Megahilly vs Frightened Cyclists

This weekend I organised a race in the Cotswolds. I use the term ‘race’ quite loosely; it’s been described as an exercise in unremitting nastiness, the 5 hills of hell and the hilliest hilly ever. It used to be organised by Mike Hallgarth, a local luminary in the TT scene, but of late the event has been lying dormant. After a bit of back and forth we agreed to resurrect it during a conversation one balmy evening at a hill climb on Stouts Hill, under the assumption that if you keep talking about it, it might never happen, whereas if you stick it in the handbook then that’s that.

Organising an event is a considerable undertaking, especially a hilly time trial with a complicated parcours. It requires a lot of willing marshalls and all sorts of other people to help. To this end i was indebted to the support of the Dursley Road Club and Bristol South. The important task of providing the cakes was taken up by Belle, with a selection of delicious chocolate brownies, mini banana muffins and flapjacks various.

Prior to an event I tend to hope for a couple of things: a dry day with not much breeze, but primarily a dry day, and an event run without any accidents or injuries. It is always in the back of my mind when organising any kind of race on public roads that there is an element of risk involved; it’s inescapable, i guess the aim is to do everything you can to minimise the level of risk and ensure that everybody rides quickly, but safely. This is magnified on certain courses like dual carriageways, but also hilly courses where there can be blind corners, or sleepy villagers meandering into the road at 9am possibly not expecting to see some bongo-clad bongorider hurtling through the sticks at 36mph, or several extremely fast descents.

Steve Green in the new kit

The race took in the gentle climbs of Wotton-Under-Edge, Crawley, Frocester, Selsey and Stouts, totalling 1000 metres of climbing in 28 miles. The Little Mountain Time Trial, a classic and long standing event viewed as seriously lumpy, manages to pack in slightly less climbing over 11 more miles. This puts things into perspective. On the day most competitors, bar about 4 (myself included) turned up on road bikes, it simply wasn’t seen as a TT bike course. To be fair, any race where you’re averaging between 15 and 18mph isn’t really one that rewards slipperiness. At the last minute i opted to take the TT bike and just left it as it normally is, heavyweight disc wheel and trispoke, the works. I could have saved around 1500g if i’d switched wheels, but couldn’t be bothered to change the brake blocks. I was also more worried about making sure all the preparations were made for the event than fine-tuning my assault on the course record.

The course starts on a 6 minute climb which doesn’t help matters. I caught my minute man very quickly. After a fast descent and a savage climb up through Uley it turns left to Frocester. Things get interesting here because you have to descend a very long hill at speed whilst contemplating the creeping awareness that you have to return from whence you came; uphill. It’s made worse by the sight of other riders struggling horribly to ascend; a harbinger of doom. The same happens on the descent of Selsey, you get to see your comrades gripping the handlebars and hear the death-rattle of hill-blasted lungs long before they come past at 2mph.

After Selsey there’s only the one climb left. Finishing on a climb is particularly horrible, you can’t really get everything out, you just have to cling on for dear life, pedalling squares from bottom to top. Strange things happen as time and space collapses in on itself; i could see Graham Douchebag up ahead through the tree canopy – i’d caught him for fifteen minutes, but couldn’t summon up the energy to get across the last 30 yards. At this point i harboured deep regrets over my smallest gear ratio of 44:25. By the time i limped across the lane i was ready to vomit. I felt ready to vomit for the rest of the day, and probably most of Monday.

home-made steampunk results board

I came second to Derek Smetham by a slender 6 seconds. I’ll settle for that, you can’t win your own event after all and I descended like a fretful grandmother on a raleigh 20. Derek rode fast and fearlessly with only a cloth cap and skin suit for company.

