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Bethany, The Queen of Digswell Hill

Guest post by Max Leonard.

Bethany2Digswell Hill, near the finish of Stage 4 of the Women’s Tour, counts towards the Strava Queen of the Mountains competition, and will be one of the definitive climbs in the race. However, for many local cyclists it’s a climb to be tackled every weekend or even every day. We chatted to the current QOM, Bethany Hayward about the prospect of the Women’s Tour athletes taking her QOM title.

At 17 years old, Bethany is studying for her A Levels and racing her bike – by coincidence for Matrix Fitness–Vulpine, the only UK domestic team on the Women’s Tour.

As a second year Junior rider, she’s not eligible for the UCI-level Women’s Tour, although her programme this year has included stage races in Holland and a training camp in France, as well as the local Bedford Three Day stage race last weekend. Luckily for her – and unluckily for other riders – she lives right at the bottom of Digswell Hill. Her time of 2:45 and average speed of 30km/h make her comfortably the fastest woman up the climb, and 14th in the all-time standings.

“I ride up it really often, and if I’m going to the track in Welwyn Garden City, I have to ride up over that way. Usually if I’m heading out I have to go up it!” she told Strava. “Sometimes I time myself up it – I think it’s a great climb.”

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Digswell Hill is 1.4km long, with an average gradient of 3%. Like many of the classified climbs on which the Strava Queen of the Mountains competition will be contested, it’s a steady ascent that rewards attacking. Around halfway up it flattens out to cross a motorway bridge, before ramping up again and winding through trees to the top. It’s the ideal uphill sprint for the end of a training ride – or to make a selection among the riders of the Women’s Tour.

They’ll hit it after 85km of racing on the penultimate day of the race. The stage passes from Cheshunt to Welwyn Garden City and is sandwiched between two flatter stages that will likely end in bunch sprints. That means Stage 4’s rolling hills and classified climb close to the finish will be a golden opportunity for a breakaway rider to make her mark on the stage – and maybe even the overall classification itself.

I think it’ll definitely be decisive for that stage, not because it’s steep but because of where it is in the race,” Bethany said. “It’s 2.5km from the stage finish, and after the top there’s a fast descent dropping down, then you turn left on a roundabout and head into town. I think that if someone got a gap up over there, with it being so close to the finish it could be a decisive place to attack.

Bethany got into cycling when her Dad, also a cyclist, took her to see the Tour de France time trial in London and, after riding with him and with local clubs, is now on the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme – whose coach, Matt Winston, is also a Strava enthusiast. “He absolutely loves it,” Bethany said. “He checks some of the other ODP riders’ profiles then goes out and finds the roads and tries to beat them up the segments!”

Racing for Matrix Fitness–Vulpine is for Bethany an important first step in what she hopes will become her profession. Matrix–Vulpine’s Women’s Tour team includes Helen Wyman, also a local, an experienced racer and eight-time UK and twice European Cyclocross champion. “If I’m unsure of anything I can go to her for advice. It’s good to learn from her, she can teach me so much. The other riders on the team are also at a higher level than me, which pushes me forward,” Bethany said.

“It’s good being a young rider on the team as it helps my progression. Maybe next year I can get a spot on the Women’s Tour – I’ll be old enough to do it then!”

Bethany is helping out at the Stage 4 race finish, so she won’t be on Digswell Hill to see the professionals take her Strava QOM. “Obviously I’m going to lose it – it’d be silly if I didn’t, really!” she said. “It will be interesting to see how fast they go up there, to see the difference in speeds.”

Bethany said it would be strange seeing legends like Marianne Vos racing past her house, and she hopes that Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead, one of her inspirations, will take the overall win. “I really look up to Lizzie Armitstead, because she’s British and because she’s such a good rider. This year she’s one of the best in the world,” Bethany said. She also tips Lizzie for the Strava Queen of the Mountains competition: “Again I’d have to say Lizzie,” Bethany added. “At the moment she can do everything. She can climb, she can sprint, and she’ll be determined as well.”

Let’s hope Digswell Hill does prove decisive, and that, if anyone does, that it will be Lizzie Armitstead who takes Bethany’s QOM crown from her.

Stay tuned for live updates from Team Strava as the race unfolds in the coming days – and don’t forget to join our Women’s Tour-inspired Climbing Challenge which starts May 7th.