The Tumble

Wales is a popular destination for cyclists from Bristol. In my usual awkward way, I have tended to stay south of the city, looping around the Mendips. My brief forays to the principality tend to involve a blast up from Chepstow to Tintern then back via Devauden. My main issue is that you have to trek along the Portway and then over the bridge and it means at least 40 miles of the ride is a bit grim. Nevertheless, this week I set out to try some new roads, heading up to the Tumble for the first time on a 100 mile round trip. 

The bridge is the fun bit and I bumped into one of the GBDuro 20 riders, heading to John o’ Groats as part of some intense off-road race thing. It’s the same race Lachlan Morton did last year – I interviewed him for the new book – and is the preserve of lunatics. The rules this year are extreme; they have to carry all their food with them and if something breaks and they can’t fix it they are disqualified. Personally I think these are a bit excessive, or shit. Adventure is one thing, being a fascist about it another thing altogether, not to mention enhancing, rather than minimising, risk. Why not insist they stuff their faeces in an apidura turd sack all the way to JoG and have done with it.

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It’s quite a hectic set-up. 

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I took a left at the top of Chepstow and immediately found myself on the good stuff, empty lanes, curving up and down across the Wye Valley then up into Shirenewton. I had an unscheduled bit of gravel to contend with which meant walking down a 20% scree slope with a furious tiny dog barking  through a wire fence. The main roads were very quiet, in contrast to Bristol’s clogged arteries of rage.

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Serious gravel

The Tumble is an iconic climb, primarily because of height gain. It’s 512 metres at the summit and it takes a good while to get up. It is also visible from  a long way out, so has that demented foreshortening effect that all good climbs have, looming  over you from twenty miles away, a nudge and a wink, a threat. It sits on the edge of Abergavenny and is in the ‘steep and unrelenting but not too terrifying’ category. It is long though, and took me (in gentle mode) getting on for twenty minutes from bottom to top. I notice the Welsh Championships are on there this year so may even revisit. The views are beautiful, out towards the Sugar Loaf and across to the hills above Blaenavon. It was worth the trek. The top is vaguely surreal. Just as Alpe D’Huez is a bit like a tacky seaside resort at the top of a mountain, the Tumble has its quirks. For one, there is an ice cream van at the summit. The strangest thing was a murky pond – and people were swimming. It was bizarre.

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It’s a great climb, right in the middle of a 100 mile ride. 

I dropped down into Blaenavon – I’ve been there touring before – and then across along the tops, before a very technical descent into the valleys. I hurtled around a corner and bumped into the GBDuro chap again. It made me smile. We had a chat and I wished him well for the terrors that lay ahead.

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Adam was fixated on eating; he was literally counting the minutes – 20 – until he was scheduled to eat again. 

There is one other nasty climb out of Usk which caught me by surprise. With 70 miles in the legs it had me vowing yet again  to put a compact on the front; I’m still rolling with a hubris-inducing 39:25.

It was a super day out, 100 miles on the dot, about 6,200 feet of ups. One particular highlight was rolling through Mamhilad, where my grandfather was born in the 1920s. I never met him, he survived the war as a Royal Marine Commando, getting injured in the Battle of the Scheldt, only to die a few years later in a tragic accident. I didn’t feel like riding through Mamhilad was a deeply resonant experience – it’s not that nice a place, more a sort of industrial and commercial zone on the edge of Pontypool, but I thought of him, maybe supping in the Star of an evening, and my Welsh heritage.

The benefit of doing all this on a Monday is it means your mileage for the week is all but chalked off. But of course, you then think ooh maybe I can chip off a 200 mile week… and so it goes.

Adam Colvin’s stories on instagram, and the thread of his ride, are well worth a look:

https://www.instagram.com/airborneelvis7/

The Wall of Shibden and other such delights

It was great to be in Yorkshire, notwithstanding the awful weather and threat of sudden localised lockdowns. We were staying north of Bradford, not far from Haworth where it is all rolling hills and grippy tarmac and cobbles and dilapidated mills. I love it there and visit regularly because it is where Mum lives and if I don’t visit then I’ll lose a third of my readership.

