There’s something unspeakably vile about the first hill climb proper of the season. It’s to do with the hitherto unreached level of exertion, involving horrible lactic acid build up, steady respiratory collapse, oxygen deficit and overwhelming nausea. There’s no practical way to prepare the body for the ragged assault of riding uphill fast. Usually I manage to get in a few warm-up events before the nasty stuff happens, but this year I broke the seal on Haytor Vale (or as the annoying commentator on ITV4 kept calling it, “Hayderhill”) which may or may not have been a bad idea.
I set off from Bristol early on Saturday in high spirits, eager to raise the heartrate and enjoy the view from the top… of the bars, whilst looking down at the ground and trying not to be sick. Somewhere near Exeter the skies darkened and biblical rain poured forth. It did not relent.The competitors huddled together in the village hall at Bovey Tracey, whilst the organisers decided to shorten the climb substantially on account of not being able to see the road higher up on the Moor. When it’s really really wet, like at the Rake last year, I find it almost impossible to get motivated, warmed up or in any kind of fit state to ride. Essentially, I stay cold. I could have done with a personal lackey with an umbrella and towel. Ben Davis, the superhuman Bristol Road Club hill and road maestro, had a full support team with him, keeping his teak-carved limbs out of the incessant rain. Or it may have been his Mum and Dad.
In between hiding from the rain and running back and forth to the car, I managed a hillclimb. I was acutely conscious all the way up that I wasn’t really riding hard enough, but couldn’t do anything much about it. I charged across the finish line at about 8mph and was confused enough to carry on for a bit, not sure if it really was the finish. By all accounts James Dobbin nearly did the whole climb before he realised he’d finished a mile ago. It was that kind of day. I scraped 6th place behind Ben, the Dobbin, Andrew Feather and 2/3 of the Walcott mega-team. I also mistimed my caffeinated energy gel and was a gibbering, gurning wreck for some time after the event. I felt happy with the outcome, apart from the unceasing rain, mist, fog, long journey, lack of effort, substantial time gap, pain in my left lung, taste of blood, epic roller warm-up failure and numb, cold legs. At least I stayed upright on the cattle grid, which is more than I can say for the poor lady off ahead of me. It didn’t instill much confidence.
The next part of the weekend’s super-long double header took in a visit to Porlock. It’s incredibly beautiful and the climb was a 4.1 mile ascent up the toll road. In that rarest of treats, the road was entirely closed to traffic. There was also a hefty prize fund, with nearly 100 riders competing for honours, including a couple of Tour Series riders, an Olympic Silver Medallist and any number of hardcore hill whippets.
I managed to take a few photos on account of it not being utterly pissing down with rain for hours on end.
After a quick recce of the climb before hand I resolved to ride it in the big ring all the way. Tavis (see above) also said he was going to stick it in the big ring and shake it around a bit. At least a small part of my motivation was that i didn’t want to be changing gear halfway up the climb. However, whilst waiting at the start I saw that even the mighty Tejvan was opting for the small ring so I had a change of heart. It was entirely appropriate. The small ring felt fine all the way up and i whacked it across once out on the moorland with a tasty tailwind. At this point, unfortunately, my legs were a bit palsied and I struggled to get any semblance of pace going. I felt ill at the top and was a bit sick. It’s quite exciting when this happens, you feel like a bad-ass hill climber. I snuck in just under 15 minutes and bagged my second 6th place of the weekend, taking home a whopping cheque for £70 in the process. I also narrowed the gap with the other riders who beat me the day before, coming two seconds behind Tavis and about 15 seconds behind the mighty Dobbin. Tejvan beat everyone else by over a minute. It’s quite chastening. The only thing i can say is that his arms appear to be thinner than his handlebars.
This coming weekend I have 4 hill climbs to tackle; all fairly local. I may dust off the old fixed weapon for two of them. It’s good to be racing again.