Derek: power to weight writ small

After the event I broke my Strava embargo because i wanted to see the split times for the ups and downs. I gave away hours on the descents but made up slabs of time going uphill and on the flat. Several other people uploaded their data from the race to Strava. I imagine somewhere there’s a keen cyclist who has been sitting proudly on the KOM for Selsey, Wotton, Stouts, Frocester and other such climbs for about a year or so, feeling invulnerable and the king of all the Cotswolds, only to turn on their computer on Sunday and find they’d slipped from 1st to 13th in the blink of an eye. In the space of 28 miles i managed to notch up 16 KOMS, most by around 20-30 seconds and some by as much as a minute. I think there’s probably some very suspicious Cotswold riders out there now wandering what the hell just happened to their digitised high score table. The odd thing is at the time it didn’t feel super-fast, i wasn’t in hill climb mode and was trying to moderate my efforts slightly to avoid blowing up spectacularly. I also know that although i did a 5.54 or so on Stouts, i’ve managed close to 5 minutes in a hill climb. It’s interesting to suddenly see the comparisons with other riders again, and a bit of an ego boost if i’m honest. Nevertheless, my hatred of Strava remains entrenched; it’s a part of the inexorable digitisation of the outside world.

One last thing – the HQ i used was the Scout Hut at Conygres, up above Wotton. It’s got a certain rustic charm insofar as it’s not much more than a cowshed. As Steve pointed out, it’s fast become the West DC’s answer to the Roubaix Showers.

conygres cowshed
Roubaix showers

I’ll be running the event again next year. People were universally positive about the race, despite – or in spite of –  it being ridiculously hard. Well done to everyone who rode; it’s rare that races can afford such a sense of achievement amidst the pain.

16 thoughts on “Megahilly vs Frightened Cyclists

Add yours

  1. oooohh wouldn’t have a route for this would you (mampmyride, gpx or something like it) ??
    I’ve a few buddies in that area … 😀

  2. Welcome to our ‘hood’. Glad to see so many great times on Strava and many new KOMs. This a fantastic area for hills and scenery.
    A note about Strava and why I love it. I used to go out on regular club runs and race, but now I work shifts and overtime so cant get out on regular rides. Strava has been a godsend to my motivation.
    I have friends who shun Strava for reasons I don’t really understand. Surely the more folk that download their rides the merrier. I would like to see the true measure of the human assault on a hill or sprint than just a minority of riders.

    John M. Have you tried the website You can plot a ride and it includes elevation so you can see the hills involved during your ride! It says it charges for the route but you can save it and upload it to your device if you’re crafty.

    1. Matt … I have and love it … just being a bit lazy I guess, If there’s already a route
      plotted and all that 😀

  3. Great write up, the course does sound harsh! Regarding your hatred of Strava, you seem to have contradicted it somewhat as you have nailed exactly why, when used correctly, it’s a really useful tool. Nothing else can compare against other riders how you perform on a TT course, and so easily.

    1. it’s a schizophrenic relationship, but it’s the only thing that shows you where you can improve. i struggle with the functionality of garmin connect.

  4. Well done Paul, keeping the hilly TT spirit alive. And you did the right thing making sure the cakes are a priority 🙂

    A properly hilly event, sadly not happening this year, is the Speedwell BC Mountain Time Trial in south Shropshire ( Did you ride it couple of years back? I forget.

    As for Strava and digitisation, it may be inexorable but it’s not inevitable. Most of the time I ride without GPS, without a computer of any sort. I don’t even have a mobile phone. It’s liberating.

    1. i entered it but had to DNS. can’t remember why.

      most of the time i ride without stuff, but in the racing season i need to know my mileage and at least use something to prove i’m not soft pedalling.

  5. “my hatred of Strava remains entrenched; it’s a part of the inexorable digitisation of the outside world”
    I am ashamed to admit to being a regular user of Strava, but if I had a wider vocabulary this would be my exact excuse for shunning faceb**k. 28 miles with 1000 metres of climbing in 44:25 is incredible. Great work

      1. that’s funny.

        yep, 44:25 = 37.5mph. Essentially, faster than Wiggins’ time in the TdF prologue last year, but over the hilliest course in the world ever. Definitely found my climbing legs.

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