What it feels like to ride the Catford

“Up, up, up,” cried the spectators urging me on to one last lung-bursting effort. By then I was at my absolute physical limit, and near enough collapsed over the finish line.

I never knew three minutes of cycling could be so painful. But also so enjoyable.

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Yorks Hill is a short, albeit very steep, anonymous Kent country lane that comes alive every October for the annual Catford Hill Climb, a thronging celebration of British cycling at its very best.

This was my first experience of the ‘oldest cycling event in the world’ and now I can understand its enduring appeal.

No doubt the warm autumnal sun streaming through the tree tunnelled lane contributed but there are plenty of other reasons why people return year after year.

The closeness and noise of the screaming fans is reminiscent of the crowds on Alpine cols and is the nearest that most of us will get to riding the Tour de France.

But the appeal goes deeper than that. Of course we don’t have Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux but we can elevate what hills we’ve got ­ British style.

As 2010 champion Robert Gough put it: “The atmosphere is what is so amazing about this race and that’s why I love coming up here.”

Amid the red faces and wheezing, there are smiles all round.

The racing was exciting and the organisation faultless. There’s just time for a quick pub lunch before the Bec hill-climb in the afternoon.

Sunshine, humour and underdog amateur success all in picturesque surroundings. This is what British cycling is about and I’ll be back next year for the 116th edition.