hill climb season

the short and brutish hill-climb season is all but here; and as i’ve loudly made it my season’s aim, it means i have to start working a lot harder and racing much more than i have been. this entails lots of hilly rides, seeking out savage climbs and riding them at pace, frequently above what might be comfortable. i kicked off my training proper (after a delightful enforced absence with belle in italy, eating pizza and ice cream) with a couple of rides into and around the mendips; these hurt a lot. it can be hard to find the motivation when other things are happening, but also when the weather is absolutely vile, as it has been for some time. i threw caution to the wind and went out in all conditions.

some of my favourite climbs near here are:

dundry – from both sides, although i prefer the longer, more subtle climb; it’s now right on  my doorstep which is a cause for much rejoicing.

blagdon – up through the village, straight on, around, and up to the top of the mendips. essentially, it climbs from the lake at the bottom, but i see the start of the climb as being the junction of the high street and the main road. this one is a total stinker, about 14%, if not more, and long.

burrington – the location for the BSCC hillclimb; it’s not overly steep but it is long and requires very careful pacing; i like this one a lot, but feel pressure when riding it because i know it’s a race hill.

wrington hill – a sort of hidden gem, it’s a wall, a complete beast, but thankfully quite short.

there are others, the mendips are littered with climbs edging up and down the escarpments; deer leap, draycott, brockley, red hill, cheddar gorge… it’s relatively easy to go out on a road ride and find you’ve done over 400o feet of climbing in an afternoon, much of it very steep; this is no mean feet, and matches the kind of height gain you’d find ascending ventoux. my friend chris has a ride he does once a year called ‘every climb in the mendips’, and unfortunately the title is literal, it takes around 8 hours.

so yes, hill climb season is pretty much here – and mine started last night with the dursley club hill climb, up stouts hill in the cotswolds. this is a short and sharp climb into a state of penury and wobbly legs, and this hill and I have a bit of previous – it featured as the last climb in the Dursley Hardriders back in April; i seem to remember limping up it in the granny ring on my way to seventh place. it was a very different experience last night; i took the fixed wheel and ran about 65″, which may have been a trifle too tall. i was hoping for a good placing – possibly even a win; being a club event it could have turned out to be a fish and chipper, especially considering the damp and miserable conditions. but really, the main aim was to wear the race number and experience the training benefits that subsequently occur.

a bit more about the conditions before i go on – riding in the rain is a tricky thing – it’s not that pleasant; but it is manageable on a winter bike with full guards. riding a lightweight hillclimb bike means a genuine soaking is on the cards; on the way back from the race i had to wait at the train station for half an hour, getting very cold indeed and feeling not unlike ian stannard. well, sort of.

however, riding up the hill, through the mist and fine rain, underneath an ever-darkening canopy of ancient deciduous woodland was an emotive and curiously uplifting experience; the sort of thing that you don’t get to do because it seems like a silly idea. on the climb the pervasive gloom bought out a genuine and unexpected ethereal beauty. i was chasing my minuteman, and he steadily emerged out of the darkness, gradually acquiring a distinct outline to distinguish him from the murk beyond, like a crespuscular being fighting a private elemental battle with the incline.  later, when on the way back through Uley i saw a flock of circling crows cast as blackened, twitching Vs against a blanket of grey fog; as distinct as stars in the cloth of night.

it was an informal affair at the startline, as befits a club event, signing on at the back of a car and so on. at first i took the wrong number, but survived my error. i knew derek from dursley would be racing, and he was the one to aim for – but then the situation changed somewhat when James Dobbin turned up. He’s a former national hillclimb champion and rider of some repute. and that was that really; thoughts of the win disappeared in the time it took him to extract his team-issue bike from the back of the car. he flew up the mile long climb, which has sections of 14%, and meanders at around 10-12%. his speed was breathtaking, and chastening. he broke the course record with a time of 4.59, derek took second in 5.45 and i got third in 5.47. doing it fixed was an experience, and a good one – but i think i lost time at the beginning where the first 200 metres are pretty flat; i was spinning out at this point. there’s another one next week and i shall try it on the gears to see if there is any difference. the weather may well be sunny – i certainly hope so, but the memory of the inclement conditions will linger for the right reasons.

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