One of the features of the hill climb season is the ‘multiple event weekend’, featuring up to 4 or 5 or even 6 hillclimbs over the two days. It’s possible to do a short event, recover, do another short event, recover, ad nauseum (literally). Organisers across the south west banged their heads together and came up with the simple idea of a ‘south west hill climb weekend’. With four clubs all cross-promoting each other’s races and a real head of steam on the interweb, they saw bigger fields than usual and a palpable sense of excitement. I missed yesterday’s double, the Chippenham and Severn races; i was supposed to be doing a 30 mile time trial as a last tilt at a club record and the end of my TT season; instead i went out on Friday, drank ale, then had a lie-in, went out and rode my bike in the sunshine and generally took a devil-may-care attitude to this tricky thing called ‘training’. it was the perfect antidote to a general malaise and knackering game of catch-up that’s been rumbling along for weeks and weeks.
The VC Walcot Climb was up first. The weather was perfect, slightly cold but without a breath of wind and deliciously dry undertub. I unleashed the fixed wheel and it met with almost universal acclaim – the bike, not the rider. People were drawn to the lovely orange finish and the clean lines. There were a few other specialist hillclimb machines in attendance. Tavis Walker had taken a hacksaw and a drill to a rather comely Cervelo R3 in the pursuit of lightness. The construction of a hill weapon is possibly much more fun that the riding of the aforementioned hill weapon. Tav also spaced out a rear cassette to provide only 4 cogs on the back. I opted for a 57″ gear in the end, and it proved spot on for the steady gradient of Claverton Hill. There was a significant crowd at the event and I issued the wife with a cowbell to ring repeatedly and with gusto. A student turned up with some pots and pans to add to the cacophony of noise. By the time i was barrelling up the hill they also had managed to amplify a recorded version of “Olé, olé olé”. It’s great to ride through a crowd of people shouting. Tom yelled right in my face as I came past: “ignore the pain, IGNORE THE PAIN”, and i tried my best to ignore the horrible, unrelenting pain in my legs and lungs.
The level of competition was fierce, both in amongst the top end of the field and in amongst the Bristol South riders. I think I came 8th and was first rider on fixed. I was the only rider on fixed – this was a surprise, it’s a great hill for a single gear. Rob Gough won with another demonstration of the dark arts of riding uphill; dancing on the pedals, post-ride emphysema, nausea. Glyndwr Griffiths followed on a close second, by about a second, with a matching cough and ashen face. The rest of the top order consisted of Richard Cartland of Corley Cycles, Tavis Walker and Tom Marshall. The organiser and the host club deserve praise for putting on a fantastic event and generally being really lovely and likeable people. Next weekend Tav, Glyn and Tom are aiming to bag the team prize at the Cat and Bec. They are in with a shout. I will be up north, wrestling with some long and epic northern inclines that suit me a lot better.
The afternoon’s action shifted to a really sharp hill near Wellow. On first inspection i was a bit worried that the 57″ might be too tall, but my worries were unfounded. I turned the gear over without too many problems and climbed well. In both races i felt a teeny bit too fresh at the end. I need to work on this – i’m still not in the death zone, where extreme privation and savage, lung-shredding effort leads to higher speeds and better placings. I’m slightly optimistic that i might yet reach it, which is an odd place to be – silently hoping that i will be able to inflict more pain on myself. I was 4 seconds quicker at Claverton than the last time i rode, which is acceptable.
Charles Coleman was down to start on Hinton this afternoon, but it was always going to be a tall order; he had a cyclo-cross event in the morning at Hengrove and came second behind Oli Beckingsale. He appeared in his race kit at the start, ambling out of his parents’ car to support the riders, a mere minute away from the moment when he should have been pushed away up the hill. A combination of extreme peer pressure and a spare bike (miraculously on hand) saw him take on the climb with seconds to go before his slot. Adrenaline got him through a few shaky cleat moments and he posted a more than respectable time given the circumstances. It’s all good training.
Glyn took first place from Rob Gough; a fantastic achievement and the first time Rob has been beaten this season. Over the weekend the two fought a ding-dong battle, with Rob taking the honours on 3 out of the 4 climbs. I suspect they will both fare well next week at the Catford, with a possible 1-2, and their chances for success at the National are high. BSCC are chasing the team prize at Catford – although we may miss out on the National because it looks like we will only have two riders. I’m currently the fourth counter in most of the hillclimbs I’ve entered, this is mind-boggling. I’m not saying i’m that good or anything, well, i’m not shabby at the long stuff, top 25 at the National 2 years running, open victory on Haytor Vale, but i’m a long way off being one of the top 3 hillclimbers in the Bristol South ‘Mega Team’, as it’s been nicknamed. It’s faintly reminiscent of John Lennon’s response to an interview question asking whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world. He replied “he’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles”. All last season and the season before i longed to have just a few more riders from the club on the startsheet to get some team prizes and generally build up some camaraderie. it’s happened, with some extras, and I’m really happy about it, even though it squeezes me out a bit. It’s fantastic for the club, and turning up en masse as a part of frighteningly strong team is a lot of fun.
I’m riding the National for the experience this year – I’m hoping to do well but also realistic about the shape and tone of the climb: it doesn’t suit my physiology. Therefore I’m already wishing my life away by thinking ahead to the Stang in 2013. Such is the nature of the ever-changing National Hill Climb Championship.