I planned my second ride to take into account alleged better weather. The wind dropped, but it was still pretty wet and miserable. I wanted to have a look at Shibden Wall, a famous cobbled climb which crests up above Halifax before throwing you down a cobbled descent into the town. Simon Warren rates it highly, it might even be in his first book of climbs. To get to it you need to drop down into a very steep sided valley, then up a glorious bit of smooth tarmac called Lee Lane. Halfway up there is a brutal transition into classic Yorkshire cobbles, right at the steepest bit.

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Dropping down into the valley towards Lee Lane
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The big left-hander on Shibden Wall

It’s worth saying that people love a good UK cobbled climb, but a lot of them a pretty much a waste of time, namely the cobbled element is the only thing they have going for them. Shibden Wall isn’t one of those. It is steep – not overwhelmingly so – and long. It has two hairpins and it gets steeper all the way; classic hill climb fare. It is probably about 13%, that’s a guess, and I can’t be bothered to google it, but this is made much worse because you can’t really get out of the saddle and it’s right on the ‘get out of the saddle’ threshold. Essentially, you’re churning over the gear, sat down, and trying to find a line. It was wet and greasy like an old chip supper when I did it, just to make matters worse. To summarise, it was hard, beautifully technical and unlike any other climb. It was quite a joyous experience. Although there were plenty of people on  t’internet who suddenly started banging on about Trooper’s Lane, also of Halifax. By my reckoning there at least 4 or so beastly cobbled climbs in and around Halifax – the other side of the Wall is Ploughman’s Lane. Put it this way, I descended on the pavement.

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Ploughman’s Lane

I climbed up out of Halifax to the desolate moorland on the road to Rochdale. I’ve been up here before at Christmas time, with needles of ice on the pylons and a solid sheen of watery glass on the reservoirs. This time I wanted to ride down Cragg Vale, just for a breather. It’s a 5 mile descent to Mytholmroyd, dropping back into the Calder valley on the way to Luddenen, so is a real blast. I wanted to have another go at Luddenden Foot, a climb I’d been near in 2012. One way out of the village was used in the National Hill Climb about 20 years ago, a huge angry beast of road clawing up the side of a mountain. However, there’s another one called Stocks Lane which is really horrid and rolls up towards Mixenden. It climbs about 650 feet in under 2 miles and is a whopper. With the benefit of a tailwind I survived the experience, but it was a close thing.

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A right handed pylon, shifting the cables 90 degrees

The moorland up above Bradford, places like Denholm Clough and Ogden, is beautiful and at times eerily empty. Everyone craves space and solitude, now more than ever, but these wild places are as quiet as anywhere I’ve been. In fact, there is a route across the highest point, called “Cold Edge Road”, and it is a transcendent place, literally lifting you up above the landscape, the sea of current anxiety, of people and places, work and furlough, fear and loathing, to a place where no-one else goes. And it is surreal, because right up at the highest point of Warley Moor you can join the Halifax Sailing club.

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Wilderness and Warley Moor
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Above Oxenhope
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Should buff out

It was a good few days.

 

Reading C.C. and hill climb chat

Occasionally I get invited to an event to talk about things. Sometimes it’s a shindig, some kind of degenerate bike party, and other times it’s a club dinner. I might be overegging the pudding here, I think I’ve done three club dinners in 7 years, and one of those was Bristol South and wasn’t really a club dinner, it was a meeting that I hijacked for my own ends.

Anyway, the lovely people at Reading C.C. asked me to speak at their do in “the party room” at Zizzi’s. This was in the main because they are organising the national hill climb this year on Streatley and thought my ‘expertise’ might come in useful.

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I’d come across Clive Pugh before, a Reading Wheeler who came third behind Alf Engers and Les West in the National 50 in 1976. He appears in a sequence of photos taken by the amazing Dave Pountney, one of which made the cover of the Alf book. I love the way he looks, so unassuming and  and so amateur, in the most brilliant way. John Woodburn also had a strong connection with the club and lived in the area for some time.

Reading C.C. is a bellwether for cycling as a whole. The town had two pre war clubs, the Wheelers and Les Bon Amis, who amalgamated in the hard times in the 1970s. After struggling through the dark years, the club now has over 200 members, with a tangible increase in female members and an inclusive approach.

