Midnight finishes, kamikaze sheep on the road, careless drivers and even heart problems couldn’t stop Steve Benton from completing Simon Warren’s 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs in a mere thirteen days – without putting a foot down, naturally.
Seven months ago the idea of tacking the country’s toughest and most famous ascents came to the Hampshire-based sports conditioning consultant: “I thought ‘sod it, why don’t I just do them one after another?'” he recalls.
The other spur was fundraising for the Richard Burns Foundation, in memory of the world champion rally car driver he befriended and trained before his death in 2005 from a brain tumour. The toughest climbs for former bunch sprinter Benton were the Lake District’s Hardknott Pass and Park Rash in Yorkshire Dales. ”[After the latter] I slumped in the car, not sure if I could do this,” he recalls. “But on an hourly basis, I’d be up, down, then mediocre. It was always changing.”
Steve Benton notched up 100 climbs
Alongside fluctuating morale, there lay the added logistical and physiological test. Often, 50 year old Benton would finish a climb and drive to the next ascent, anything from ten minutes to four hours away. This stop-start schedule “was quite destructive on the body.” On Wales’s Horsehoe Pass in mid-May, there was a different physical damage, as he suffered heart palpitations while pedalling. After a sobering ambulance trip to Wrexham Hospital, he shelved the challenge for a fortnight, recalculated and was back, aiming to od the final 75-odd climbs in a series of several-day assaults rather than consecutively. “I was watching my heart rate like a hawk after that,” he said.
Century man on a high
The best scenery came atop Scotland’s Bwlch na Ba, which he crested at sunset on a June evening. Kamikaze sheep ran out on 40mph Welsh descents, Benton almost ground to a halt on Swiss Lane and was side-swiped by a car going up Brighton’s Ditchling Beacon on the last day. But Benton completed his century on Sunday July 1 on Box Hill. “I’ve got to say, that was the easiest of the lot,” he said. After 22,438 metres of vertical climbing, over 4,000 miles in the car – the less said about the fuel cost, the better – and £2,600 raised, would Benton do it again? “In a word, no. I pushed myself so far to my physical limits… Simon’s done a sequel [Another 100 Cycling climbs] too. I’ll do a few, but in my own sedate way.”
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This article was first published in the July 26 issue of Cycling Weekly.