Cauberg Hill – The iconic climb has history
The defining feature of this year’s world championship road racing circuit will be Cauberg Hill.
At 1500 metres in length it is not the most frightening climb, but at the end of 10 laps and with a gradient that peaks out at about 12 percent, it could prove decisive.
Fellow Roar columnist Chris Sidwells once profiled the hill for Cycle Sport magazine as part of his ‘Iconic Climbs’ series of articles. In reference to the number of shops and bars that seem to proliferate its lower slopes, he described it as “…the only climb in cycling which actually smells of beer.”
It has featured in a number of world championship races, has hosted the Tour and Vuelta and is of course, the modern day finish to Amstel Gold.
But in 1948, at the world amateur road championship, Cauberg Hill was the least of a young Aussie’s problems. The following is an extract from a book that I am working on and provides an interesting comparison to the sport today. While some things have changed, so much remains the same. I hope you enjoy this short account:
Russell Mockridge was blowing hard and his legs screamed with pain. The race had only just begun but the pace was fierce, so much faster than anything he had experienced in racing before. It was a battle just to hang on.
Soon the peloton approached Cauberg Hill, a short but steep climb that Mockridge hoped would slow the race down, but the European riders were an aggressive lot and they were up out of their saddles pushing harder than ever as the road pitched upwards. The young Aussie fought hard, after all, this was the world amateur road championship, but he couldn’t stay with the leaders as they sped around the mostly flat Dutch countryside.
That mythical piece of elastic that seems to bind one bike rider with the next began to stretch, with Mockridge dangling grimly from the wrong end. First a gap; barely nothing really, began to form in front of Mockridge, and he tried earnestly to close it, but the confounded thing widened. A bike length, two bike lengths, still so agonisingly small, yet impossible to bridge. There was nothing he could do. The elastic snapped and for the first time in his short career, Mockridge was dropped.
Surprisingly it wasn’t the notorious Cauberg Hill that caused Mockridge his problems, but the high speeds on the flat surrounds. His bike was seriously under geared when compared to those of his rivals. With a combination of only three gears to play with, selecting the right ratios before each race was imperative. Mockridge had got it wrong and paid the price.
Although his pride would not allow him to pull out of the race, failure did not play on him as heavily as it did young French rider Jacques Dupont, who he passed, sitting on the roadside with his head in his hands, distraught.
At first Mockridge thought the Frenchman must have crashed, but then it dawned on him, somewhat incredulously, that Dupont was crying because he too had been dropped and his dreams of world championship glory were over. Mockridge was never thus affected, but still he pedalled on.
Soon the leaders were upon him again, sweeping past with whirring spokes and rasping breath, lapping the hapless Aussie who was now so far behind that a car load of officials were begging him to pull out of the race. But Mockridge, steely eyed, focused on the road ahead, ignored their shouts and gestures, and continued on his way. Exasperated by the stubborn rider, the officials sped past, shaking their heads in disbelief.
The leaders tore around the circuit for the final time, and the crowd, oblivious to Mockridge’s desire to finish the race, spilled onto the course, all 250,000 of them, milling around and generally enjoying themselves.
Mockridge weaved his way through them, sometimes needing to stop and walk his bike so thick was the road with people. For two laps he forced his way through the sea of humanity, before finally crossing the finish line so far behind the winner (Sweden’s Harry Snell), that it didn’t matter.
There were no officials to welcome him across the line. Most had packed up and left and it took the young Australian another hour before he found someone to record his time.