I made the most of the opportunity for a longer ride, breathing in the helpful support of a humongous westerly wind to ride there on Saturday. It was a bit of a classic, I felt good, the legs were good, the wind was brilliant. I went through Avebury and was left wide-eyed by the prehistoric architecture, circles and rows of stones, ditches and banks. The area is ethereal and time seems to dissolve amongst the timeless sarsen megaliths.

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I avoided the grotfest that is the Kennet and Avon canal in winter. One poor piece of mapwork had me riding through a farmer’s field but it was at least rideable. Most of it was on the A4 which is a big and old road, in some way a monument to the past, to coaching routes and journeys that took days, not hours. There are beautiful old mile markers which can be exciting or dispiriting, depending which way you look at them. It’s also the setting for lots of time trials in the past, most obviously the Bath Road 100. It is still used but like every other road everywhere, has been limited over time by rampant traffic growth and density, traffic lights and the primacy of the motor car.

The first red kite appeared at Axford, two of them drifting against the wind with a hooked talon hanging down, scaring the wood pigeons for fun. Nearer Reading and they were everywhere it seemed, gliding over housing estates, or tilting into the breeze at a junction before vying with crows for a tattered mess of roadkill. Near Marlborough I stumbled across a field of Aberdeen Angus cattle, accompanied by a flock of cattle egrets. They took to the air as one, a strobing, syncopated cloud of white wings. It was 82 lovely miles, and a quick run in to Reading. The last half is more or less downhill.

The talk seemed well-received. It is hard talking to a room of strangers, even if there is a connecting thread. It is hard to judge. I may have used the words “eyeball popping out”, “hernia” and “prolapse”, with the last one getting a collective groan of horror as people tucked into their chocolate fondant and it ruptured oozing brown liquid out of the gaping hole forced in the side.

I think I rescued it with talk of emotions and feelings and the amateur spirit, creating and taking opportunities, how life is in the doing. It’s in the decision to get up and make things happen, and in taking on this spectacular event Reading C.C. are creating the framework for people to live their very best lives, to experience what it is like to ride up a hill through a wall of people, to have their Dutch Corner on Streatley, and to experience an emotional intensity that doesn’t happen anywhere else.

I also spoke about the simplicity of the event. There is change, but the type of technological change in this event is minimal. It’s as close to the original spirit of cycling as you can get: you can’t diminish the primal force of a hill through slipperiness. It’s a diamond frame, fixed wheel, drillium, box section, round profiles, these are the weapons against time and gravity. Granville Sydney would recognise the winner’s bicycle, marvel perhaps at the lightness, but see it as a part of the same continuum; whereas Stan Higginson or Frank Southall would be baffled by a modern TT frame. Malcolm Elliot’s course record on Monsal still lingers on, as does Phil Mason’s on Catford.

The national hill climb presents an opportunity for everyone involved, a chance to live life to the very fullest, at its most intense and most vivid.

I think these sentiments went across better than “hill climbs make you shit yourself and your eye comes out”.

Haytor Vale – the National!

It’s long this year; 3.1 miles to be precise, and it’s a technical climb. It’s possible the winner might be someone unexpected. I’m tipping Phil Stonelake for the Vets. This is what I wrote for the MDCC programme:

“Yes, Dartmoor is a worthy setting. If the devil did desire to have a hand in our affairs.”

And so it goes… the championship returns to Devon and the long, undulating climb of Haytor. The clocks reverse and a deep darkness descends to a landscape unchanged since Jeff Williams crested the summit 40 years ago. The onlooking cairns and kistvaens of prehistory are soundless witnesses to our savage efforts.

“A grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim in the distance like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”

Of late, the weightless roadmen and testers have been but shadows sketched onto the shorter, shiftier climbs, lurking in the gloaming of Pea Royd or Bank Road, watching the watt monsters racing into and through, rather than over the hill. But now the cleat is on the other foot. Haytor is a rhythm climb, 13 minutes with eyeballs bulging but not bloodied. It is a spiteful sibling to the Horseshoe and the Tumble, where pacing triumphs over power.

“I counsel to forbear you from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.”

