Gecko Power | Images kindly shared by Justin McKie
“Swains laps (five at a time) at least once a week for about a month and half before the event. Then I stayed out until about 4am the night before. I find getting that balance between dedicated training and lack of sleep to be crucial.” – Captain Caveman
Swains Lane are two words that have the power to stop any conversation. I’m pretty sure if you were to try it now, you’d see the words work their magic. Deep in the heart of London’s N6 back streets, behind the hip coffee shops, rising up by Highgate Cemetery, sits this brute of a climb.
With gradients rising up to 18%+ over 600 metres, a select few can race it in under 1 minute 30 seconds. Because of this, club rides usually factor Swains into the schedule, or avoid it altogether. It comes as no surprise that this unassuming patch has gained notoriety and fans the world over. So much so that an organised Urban Hill Climb (UHC) event takes place each year. Unfortunately, due to flooding in 2013, yeah, flooding on a hill, can you believe it, racing it has been postponed. Three years later and it’s back, and with it, a whole load of riders itching to battle it out: women, men, youth, vets and cargo – everyone’s at it. And so are we.
We take a look at the 2016 event: talk with contestants, share some moments, and where better to start than outside the square window.
How’s it looking, Captain?
“It’s frankly pouring. So, efforts are going to need to be in the saddle, even this afternoon.”
Through the bright window
“…about an hour before the first of the Baroudeurs to go…Bonne chance.”
Welcome to the party
Like a secret garden party, it’s not till you turn into the local neighbourhood that you find yourself amongst the festival. From locals perched outside their windows, to families walking up and ringing their cow bells, this grey day is lifted by so much colour.
Liquid refreshments are free
We let our players do the talking. Here’s what Gecko, Captain Caveman and Geee have to say:
What motivates you to race on such a crazy climb?
Gecko: Having ridden it so many times as my local training spot, I’m thinking it would be good to do it with all these people and the crowds cheering you on.
Capt. Caveman: Enlightenment.
Geee: I did it because I did it five years ago and loved and hated it.
What do you hope to get out from the race?
Gecko: I like the idea of competing against everyone else. I quite like attacking, the climbing and the pain that comes with it.
Capt. Caveman: A killer time.
Geee: I wanted to see if age had taken my edge.
What did you do to prepare?
Gecko: Nothing in particular. I focused on my fitness from March to September and am relying on my power to get me up there. I’m not a superstitious rider, but I’m taking everything off the bike to be as light as possible.
Capt. Caveman: Swains laps (five at a time) at least once a week for about a month and half before the event. Then I stayed out until about 4am the night before. I find getting that balance between dedicated training and lack of sleep to be crucial.
Geee: Preparation was, um, riding to Paris.
Splinter and Disco
What was the experience like?
Gecko: What stuck out the most were crowds – they’re really good. The ride itself is pretty horrid and when you do finish you’re pretty thankful. It’s also quite nerve-racking, even though it’s still the same place, and you’ve done it hundreds of times.
Same world. Different pain.
Capt. Caveman: Horrible and brilliant. About 30 seconds in I realised I had gone off too hard. There are no real spectators for the first half so by the time I got to the crowd I was deep in the red. I’m talking downtown Moscow circa 1980 red. Ben said that he didn’t get a chance to film because of my sheer speed but I think he deleted the footage as an act of kindness.
Geee: Distubingly good.
There were big crowds on the day. Do you think it does anything for the community?
Gecko: Difficult to see what they get out of it. The local businesses will see a difference, but I can’t help but feel that local residences will be bit inconvenienced.
Capt Caveman: It was good to see lots of clubs out and obviously it feels great for amateurs to get a chance to compete with such a close crowd. It can only be a good thing for the cycling community.
Geee: I also love Highgate and think it’s a fab community event I want to support and the best way to do that is to ride it.
UC IC not EZ
If you could do the climb again, what would you do differently?
Gecko: I’d probably do more training. Go faster. Smash it.
Capt. Caveman: Tell my friend that they are too old to insist I come to a terrible club in Soho until 4 because it’s their birthday, go to bed early, bring a jumper for after, go off slow, remove stuff from my pockets.
Geee: Ride to Paris, twice.
Would you recommend the UHC and will you do it again?
Capt. Caveman: Yes. We should all do it.
Geee: It’s ghastly. I totally recommend it 🙂
Organisers of the Urban Hill Climb, Rolla Paluza, video mashup
Men out of 110 contestants:
- John ‘Captain Caveman’ Connolly, 92nd place at 2mins 07.
- Thomas ‘Gecko’ Mann, 44th place at 1min 45.
- Winner – Isaac Mundy, at 1min 21.
Women out of 24 contestants:
- Debra ‘SmokeZog’ Ogden – DNS (unwell, but trained solid till the very day)
- Winner – Emma Grant, at 1min 48.
Youth out of 11 contestants:
- Winner – Nathan Hunyh, at 1min 31.
Cargo out of 6 contestants:
- Winner – Kris Abraham, at 3mins 10.
Vets out of 48 contestants:
- Paul ‘Geee’ Gathercole, 24th place at 2mins 06.
- Lowell ‘Disco’ Baricanosa, 20th place at 2mins 03.
- Ben ‘Brutalis’ Ackland, 4th place at 1min 45.
- Winner – David Dugdale, at 1min 40.
Thank you to all the members, families and friends who not only made up the day, but support us through every day to get here.