bikebritain News April 19, 2011

Greatest Cycling Climbs No.36 - 'Mow Cop'

It's all in the preparation right? I'm just not getting this part of the cycling equation quite right. Don't get me wrong, I love cycling.....but I love other things too - like drinking and messing about with my friends. Cycling just sort of compliments that. So picture the scene. I'm packing Simon Warren's "Greatest Cycling Climbs" book and I know I'm going 'Up-North'. Should really have a crack at a hill if I'm going all that way........
I hadn't seen 'Jules' for a year or so, a friend I made when I was studying more years ago than I care to remember. It had all the hallmarks of a heavy weekend, and it was exactly as I predicted. In summary; fun and boozy. Still, I had brought my bike and to return home without putting the front wheel on and going for a spin would be defeatist. Besides, I had already identified which hill would be my target. A peak in Staffordshire called 'Mow Cop'.
"Mention Mow Cop to cyclists in the West Midlands and their faces may well turn white with fear."
It spelt trouble. What bothered me most was that it was rated by Simon as a 9/10 hill and Porlock was only, actually I've just checked, it was 9/10 as well. That makes me feel better. It was going to be bloody steep though.
So we've ascertained that my preparation was poor. 
I left Liverpool before 10.00 and was in Kidsgrove by 11.00. I parked up and assembled the bike. Stripped off, not to any type of applause, but received minor interest from two ladies on the other side of their 40s. They asked if I was doing a 'Levi's advert'. I said "No". However, I did ask them where Mow Cop was. They said I was some way away but it would be 'easy to find'. Ummm. Anyway, got myself together, attached the camera(s) various and headed off. It was fresh and sunny and I was seriously hungover. Eyes were slitty. Breathe was terrible. It was either going to make or break me. We'd soon find out - but I was committed - so I had to go for it now.
I worked my way through town and headed towards the outskirts. Got to a roundabout and helpfully, the sign posts disappeared. I decided to ask a couple of kids where 'the steep hill was'. "Over there" they replied. Not the most accurate set of directions I'd received, but better than nothing. I continued and quickly lost faith. I asked an AA instructor for confirmation. He wasn’t sure where it was either. Confidence now ebbing away, I headed up the nearest hill, convinced altitude held the key. Amazingly, I found a signpost for the said 'Mow Cop'. Followed that, climbed a bit and a bit more and saw a sign donated by the Mow Cop residents association. I was there! 
I found this confusing. The hill's I had climbed were steep-ish but not savage. This wasn't right?
Exactly; it wasn't right. I had gone 'up the back' so to speak and found the easy route. By the time I queried my route I was almost at the 'folly', the castle at the top of the hill. The third piece of directional advice said I had to go down the hill and ascend 'The Killer Mile'. Not sure about the label, but let's see how it goes. Have I mentioned roads? Good grief, they are awful round there. Potholed to the extreme, and sufficient for the onboard camera to shake free of its mounting system. Eventually I reached the bottom and started to traverse the railway line. About 750 meters along the road a level crossing appeared and I guessed this was it. What helped was a gaggle of Liverpool Century Road cyclists who were waiting to cross the railway line and clearly intent on climbing the 'Cop'. I decided to follow them. The train came and went and we took off. 
The initial part of the hill wasn't too bad. It's just quite steep. I changed down a couple of gears and bided my time. A couple of riders dropped off and I overtook them, making myself feel better. I was working, but felt ok. I climbed the first brow and ahead, there it was. A ramp of concrete. It looked like trouble. The camera had stopped working, but I was caring less about that. There was a bloody great big hill in front of me. Tricky. I said 'Hello' to an older lady who was sweeping her driveway. "Keep going," she said. I smiled, maybe grimaced. The 'ramp' was getting closer.
25% by all accounts. I had seen that the club cyclists had weaved their way up. I decided to opt for 'Route One' and just ride straight up. It was warm. I was hot. I was going for it. Lowest gear - and LAUNCH! There are some hills you just have to have a go at. Anything less and you'll stop. This is one of them. I had learned from Porlock Hill - it's full-bloodied commitment that's required. And that's what it got. I used parked cars as markers. Got halfway, was ok. It was getting harder. Breathing really hard. One car left on the brow. I actually remember telling myself just focus on getting to the car. Nothing Else Matters. Revolutions getting more laboured. Revolutions getting slower. The (previous days) beer intake was academic now - I was on the hill - I had to keep going. I wasn't going to stop on ANOTHER 9/10 hill, surely? I clawed my way to that car-marker. The hill eased off. Not completely, but I had matched the gradient. Awesome! Out of breathe, I 'cruised' to the top. Turning left, I headed 100 meters to the folly where the Liverpool Century folks were resting. Said 'Hello' to them, and took a couple of photos. I had completed it, albeit, fairly fresh. These folks were halfway through a 160 km ride. I could not have managed that. But hey - I hadn't even been convinced I could manage it in my present state! 
I was pretty happy. I had climbed the hill straight up and it was extremely tough - plus I felt I had alittle bit left. I cruised back down to the car and dismantled the bike. Later, cruising down the M6 I began thinking about what my next target might be. I was due to see 'Chirpy', another ex-University friend of mine at the end of May. He lives in Allestree, Derbyshire. Maybe a mission to Matlock was watch this space. It's got 'Bank Road' (8/10) and 'Riber' ((9/10) written all over it.......
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Sources - "Greatest Cycling Climbs" by Simon Warren, Frances Lincoln Ltd, First Edition, 2010
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