Watch out for Hayley Simmonds taking on Joscelin Lowden, Emily Meakins and Fiona Burnie. See if Andrew Feather can ward off those reliant on the rhythm method in pursuit of ecstasy; think Laverack, Gildea and Evans.  Let’s hope for a kind day; a long climb in spiteful rain and wind is no friend to the spectator or rider. Lastly look out for the MDCC, home to Colin Lewis, Yanto Barker and Jeremy Hunt. They are the keepers of the flame, eager to see who will be spoken of alongside Williams, Webster and Boardman in the years to come.

“That which is clearly known has less terror than that which is but hinted at.”

Words by Paul Jones (with apologies to Arthur Conan-Doyle)

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National Hill Climb: Pea Royd Lane

I haven’t made the annual pilgrimage to a bleak northern hillside for a few years now, so it was great to get up above Stocksbridge last weekend to see the National Hill Climb. The climb was a late substitution for a southern massif where some kind of confusion and delay doomed the event before it had even begun. There was much speculation as to the reason why, the usual armchair anarchists with their withered fingers pointing at various people in fits of incoherent rage, but as with most things, the truth is typically very simple and underwhelming.

So/Hwæt I found myself on a hillside, desolate.  Although it wasn’t that desolate because the sun shone and it felt almost balmy. I had to take my coat off at one point. I observed the following things:

  1. Large numbers of participants and spectators. The event has grown in size from a field of 120 to a full field of 300. That’s quite a leap. It makes the event last a heck of a lot longer, in fact, you are watching cyclists from 11am until 3pm. This is both good and bad.
  2. The event is in some sort of refractive meta-world, where people take amazing pictures of people doing amazing things and this makes more people want to take more photos and more people want to ride and do amazing things. The narrative of the national hill climb is gloriously simple and very photogenic.
  3. The spectactors are getting ever more visceral and gladiatorial. It has always been thus, but there is a newer sense of the mountain stage, the madness of mankinis and of demented scarves.
  4. There are a number of people riding fixed, which represents a resurgence of sorts. It’s as though they read some overly-romanticised chapter in a book and thought it would be a great idea but didn’t really see the downside until it’s too late.
  5. The community surrounding the hill climb is unlike any other. It is uniquely convivial. The only thing I’ve experienced which is close to it is, paradoxically, the 24hr and End to End bunch of nutters.

Fiona Burnie and Andrew Feather were the outright winners. Glyndwr deserves a mention for winning the vets prize. From a slightly biased point of view, it’s always a treat when the out and out climbers win this event.

Here are some amazing pictures by Martin Wilson of Rare Mags fame.

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More cowbell
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Simon Warren threatens this young lad 
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Hollyoaks 2
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Glyndwr: The Little Welsh Prince (c. Joe Norledge)
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The Northern Shandies
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Gentle encouragement

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I took a roll of film with me, keeping it nice and old school. I opted to double expose. It came out with some lively juxtapositions.

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Holdsworth and Kenway
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Calum  Brown
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Jim Henderson
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Fiona Burnie

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Downing
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Dan Robinson getting stuck into a Jaffa

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Warren writes on  the map
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James Hayward

 

Interstellar Overdrive

After last week’s shenanigans involving getting my bongo weapon out in the balmy sunshine and showing it off to all and sundry, this week has been more sedate. There is much talk of the Hollyoaks Late storyline, suffice to see it seems to involve wanton abuse of random animals and a cast of North Africans. One day it’ll be dramatised, featuring Hugh Grant as Joe Hollyoaks and Ben Whishaw as a hapless puppy, down on his luck and down on all fours.

It has been an amazing run of weather, so I’ve been out and about commuting and general riding through the sunny mornings and close evenings. The ride to work is hilly. It makes a perfect hour long training ride, three times a week. But it is tiring. This veteran status isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, recovery times get longer and  weight loss is much harder.

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I have been enjoying the Giro. My mum loves the cycling, that she does. Today I carefully managed to manipulate naptime of a sleeping child, then had two screens running simulataneously, one showing ‘UK Freight Trains at Speed’ and the other showing the Giro Time Trial. With this elaborate set-up I managed to catch 3 hours of the race. My mum came in during the last, pivotal three minutes.

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Granny Hath Arrived

“What’s this?”

The Giro.

Who won yesterday?

No-one won yesterday.

Why didn’t they win yesterday?

It was a rest day.

Why is he in pink?

It’s the pink jersey. It’s like the yellow, jersey, but pink.

