Death on the (Black) Mountain

There are good days, when even a headwind can’t stop the feeling that it’s a good day, and the pedalling is good, and legs feel good, and the pain feels almost good, and the bike feels amazing. And there are unspeakably horrible days, when everything feels utterly abhorrent and every fibre of every muscle and internal organ complains miserably about the paroxysm of effort.

Today was an unspeakably horrible day. It was the Welsh Championship Hill Climb on the Black Mountain in Brecon. It’s right in the heartland of post-industrial Wales and it is an incredibly beautiful part of the world, especially when visibility stretches beyond 30 metres.

the ‘view’ from the top of the Mountain

The towns and villages are full of Welsh Episcopalian chapels with rich Welsh words running around the fascias and in little plaques, harking back to a more pious and god-fearing era than the current secular world of instant gratification and fame as a goal in itself. Not that it’s any better or worse, just different. Incidentally, hill climbing and bike racing in general is the polar opposite of any notion of instant gratification. it requires intense effort over a long period of time, for scant reward and a huge dollop of unpleasantness.

Capel yn Portadawe

The Black Mountain is a wild and desolately beautiful place. The road sketches out a 4 mile climb without any major steep sections, but still rises to a finish at around 1400 feet. It’s high, but mercifully alpine in nature. On a given day, with the sun in the sky and the birds tweeting, it would be a pleasurable experience. Today, with rain slicing down in sheets of thick of drizzle and the wind whipping across the mountainside, it was most unpleasant. A car went up with kit before but i only had one jacket and it was 3 miles to the start and the warm-up so i was faced with a tough decision: die of cold before or carry stuff up the hill with me during the race. i had to stick my non-packdown waterproof gilet in my pocket so that when i came back down i didn’t die on the mountain, a sort of inverse simpson. i didn’t really care, i would be alive even if my legs were in pieces and my mind was gone.

The green scar above is the road, continuing up (and up, and up)

On the way to the start i suddenly felt the incipient pangs of hunger. i’d misjudged the timings, having eaten at 7am with a start time of 10.30. I quaffed a gel and hoped that would save the day. The climb was steady and unrelenting. I struggled from the very beginning, right to the very top. The headwind was an invisible hand of doom, pushing me back down the hill and at various points i was absolutely crawling along, chewing the bars and stem to pieces. My minuteman was making stealthy progress up the climb, like a deer-stalker following in the hoof-marks of a wounded beast, waiting to make a clean shot and end the contest with an act of benign clemency.

i struggled round the final hairpin and limped over the line, turned round and headed straight back down again. i got lost on the way to the HQ before finally getting in and then out of my wet garments. Dan Evans unleashed a proper blitzkrieg for 1st place. He is stocky and very strong and mullered the climb and his opponents into submission. Jon Shubert came 2nd and John Findley 3rd. I think i may have squeaked into the top 10, if lucky, coming in a long way down on riders i would normally beat by a margin. That’s hill climbing…

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