cow bells, air horns and loud voices contributed to a great atmosphere up the climb, and with riders starting at 30s intervals there was a constant stream of entertainment.
As well as men’s and women’s categories, there were also six cargo bike riders vying for the top spot in their class. Their 25kg came in the form of a young girl armed with a water pistol which added some bonus entertainment to proceedings.
The eventual winner, Isaac Mundy from Oxford Uni, churned out an absurd 706 watts for 1m21s on his ascent which is in a different universe to my abilities at the moment, but it’s great to be able to ride among some of the strongest riders around at events like this.
Hopefully the success of the 2016 edition will pave the way for this event becoming an annual fixture again with even more riders and spectators.