Gun Hill – Tour of Britain hill climb preview

Gun Hill appears during stage 5 of the Tour of Britain and apparently it’s a popular highlight. It’s famous for once having made Mark Cavendish cry on a training ride, but he must have been having a really bad day because it’s nowt special really. I speak with some authority, because it’s a hill I’m very familiar with. I rode it on Saturday, in fact.

It’s down as a first category climb, but it really isn’t. It was only the third toughest climb on my ride and this is why I take issue with the Tour of Britain route: it could be a lot tougher in terms of hills. We may not have long, winding climbs in this country, but we’ve plenty of short, steep bastards. I’d like to have seen more of them making an appearance, because it better represents the experience of cycling in this country.

This isn’t to say that Gun Hill’s a joy though. It isn’t. In fact, it’s an oddly dispiriting affair, which is perhaps what got to Cav. It starts shallow and very, very gradually steepens, almost so you don’t notice it happening. This tricks you into pushing yourself harder than you should, because dropping down a gear feels like failure. By the time you get to the hill proper, you’re already slightly fatigued. It’s for this reason that I can’t say how long it is. It’s very hard to know where the hill starts and ends, which is pretty unusual.

The middle of the climb averages 10%, but the gradient never really settles after the long drag at the start – it’s probably quite annoying to race on. That bit’s probably about half a mile long and afterwards it’s consistently shallower, yet it takes a surprisingly long time before you actually reach the top.

This never-quite-flattening summit is the dispiriting part, because if you’ve cycled the first two-thirds pretty hard, you might you’re short of strength. You’re liable to find yourself moving at low speed on near-flat terrain and will be convinced that you should be going more quickly. That could lead to a sprinter getting a bit emotional, I guess.

Then again, Cav’s an emotional guy. He probably weeps when he burns his toast. Coming from him, a few tears aren’t necessarily indicative of a major problem. That’s probably how I’d sum up Gun Hill really.