IT is one of the most gruelling cycling challenges around, but that did not stop 101 competitors saddling up for the Rawson's Rake Hill climb.

Ramsbottom's arduous annual event saw the crowds out on force, cheering on the determined and super-fit cyclists of all ages.

Despite the course being only 947 yards, the cyclists faced a climb up the rake's 25 per cent gradient - enough to test the strongest of calf muscles.

Duncan Smith, who organised Sunday's event, said: "The weather was fine, atmosphere was electric and there was great support from the spectators."

The pedal-pushing crowd-puller did have a few awkward moments however.

Mr Smith said: "The road was closed for the race for two hours but despite this, a van drove the barrier.

"There was also an incident when a mountain-biker insisted on using the course in the middle of the race, even though he was asked not to by our stewards."

A female spectator exchanged angry words with the cyclist.

National hill climb champion Dan Evans, of Sheffield, who took second place last year, completed the course in the quickest time at two minutes, 23.5 seconds.

He was rewarded with the winner's jersey, £100, a framed print and the Frank Douglas Cup.

Mary Wilkinson broke the course record for a female at 3 mins, 6.7 secs, but it was only a temporary triumph, as Fiona Burnie soon trumped her with a time of 3mins, 5.9 secs and collected the £100 prize.

The event's reputation is clearing growing as Mr Smith, who has been in charge of the event for three years, said the challenge, organised by Lancashire Road Club, had attracted competitors from far afield.

He said: "In this year's contest we've had entrants from Whitby, Wales and Sheffield."

He added: "It's really good for the area to have something like this, and this year our numbers were up."

After the race, cyclists were able to enjoy and join in the fun at a barbecue in the car park of The Shoulder of Mutton pub.

Then the competitors no doubt headed for home a relaxing hot bath and an early night, before they start practising for their next cycling challenge.