RTTC National Hill Climb 2010

…the final event of the season, and by some distance the most significant. i rarely get nervous, beyond a certain edginess, but i woke up today feeling nauseous, with a vile headache and vague sensation of things not being right. a week’s worth of anxiety had built up; exacerbated by the same recurring not-knowingness of it all. i wanted a top 30 finish, but knew that there were too many variables that could swing the result in different directions.

it’s odd to see a time trial of such scale and proportions; road closures, overflow car parks, two separate results areas, a corps of caterers: hats off to coventry road club for doing such a fantastic job of organising the event. the hill was lined with crowds, thickening at the top near the race commentary (amazing, a commentator) and the finish.

i was off at 11.40; an earlyish start time. after a brief warm-up, spent mainly dodging sudden rain showers, i joined the queue of tense riders waiting for their time. dave clarke was warming up on the rollers a couple of feet to my right, all sinews and hair. the early part of the climb is gentle, and gives you a chance to get into a rhythm, so i tried to help this along by botching a gear change or two. it made me chuckle audibly, and also made some spectators laugh, which i was pleased about. after that the hill ramped up around the corner, and i just pretty much went for it. all the way up the middle third i was thinking ‘it’s the national, just have it’, and then moments later ‘don’t blow up otherwise it’s curtains’. it creates a tension, the two opposing and competing desires lift you up the hill, and your progress is bolstered by the shouts from the crowd, calling you by name, words of encouragement and the constant chorus of ‘hup hup hup’. i picked out a bristol south jersey in the crowd; one of the esteemed and older members of the club, cheering me on, then my girlfriend and her parents. the recognition was fleeting.

after about 2 minutes i could hear members of the crowd suggesting there was a catch, sometimes directly to me, which made me think that i might be able to overtake the minuteman – in a national! i changed up a gear, too soon, then changed back down again. but then, around the next bend, at about halfway up the ascent, i caught a glimpse – a sighter – an elusive and fantastic thing, another rider on a piece of invisible elastic, a fish on a line. cue further tension – ride harder, catch him vs ride your own race, take it steady. i found the balance, but this momentary second of harmony was overturned by the commentator, who had also picked up on the possibility of the catch and was shouting it out to the crowd, who in turn swelled in voice and cheered, and i stamped on the pedals and gave it everything i had (which wasn’t very much by this point) and the elastic shortened and i overtook him before the line, through the thicket of people and cameras. and it was amazing, until i nearly crashed into the barriers at the end of the road closure. i was seeing palely luminescent stars dancing in the murky grey skies above dovers.

shortly afterwards i felt sick, unable to warm down, unable to sit still, i could have happily vomited. my time was good, around 11 seconds quicker than my last race on dovers earlier in the season, 4.21.7. i knew i’d given it pretty much everything and could walk away content.

dan fleeman won in 3.41, a staggeringly quick ride, followed by matt clinton, michael smith, tejvan pettinger – just outside the medals on this occasion, but i think next year will be his event, mike cuming, rob gough, then dave clarke. i managed 24th place (it says 25th on the sheet, but i think they have made an error with the 9th placed rider). i also beat glynn, my clubmate, by a tenth of a second – he rode an absolute blinder. it was good to share a field with so many amazing cyclists, and even figuring in amongst the battle for the top 30 felt pretty special. it’s easy to forget that this is my first season of racing, and it’s been an exponential learning curve.

i’m going to drive to work tomorrow. and eat some cake. then tomorrow night i’m going to cook with wine, and then drink the wine left over. then eat some more cake.

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