So you buy my argument that the best way to tackle your fear of Leith Hill (or Box or Mont Ventoux) is to ride it before event day.
Fine. But what if you live nowhere near London?
A multi-hour drive (or flight) to recon the Surrey hills seems a little over the top.
In this post I’m going to show you how to use Strava (other ride mapping apps are available) to identify local climbs with similar characteristics to your nemesis climb.
Prove to yourself that you can conquer the dummy and then you’ll know you can summit the target climb. Quod erat demonstrandum.
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Back to the show…
Step 1: What Does Your Target Climb Look Like?
Why, it’s big, mountain-like and scary.
There are more objective characteristics, namely length, average gradient, maximum gradient, height ascended, road conditions.
Since we’re talking about replicating the RideLondon climbs, let’s use Leith Hill as our example. Here are his vital statistics:
Here is the link to that segment on Strava. I chose the ‘Leith Hill, northbound’ segment over the ‘official’ 100 Climbs Leith Hill segment because the former includes that little section of Ockley Road at the bottom of the map (which is most definitely up hill).
Anyhoo, we now need to find a climb with similar characteristics in our local area (or at least in an area we plan to visit).
Step 2: Use Strava Segment Explore
- Select ‘Segment Explore’ from the Strava menu bar (at the top….)
- Type a location into the text search box (Ashbourne comes up as default for me)
- On the slider bar above the map, move the ends to select your range of climb categories (the Leith Hill segment we’re mimicking is a Category 4)
(As a related aside, if you want to know how Strava calculates climb categories, I wrote a post ’bout dat.)
A range of potential climb candidates should now appear in the main window, shown both on the map and listed down the left hand side.
Clearly, if you’re searching in a flat part of the country, no amount of tweaking the search requirements is going to find you a category 4 climb where there are no hills. You’ll need to zoom out and/or move your search area. Or move house.
Looking at the summary characteristics in the list on the left, you should be able to identify segments that might be similar to your target climb (Leith Hill in this example). In my screenshot, segment G looks promising.
Step 3: Do Some Complex Mathematical And Topological Analysis
Just have a shufti at the potential substitute climb to see if it’s close enough to the target.
So the length of the climbs and the average gradients look close. My substitute candidate has 7 fewer metres of ascent. I’m pretty confident that if you can get up this one, the additional 7 metres of Leith are not going to break you.
Step 4: Is The Steepness Your Weakness?
The ‘global’ characteristics of the climb (e.g. average gradient) are great, but you also want to check out whether the climbs share particular steep sections.
This is where you have to treat online-mapping data with a pinch of salt. Inaccuracies in segment route tracking and topological data mean that Strava, Mapmyride, RidewithGPS et al sometimes throw out the odd outlandish gradient figure.
My original analysis of the RideLondon route featured a gaff on my part where I claimed (based on mapping software) that Box Hill featured a maximum gradient of 28%. Needless to say, this is nonsense.
You can get a feel for the changing gradients of each climb by comparing the elevation chart beneath the map of each segment.
If you hover your mouse pointer over the elevation chart, it will bring up a box showing the gradient at that point on the climb. Move back and forwards to find out the gradient at each steep bit.
You can also take a look at the segments you’re comparing on Veloviewer.
From this Leith Hill chart we can see that the gradient on the climb stays largely at 11% or below (on Strava, the ‘hover-over’ technique suggests it reaches 12.6%). The gradients are quite evenly spread, but you will need to ride the best part of 700m at ~10%.
The 3D model of the climb (top left in the screenshot) shows how the road twists and turns, and is colour-coded to show gradient at each point on the climb. By clicking on the image and moving the mouse, you can rotate the chart to look at it from every conceivable angle.
Here is that Leith Hill segment on Veloviewer.
So how does our substitute climb compare?
Well it’s not exactly Leith Hill’s twin-in-the-Peak-District. Looking at the 3D elevation chart, the green section in the middle offers riders a bit of respite versus the more continuous effort required on Leith.
Still, it’s not too bad – there are a couple of orangey-red sections which, if conquered, auger well for your ability to boss it up Leith Hill.
Looking at the elevation histogram (which has a larger scale than the Leith version), there’s probably around 600m of riding at ~10% (versus 700m on Leith).
Step 4: Ride Your Selected Substitute Climb
Er, that’s it. Ride the faux-Leith Hill climb a few times. Convince yourself that climbing the real Leith is well within your gift. Look forward to RideLondon even more.
Quick disclaimer: just check that the segment you’ve identified is a safe road to ride on. It should be, if it’s a Strava segment, but bear in mind some Strava segments are on dual-carriageways (like this popular time trial course).
Some climbs are popular on Strava, despite them being busy roads (the A52 to Leek, as it leaves Ashbourne is an example near me). Generally you don’t want to conquering your climbing demons whilst cars thunder past your shoulder.
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Until next time, safe cycling.