Feature Interview: Lou Bates (Women’s Hill Climb Champion)


After winning her first British Hill Climb Championship, we talk to Lou Bates about the race and women’s hill climbing

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Feature Interview: Lou Bates (Women’s Hill Climb Champion)

Third last year, and second in 2014, Lou Bates has come close twice to winning the British Hill Climb title and 2016 was her year as she won by four seconds in a very competitive line up of women all wanting that champion’s jersey


With only tenths of a second separating the next three riders, the winning margin was a sign that it was certainly her day. The climb of Bank Road in Matlock is less than a kilometre (834 metres) but it’s brutally steep and did indeed stop some riders in their tracks as it tested bodies to the maximum.

For Bates, the ride, in her words, went “surprisingly quickly”. “I had a plan in my head how it was going to go but after I started, before I knew it, I was already at the cross roads. It was a bit of a blur and I think that could be down to the crowd, especially halfway up with someone banging a drum for instance. That distracts you from the pain!”

“Towards the end though I was feeling that pain but having the massive crowd there does help you on the way up. By the time you get round the corner, there isn’t much you can do at that point when you’re hanging on anyway. So things for me at that point were getting quite painful. By the time you have got round that final bend and can see the finish, you’re willing yourself to get to the finish.”

That scene after the finish was carnage as is the norm after a rider has dug so deep that there’s nothing left but oxygen debt and pain riddled muscles on riders collapsed on the ground trying to recover after a maximum effort that few really want to experience. But for Lou, hill climbs are “surprisingly quite addictive in a horrible painful way”.

“You forget the pain quite quickly until the next one” Lou added!

There were a lot of women in the 2016 event and it was super competitive as well. For Lou, it’s something she hopes carries on getting better. “Hill climbing with the women, certainly over the last two to three years while I have been racing seems to have exploded. It’s become so competitive that one slip up can lose you that title and everyone is aware of that”.


“Everyone is putting in more of an effort to make their bikes lighter and train harder. It is just so competitive between us and so great for the sport. I hope it continues that way and we see a lot of juniors come into it because although hill climbs are painful, they are great fun. It is a good way to get into cycling”.

“I think the competitiveness adds to the prestige of this champion’s jersey. Maryka Sennema has won the title the last three years and she has just been so tough to beat. The people who realise how good she is are the people who have been training so hard to try to knock her off the top spot.”

“And because everyone knows how much effort we are all putting in to get to the top, there is a certain amount of respect between the riders, because while we are competing against each other, we are also quite supportive of each other racing wise because we know the commitment and effort that needs to be put in”.


The Bike
Hill Climbs are not just about crazy efforts to scale a steep hill as fast as is humanly possible but also to come to the start with a bike as light as possible and there were certainly some light ones on the start line. I’d picked up Lou’s bike before the start and if felt lighter than just a bike frame from my day.

At around 5 kilos, perhaps a little more (I didn’t carry scales around with me LoL), Lou explained that the bike has turned out to be a winning project for her husband. “It has got lighter over the last few years. It’s a Cervelo, an old frame we bought on Ebay, one that my husband has managed to create a light bike from”.

But when creating the bike, there was more to think about than just making it light. “I can suffer from pain in my hands so I need gears that are easy to change so even though Di2 is heavier, I still have that on the bike just because it makes it easier to change gears”.

“Lightness isn’t everything. It was also about being confident I could change gear because at this time of year it can be really cold and I didn’t want my hands to shut down and be stuck. At Jackson Bridge last year (2015 champs) I fluffed some gear changes and I didn’t want that to happen this year”.

Lou then also explained that the hand built wheels she used were not super light either, adding that some of the girls on her team have lighter ones and that that she hasn’t spent a fortune on equipment so whilst her bike is light, it isn’t crazy light.


Pre-race, Lou was certainly among the favourites, especially after her win at Monsal, a shorter climb but a steep one also. So did she feel like the favourite? “No” was the short answer.

“There has only been one person who has won the last three hill climbs, Maryka (pictured below), and she has shown she can put it out there on the day and on the championship climb which is what winning championships is all about”.


“I have really tried the last few years to beat her but she has proved incredibly hard to beat. I didn’t think for a minute I was going to walk it because you know you have to do your best ‘ride’ on that day and it is so difficult to tell how you will go.”

“Yes, I have won races this year but you don’t race all the girls until the nationals, the ones from down south or from up north so while you win your local races, you don’t know how you are going against them until the day of the nationals”.

To prepare for the championship, Lou remained focused on what she needed to do and because she knew what Bank Road was about, she knew there wasn’t much point doing a lot of the longer hill climbs”

“I focus on one or two hill climbs which tend to be Monsal and the Nationals. And this year, whilst this wasn’t as short as Monsal, it is a shorter climb than many and that works well for me. Monsal is an amazing race so I have always wanted to get a good result there. I have also done a couple like Pea Royd which are a bit longer than this but still around the three minute mark so I haven’t done any training beyond that duration because I haven’t needed to”.  … continued after advert


Whatever Lou has done has worked well for her and helped make her season quite a stunning one with not just victories week in, week out but also course records over and over including a lucrative one at Monsal.

“I think I have broken course records in all my wins this year, Hardwick, Monsal and Pea Royd so I can’t complain! I have raced a bit less this year though. Normally the week before the nationals, I tend to do the triple here (in Matlock which also has the Riber climb) which has killed me so I didn’t do that this year with the aim to be fresher for the nationals”.

“I think if you race every weekend, you get to the nationals tired. I know people think because it’s so short, racing for a few minutes, but it does take a lot out of you. The warm up and the mental prep”.

That however is all behind her for another season and she can look forward to doing normal rides out on her bike. “Last week I was counting down the hard sessions to go and looking forward to the café rides and eating cake”!

After that victory, Lou certainly deserves an extra slice to celebrate an extraordinary ride where again, she broke the course record! Congrats Lou, roll on 2017!



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