So why is it pink? Why isn’t it yellow?

Because they have pink instead of yellow. Like in yorkshire, where it’s blue instead of pink, or Spain where it’s red instead of blue, but pink in Italy.

So this is a hill climb is it?

No.

Oh it’s not a hill climb. (Yates crosses the line) So he’s beaten all the riders?

No he came 22nd. 

But he’s winning the race?

Yes. 

But he came 22nd? And he’s beaten all the other riders? So he’s won the race?

No

It’s like watching Interstellar, being utterly engrossed for three hours and and just prior to the final head-bending elliptical loop of space where everything is resolved in comes Granny to ask why that man is touching a bookshelf  in  space with weird strings and making dust and the world is curved and his daughter is older than his granny and old people are talking about dust-storms and you have to explain it whilst also giving a primer in quantum theory and the nature of time and space and a traditional narrative arc.

Granny did bring an excellent bit of signage though which I have put up on the wall. I don’t think Belle will notice. However, she might accidentally end up in the garden when needing a wee.

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Suddenly I’m lurching off to the right. I can’t work out why.

Lastly, my new shoes have arrived. That’s another tale for another day.

The Hills Have Eyes

Back in the days of yore I used to organise a revolting time trial in the Cotswolds. It was a genuine hellfest, one for the masochists. I remember once Rob Pears entered his wife, Gillian (so to speak), and then got really scared when he thought he might have actually entered himself instead (so to speak). Some people really liked the race, as though it filled a void in their lives left gaping since the last time they read JG Ballard’s family novel, Crash. Since the demise of the megahilly, Glyndwr Griffiths has become the keeper of the flame of horrid bike races with his Mendip version of the Megahilly. It’s a neat circuit which starts up Burrington, drops down Harptree and then goes up Blagdon, before repeating it, just in case you hadn’t had enough. Interestingly, like all really shitty time trials, the descents are arguably worse than the climbs. The drop down Harptree is horrendous. Each individual section of tarmac has been resurfaced to a different grade and at a different time. It makes for a lumpen hellfest.

There was a contingent of hardy warriors lined up at the start, including the spangly Das Rad Klub Firmanent, with their pack of hardened mercenaries, led by the freelance smasher Tavis Walker, now riding for his 27th klub in 9 years.

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The Freelance Hellraiser; fresh from battling the hordes at the UCI Chrono Sportive thing in Cambridge
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Das Rad Wieler Coleman does sock battle with number 14: FINISH HIM

There was also a bagful of Bristol South, including Dan Burbridge in his first outing as the scratchman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop), a real privilege which came with a special and unique prize: 75 minutes of endlessly wet rain just for him. Joe from Hollyoaks was also there, mixing it up with the UOBCC shorts and the BSCC chamois, threatening the good decorum of rules and regulations, not to mention the inner turmoil that ensues from such bigamous actions.

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ScratchmanDan

I found the race to be a primitive experience, one of survival, and a bad idea from start to finish. I don’t quite know why, but I lack the ability to turn myself inside out anymore. I go into the time trial transporter device and expect to come out like that dog in the Fly 2. It doesn’t happen. I tend to ride to a thin line of self-preservation. I suspect it is just that, aligned with a lower level of fitness, a bit more weight and few more years. I worry about pacing myself and not blowing up, and in the process lose hours of time. I still enjoy it though, just not quite so much when some sprightly young beast hurtles past on a road bike.

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Getting ready to ride really softly up a hill

It’s interesting that I’ve ridden up Blagdon faster when training in April than I did in the race today. That’s borderline inexcusable, I wasn’t going that fast in April so certainly wasn’t moving quickly today. I’ll have to review things, flagellate myself a little, dig a lot deeper and just rag it a lot more. Time trialling is a state of mind as much as anything. Getting into that mindset is the trickiest bit. Beyond that, I’m enjoying it, and it was brilliant to have a loud cheer from Penny and Elliot at the steepest part of the climb, along with some gentle words of encouragement from Belle:

“Come ON! What are you doing! YOU’RE NOT DELIVERING BREAD! It’s supposed to be a bike race!”

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This isn’t Belle. This is a chap who chose some unusual equipment. It was pretty impressive though. 

