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"Just another male dominated race scene"?

In 2022, we sponsored the entry fees for five women and one junior rider at the Struggle Hill Climb in Ambleside. We've always tried to drive engagement in this magical event for people that might ordinarily think it isn't for them or who might feel intimidated by the atmosphere or the task at hand. Last year we sponsored 4. Next year we'll sponsor more.

We asked sponsored rider Rae Lawley to tell us how our support helped her to the start line and we've used some of Peter Clarkson's beautiful images of the day to frame her words.

Rae entering the cacophony of noise on the upper slopes of The Struggle Hill Climb (© Peter Clarkson)

Bells, horns, and shouts blaring in my ears I crossed the finish line at the top of the struggle. I achieved my goal! All be it very slowly.

It all started just over a year earlier. I’d agreed to go with, and support, my partner in his hill climb season. I was fully embodying the ‘why would you actually want to do that to yourself’ energy, and expecting to make an awkward and embarrassing attempt at cheering Sam on. If you’d believe it, I actually hated the idea of people hearing me! What if I said the wrong thing!?

At face value, hill climbs were just another male dominated cycling race scene, but I soon realised that they had something much deeper to offer. It was like being at a disco, and my favourite song came on. I watched people having fun from the outside in… and the more I watched the more I felt like it might be ok for me to join in. Over the season it went from an awkward little shout, to finding a child like joy in heckling people as loudly as possible with a cow bell to boot. It was a celebration of every person who gave it a go and challenged themselves not just a race to the top.

Then in September 2021, there came The Struggle! With 10 minutes till the start Sam runs up to me… "Tobes says you can cycle to the top if you go now!". I did not know The Struggle. You could not see The Struggle through the insane September mist and howling winds. I rushed off not wanting to miss the fun at the finish line. Ascending through the mist and drizzle was a hilarious chore. Slowly realising the challenge I’d taken on, because even at a slow and steady pace… The Struggle is a F’ing big hill.

Skip forward to 2022. Cold Dark North is offering sponsored places to encourage a more diverse entry field. I decided to reach out on the off chance I might get it. I cannot tell you how honoured and excited I was to find out they would sponsor me! Knowing you have the backing of some awesome people really does wonders for motivation. It adds to what is already an amazing sense of community, that women are seen as an important part of the whole.

And then came the day itself... At 10:42 I set off from the start line, not sure if I’d make it but certain that I had the best chance that day and feeling excited about joining the crowd at the top. If I was on my own I wouldn’t of done it in one hit. I wasn’t on my own though; between the little encouraging comments from riders passing me, to the clapping of the odd spectator further down the hill, to the ABSOLUTE ROAR of the crowd at the top of the hill, I made it.

I think I could write a whole book about why I love hill climbs. It’s so hard to capture what it is in just a few paragraphs. There are so many people who put so much heart into organising these events and making them what they are. I have so many thank yous for so many people, 2 especially big ones are:

  • Cold Dark North for the stellar cheering on and the sponsorship which really made me feel like a part of the day.

  • Jack Talbot for organising what is one of the most fun events I’ve ever been too.

The energy of a hill climb is infectious, and I think if people came and watched just one, they may also be tempted to take part, like I was.

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