The Zig Zag road to the top of Box Hill in Surrey is a cycling icon. It was ascended nine times in the London 2012 men’s race, and twice in the women’s race. It is rammed with eager roadies on a sunny Sunday morning and it’s a highlight (or low point, depending upon how tired your legs are) of classic sportives including the London Cycle Sportive in May and the Prudential Ride London event.
With both these events in my diary this year an invitation to find out how Team Sky rider and Olympian Ben Swift would tackle Box Hill during an event was too good to miss (too good to miss under any circumstances, tbh!).
Ben was a fabulously laid back, friendly and chatty ‘coach’ and cycling up Box Hill by his side was an absolute joy. Here's what he told me about nailing the climb!
- Train with a partner: it’s good company and more enjoyable. And if you can ride with your own group on the day, then all the better.
- Relax: the switchbacks on Box Hill make it fun to ride. It’s got a decent gradient and it’s an iconic climb, so try to enjoy it.
- You can divide Box Hill into sections and tackle each one slightly differently to make it even more entertaining! As a pro when the road is closed, the climb starts from the roundabout as we need to be in a good position as we round the junction into the Zig Zag road. The second corner is probably where riders will start to accelerate their first attack, then from the third corner it’s ‘power high and on’ up the long straight. The fourth corner is where we’re thinking about the sprint to the top. We can sense when it’s coming as the speed starts to ramp up.
- However….Stay safe: most events don’t have closed roads so don’t take risks nor try to copy everything you see the pros doing on TV!
- At the start of the climb, you need to know your own pace and stick with it, no matter how fast everyone else is going. That way you can be confident that you can keep going to the top."
- You can spin your way up or push a bigger gear and maybe stand a little as you climb which is less monotonous: it’s down to individual preference. But for the event make sure you ride in the way you are used to.
- Similarly, Train in and on your race kit and don’t change anything on the day.
- The key to riding downhill fast and safely is looking ahead. Look where you want to go, especially on the switchbacks where you need to look round the corners as you approach them.
- If you have someone in your sight and want to overtake them, maintain your pace, think fast and smooth, and pass them in your own time. Try not to put a spurt on: if you do they will simply overtake you again when you slow down.
- Box Hill is very open with good visibility but if you’re struggling on the way up don’t look for the top of the climb – it may look a very long way away! If a climb is tough I try to look at the wheel ahead and make sure I focus on my breathing, not the pain!"
Ben Swift is an ambassador for the London Cycle Sportive taking place on 10 May. The ride uniquely ends with a lap of Herne Hill Velodrome. Sign up now at Human Race.
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