I’ve entered a few more races. There aren’t that many on in the district so I feel like I’ve been railroaded into entering some absolutely awful bike races. We shall see. If the next two weeks don’t kill my nascent comeback stone dead, then that will be a surprise.

By Popular Request: Bob Jackson Vigorelli

I have a go-to bike, and it’s my Bob Jackson Vigorelli track frame. It’s not really a track frame, at least not out-and-out; the angles are perfect, slightly relaxed, and it takes full mudguards. I ride it most winters (and summers) and never deviate from a 68″ gear. For those of you living in a metric world, all you crazed audaxers especially, and Matt Clinton who only speaks in ratios, it’s 39:15. In my experience you can get up and down anything in this gear and tack along on the flat at around 19mph without a care in the world. Apart from Draycott. I once went up Birdlip on Boxing Day, I think there’s a blog on here somewhere about it. I won’t ever be doing that again.

I have a pair of flopped and chopped cinelli bars; probably criteriums. They were really scratched and abused so I didn’t feel too bad about hacking them down. The curve is just right; I’ve tried various other set-ups but this is by far the most comfortable. In the early days I ran with a Dirty Harry lever mounted on the tops but this has been replaced by a single TT lever on the widest point, it makes for easier braking and control when riding at speed; your hands are wider and it’s better, especially when your ass is bouncing around from the effect of a 180rpm cadence.

For some time I ran with a double campagnolo chainset, but with the single ring, this made things lighter. I’ve since reverted back to a Miche Primato; it has a better chainline, less faffage and the Q-Factor is good. I also use the Miche sprocket and carrier system, this is a remnant of hill climb days when you could remove a sprocket very quickly without a chainwhip. Some people sneer a bit at this system, as though somehow it’s not reliable. This is total bollocks. They are sturdy and utterly secure.

Wheels are a set of Mavic Open Pro; the front is laced radially to a Phil Wood hub; it’s very tasty. I have a ceramic rim on the rear, just for shits and giggles because I don’t use a caliper brake. In other words, it’s a pointless addition. It makes people laugh when they see it. I went through the rim of an open pro whilst descending Bridge Valley Road. I nearly shat myself. It exploded. There is a lesson: don’t ride on concave rims.

I love this bike; it’s light enough, but not super light, frame and fork come in at 1.4kg; which is pretty heavy. For a winter bike though, without the addition of a groupset and other stuff, it comes in light. It rides beautifully. I have a carradice on the back to keep my school books off of my back. Saddle is a Brooks Cambium – I’ve tried various saddles. I think the trick is with fixed riding for any length of time is to go a tiny tiny bit lower on saddle height; your ass is moving around a lot more, you need a bit of give.

I’ve had it resprayed by Argos, it’s now orange. It used to be blue. I recommend having your bike re-enamelled every 8 to 10 years; it’s worth it. It used to be a royal blue colour. I also had some additional bosses put on, including secret mudguard ones. The bike was stolen about 9 years ago from outside a pub in Bristol. I got it back a year later almost to the day when it was listed on ebay and an eagle-eyed chum, Rob Mortlock, spotted it. I got knocked off by a car last year and broke two ribs. The bike was fine.

We were meant to be together.

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On the Rake, on the edge, with Vigorelli in full hill climb mode in the 2012 National.
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On Burrington, probably 2014 I think. FUCKEN HORNS.

On enhancing the National TT Championships with the spurious and wanton addition of the rock horns

I was trying to explain to someone recently what it means to ride in the BC National Championships. This involved the use of a clumsy analogy involving what it might be like for a very good club tennis player, or even district big-hitter, to take on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. It was as close as I could manage; Thursday’s race included the Olympic Time Trial Champion and The Commonwealth Games time trial champion and the winner of the Tour de France. They were the thick end of a very thick wedge of absurdly quick riders. Somewhere in amongst it all could be found a gentle sprinkling of club riders, whilst over there, looking confused and nervous and a small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was PJ.

I spent at least some of the pre-race period sat on a sofa at Celtic Manor in my skinsuit talking to Matt Le Tissier. i didn’t know he was Matt Le Tissier until someone else came up and asked for a selfie to send their Southampton-loving chum. He looked a lot like Phil Tufnell. He seemed very friendly and not daunted by the lycra. He was aware that a race was going on. Bradley Wiggins then walked nonchalantly through and everyone stopped and stared.

