the club hillclimb has been in the back of my mind since last year: back then it was my first open event and i rode to 5th place on fixed wheel, with little or no awareness of how it happened or why. looking back, i’m still none the wiser. it’s felt like an erratic boulder.
a year further on and everything looks a bit different; i’ve ridden quite a lot and raced numerous weekends, it’s been a bit of an exponential learning curve. and yet all year long the club hillclimb has been lurking beneath the surface, it sits in my subconscious, a horrible big fish rising up to meet me in the shallow shadows of a murky pond. it’s the cause of self-doubt, the interminable worry that i might never go as quick again.
in preparation to go as quick again, i spent the weekend with my feet up, eating bread and cheese, drinking squash and watching the pro peloton get covered in rain and mud in la classica delle foglie morte. I offered silent thanks to no-one in particular for the promised clear skies here in albion. this morning was indeed clear and beautiful, but also by some distance the coldest morning of the autumn thus far; the kind of cold that creeps malevolently with icy grasping fingers, through the interstices and into the house. intense effort and intense cold are not comfortable bedfellows; it invades and assaults the lungs and chest. but those are the breaks; as if riding uphill fast wasn’t painful enough…
i’ve had plenty of time to think about this one; and on the morning of the race i felt quite calm and unperturbed. the sun warmed the higher slopes of the coombe, but the ascent was shrouded in shadow, and a lot colder. i got to the start in good time, within two minutes of the push, thus staying as warm as possible for as long as practical. it makes an enormous difference knowing the climb; judging the effort becomes more instinctive and much more effective. at three or four key points where the gradient kicked up i rode more softly than i would instinctively, not kicking on and standing up in the pursuit of seconds, but sitting down, maintaining cadence and riding through the short ramps. On Burrington this is the important thing, and it’s a climb that rewards a seated, regular effort – each sharper section is linked by a longer drag during which you can press on and move up through the gears, gaining in pace and speed. beyond this, i didn’t overly analyse it, but just went for it, riding hard and pushing it as close to the edge as i could. i had no sprint at the top, i just pursued the same relentless cadence as my aching legs propelled the bike forwards. a sprint at the end of a hillclimb sometimes strikes me as the pursuit of time already lost.
it was an exercise in suffering, but unusually i wasn’t waiting or silently begging for the finish, or fighting the demons; both the cartoon devil chastising my lack of pace, or the angel urging me to ride more cautiously. the deafening inner monologue was strangely quieter than usual, replaced by a repetitive focus on breathing and cadence and a sense of distance – almost from myself. i was still accelerating over the line, but had no sense of time to go on, and no way of knowing. it felt quick, but as per usual, on the descent a few riders seemed to have infinitely more souplesse, rode more effortlessly and danced across the camber of the sweeping uphill curves.
i knew i wanted to get under 8 minutes; anything else would be a disappointment; last year i managed 8.01… i felt quicker and lighter this year. the top end of the field was packed with featherweight thoroughbreds, including rob gough, james dobbin, tejvan pettinger and luke dunbar. i came fifth in 7.45. i have a feeling this might be a new club record on this course. i am over the moon and this afternoon i have eaten carrot cakes made by belle; they tasted even more delicious than usual.
1 Tejvan Pettinger 7’10
2 Rob Gough 7’27
3 Luke Dunbar 7’29
4 James Dobbin 7’36
5 Paul Jones 7’45
6 Robin Coomber 7’57