Tackling Dragon Hill with Laura Pittard
Celebrating Bike Week 2021
30 May to 5 June is Bike Week 2021 – and helped by the weather - as well as encouraging people out onto two wheels who may not have tried cycling before, we are also celebrating our TEAMBrookes athletes who take riding to a competitive level.
On a slightly damp Friday afternoon, I caught up (figuratively, not literally) with Laura Pittard, a 24 year old physiotherapy student – and TEAMBrookes cyclist - in her last year at Brookes, to have a chat about biking, and attempt to ride up the stunning Dragon Hill Road in Uffington, near Laura’s neck of the woods.
Laura is enthusiastic about her sport, and confident too, both in discussing cycling and when riding out on the road. We met up a few kilometres from Dragon Hill and had a chat as we pedalled. Laura explained to me that she got into cycling seriously when she was studying in Cardiff, where there’s a big cycle culture (along with an outdoor velodrome, which helps).
I asked Laura if she discovered she was quick straight away…
"I wouldn’t say massively – initially I didn’t eat enough and I held myself back a bit, but once I started to fuel properly and found a good group of people to train with it really helped and I built up gradually"
As she mentioned how riding with a group helped her, it’s worth noting that cycling is one of those sports that can give you so much in terms of how social it is, as well as providing you with some much needed headspace when you want to spend some time alone. There aren’t many other sports that can offer the same mix of camaraderie and isolation. Laura told me “I try and do a mix of stuff now, sometimes on my own and sometimes with local clubs”
We rode two abreast along the tree lined main road approaching Dragon Hill and its famous white horse. It’s a nice road to travel along, although is very rolling in its nature so saps the energy out of your legs during the uphill sections, which you attempt to recover when going downhill by letting gravity do its thing. Laura seemed a lot more used to it and stayed in the saddle spinning the pedals whilst I have a tendency to pick too high a gear and grind up any rises. Perhaps not a sensible plan when there’s a properly steep hill coming up.
We got onto the topic of how empty the roads were the previous summer, which resulted in cycling in the UK experiencing a boom.
"It was lovely, the roads were so much quieter, and there was something like a 400% increase in cycling"
Dragon Hill itself shoots up out of nowhere and is just along the road from where Laura lives – “I’ve done it a few times. I feel like its close enough that I should do it quite a lot, but once you’re at the end of a longer ride you sometimes don’t want to!”
You come across a turning on your left and the trees suddenly disappear as you start heading up the gentle gradient – but once you cross a cattle grid the real challenge becomes apparent. In fact, it’s listed as number 121 in the Greatest Cycling Climbs in Britain with an average gradient of 8% - peaking at 17% in places - which can be a challenge in a car, let alone on a bicycle.
Already in my lowest gear and panting at this point, I gave Laura a nod to say that she could pick up the pace if she wanted – my goal was just to get to the top of the hill without getting off to walk…
As you climb higher, you get a better view over the county and can really see how flat Oxfordshire is, which makes this area all the more remarkable. You climb alongside near vertical grass banks on one side, with a sheer drop on the other and are accompanied by the odd sheep bounding along the verges.
The first part of the climb is steep, and Laura told me that this was the hardest part, before it levels off a bit and you can relax momentarily. The road then takes a turn around to the right to follow the contour of the hill and the gradient ramps up again, which takes your attention away from the otherworldly view.
Getting to the top feels like a big achievement – at least it did for me. Laura was already waiting for me and still looking fresh!
This article was written as part of Bike Week 2021. For more information on Bike Week, please visit the Cycling UK website – or if you are interested in cycling as part of TEAMBrookes, please email email@example.com for more information.