This year’s National Hill Climb was on Haytor. It’s the first big visit since Jeff Williams beat Gareth Armitage in 1979. It has been used since as a regular climb, sometimes as part of a double with either Widecombe or Mamhead. I used to love riding there, it’s a challenging climb but nice and long to it rules out all the power-hobbits. I contemplated coming out of retirement, but had another glass of wine instead.
A couple of things are worth mentioning. It was a beautiful day; the sun shone from start to finish. This has a profound effect on the levels of joy and the spectator experience. I bathed in the autumnal sun and prehistoric landscape. I stood at the side of the road with my scarf for four hours and it felt good to be alive.
It wasn’t a closed road. I don’t think it’s possible to have a closed road on a climb of this length on a road of this nature, for this long. You either don’t use these classic climbs anymore or you have them on open roads. See The Tumble, or Bwlch. The open road caused some grumbles. I didn’t see it as a particularly big problem – however, I wasn’t caught behind any vehicles. A substantial proportion of the traffic on the road was cyclists and competitors in cars. The preferred option will always be a closed road – but it isn’t the only option, and if it is then we’re going to lose a lot of courses.
This event is now seriously big. It lasted from 8am until 1pm, in racing terms. That’s a heck of a long time. It makes it an enormous logistical challenge to put on and run successfully. The MDCC did a brilliant job. I wonder if it might be worth splitting the events in the future. It’d be a shame – you’d lose the inclusive element.
In terms of the racing, the best riders won; Hayley Simmonds, Ed Laverack, Phil Stonelake and others. My mind was blown by the speed and power on show. Seeing Hayley and Joss Lowden rip up the climb was spectacular. Joss opted for a disc wheel – and she was the only competitor. At Burrington a week before some bloke off the internet was banging on about how ‘aero’ was going to be the defining factor. I kept my counsel (unusually) because I was getting ‘expertsplained’, and because I thought it was a load of cobblers. I listened for a bit then walked off to eat some more cake. The defining factor at Haytor was power-to-weight and coping with the steep ramps in a technical and seriously challenging course. The Comic had a small photo of both Hayley and Ed on the cover, which was great, with the caption ‘Ed and Hayley TT to the Title’ which was less great, because they didn’t TT to the top any more than Simon Yates did in 2013 when he dropped Quintana and Martin on the way.
Afterwards there was quite a regal gathering of champions; Joss Lowden, Hayley Simmonds, Marykka Semenna, Dan Evans, Richard Bussell, James Dobbin, Jim Henderson, Andrew Feather, Adam Kenway… I don’t think anyone had the foresight to get a photo.
Lastly, there isn’t any other race or type of racing which comes near to the Hill Climb for atmosphere and deranged enjoyment. There is a solidarity and an honesty to this race that can’t be found anywhere else. I love it, but I think everyone knew that already.