The Mid-Devon Cycling Club’s annual open hillclimb is a real snorter. It rises up out of Bovey Tracey, starting near the Edgemoor Hotel in an canopied culvert, before climbing for a little over 3 miles, finishing to the left of the rock outcrop. It’s one of the classic hill climbs in the South West and were it not for its slight geographical issues would be a bigger fixture in the season. It’s a long way to schlep from Bristol, so isn’t really an event for the northern hordes.
It was used for the National Hill Climb in 1979, where Jeff Williams set the course record of 12.44 on an unusually still and clear day. Dave Pitman of Somerset Road Club was second and Armitage third, both coming in over 13 minutes. Andy Hitchens of the host club recalled Williams’ startling ride:
“Williams looked like he’d been on starvation rations for months — he was built like a sparrow. Some people assume that there was a howling tailwind that day, but there wasn’t. It was sunny, but cool. I remember it well, because I was in third place at one of the checkpoints, but then I managed to mash my gears and ended finishing 19th. Near the end you look up at that top car park and it feels like you’re trying to touch a rainbow.”
The event is one of the monuments of Hill Climbing. It has featured in the Tour of Britain and was lined with crowds last year as John Tiernan-Locke rode away from the pack and into the lead in the mountains classification. JTL started out with the Mid-Devon before making his way into the professional ranks.
The club has an illustrious list of ex-alumni; Colin Lewis, Yanto Barker and Jeremy Hunt. It’s really impressive and is probably at least partly to do with the challenging topography. I tried to find a picture of Jeremy Hunt in MDCC kit but google kept bringing up images of a simpering corrupt fuckwit politician instead, so i gave up.
The climb of Haytor Vale is a real beast for a number of reasons. It’s long, making it very difficult to pace. The gradient varies constantly; just when you’ve got into a rhythm of sorts it kicks up or eases off a bit. I think i used nearly all the sprockets and both chainrings today at some point. I tried to hold back initially then find the right pace, it worked reasonably well but the headwind wreaked havoc on my progress. I tried to ride through it but it was just that bit too hard to stay on top of the gear so i found myself changing down a few too many times. My minute-man went off like a scalded cat, out of the saddle, charging up the lower inclines. I caught him fairly quickly and he paid a heavy price for his exertions: near the top he was sick all over the front of his bike. it was quite spectacular.
I clung on in and was unable to raise a sprint for the line, i was completely spent. I didn’t fall off the bike but i did think i was going to decorate the grass verge with my breakfast. I also had a nasty pursuiter’s cough that rasped and tickled and made me feel ill. It wasn’t nice. I had no idea of what time i had done, i was riding without a Garmin. I just felt i’d gone slowly and i was experiencing an unceasing hurtness.
It was slower than last year by about 30 seconds. Each year i think i’m going to go faster on this course, but it never happens – i’m getting progressively slower and slower and the weather is getting windier and windier. Despite the lack of impetus, I won. This is my first open hill climb win, making it feel particularly nice.
The afternoon saw a second race on Mamhead, near Starcross. It’s a steady gradient for about 2.2 miles, taking between 9 and 10 minutes. I was cooked, but tried to give it some welly. There were two super quick riders who pitched up having avoided the morning’s savagery. With fresh legs they took 1st and 2nd. I think i may have been able to get close to the second place rider, but the winner, Richard Oram, was class outfit. he was also wearing a class outfit, a Cipollini-esque skinsuit in the colours of Primal RT, a tour series team. I don’t think i’d have been anywhere near.
In all, a good day’s riding in South Devon: 1st, 3rd and 1st overall. Tomorrow is the Black Mountain. I last rode there in 2010 and came 4th. Darran Carpenter was my minute man and he slowly stalked me up the mountain, not quite making the catch. In an oddly serendipitous bit of field placement he’s my minuteman again. We shall see what happens.