I took my rollers. This is unusual for me, but it seemed unlikely that there would be anywhere to warm-up, and the possibility of wet weather posed distinct problems. I was very glad i did, i managed to find a quiet spot to set up. What with Celtic Manor being a Ryder Cup location, it seemed entirely appropriate that Colin Montgomerie was able to offer a helping hand.

After 4 weeks of beautiful weather, the heavens opened in time for the Elite race at 6pm. The roads were greasy and grubby. It made for some technical and hair-raising sections on the 12 mile lap. The start ramp was chronically exciting, as was the Hugh Porter commentary; at first. Hugh Porter is a legend of the sport, but his best years of commentary appear to be behind him. At times he seemed to have been switched with a confused dementia patient reading out some bingo numbers.

The bike passed the offical bike check, which is more than can be said for some. My complex home measuring system involving a tape measure, door frame and sharpie was identical to the rig used by the scrutineers. Several other riders fell foul of the bike checks. It left me wondering why people push it when they know the rules. Perhaps it’s easier when you’re not pushing the envelope; I didn’t particularly worry about it. The extensions needed to be pulled in by nearly 5cm and the saddle pushed back a bit, i erred on the side of caution – a metaphor for the race. And so it goes…

Race face on
Rolling down the ramp, taking Courtney Rowe’s advice to ‘freewheel just in case’

I didn’t go full gas on some of the sketchy bits, it was too sketchy. Apparently Wiggins was fully committed and asked where the nearest hospital was prior to starting. I eschewed this approach in favour of a slightly lower key ride. Fortune favoured the brave, and i wasn’t that brave. At the end of the lap loomed the horrifying spectre of a steep and savage climb. There’s no way to describe the brutality of climbing up a 25% wall on a slightly overgeared time trial bike. I had the 42:23 on, I didn’t have anything else. This was fine; I am used to climbing on fixed so can turn bigger gears over when going uphill. It was hard and i had to stay out of the saddle all the way up. I could have done with something a bit lighter, but it didn’t make a huge amount of difference, the climb was vile. It’s worth noting for information purposes that it is harder than any hill climb i’ve done over the past 4 years. The saving grace was the smörgåsbord of red and gold; a cheering, baying mob of the Bristol tifosi, screaming encouragement. It took my mind off the climb.

There are some other notable features that made this event the best race I have ever been involved in, notwithstanding the presence of several riders who I tend to idolise. It utilised a full road closure; not some rolling stoppages, but a full, barriered closure from start to finish. If you’re not used to riding on full closures it’s a weird experience. It takes a long time to get out of the habit of hanging to the left hand side of the road, rather than choosing the racing line through the long and sweeping bends. When you finally do get to taking the racing line through sharp right handers, it’s accompanied by a nagging fear, ‘i do hope the road really is fully closed and there won’t be any nasty surprises’. On the first lap I was led out by a motorbike outrider from the NEG group. This was an amazing experience; he signalled all of the slippery drain covers and hazards. After the first lap it was a free for all, there were more riders and more following cars.

Such was my excitement at being in the biggest race of my life that I took every opportunity to throw out the rock horns, both on the first and second lap. I think that some spectators saw this a potentially foolhardy, or perhaps a sign that I wasn’t treating the race with due diligence. Ultimately I wasn’t taking it hugely seriously, I wasn’t in it to win, I was there to do my best, to represent the club and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to come to last. Essentially these were my goals for the race. And to throw some shapes wherever possible.

Horns on the hill

Sir Brad did not give the horns

I came 28th out of 60. Wiggins’ time was stratospherically fast; he is the reigning Olympic the trial champion. Outside of the continental riders, the bulk of competitors were within 4 minutes of each other; i was within this block, just. I came in 9 minutes behind Wiggins. I just kept it to within 10 minutes, which is how i imagined it would be. Getting to ride the event in the first place was a success, staying on the bike and making it round was even better, finishing within the top 30 at the National Championships, ergo, all of the country, and not being significantly adrift of the non Grand Tour stage winners, was the best of all. I was chastened and humbled by the level of support; Mum, nephew, wife and child, in-laws, club-mates, random strangers asking questions, the tweets and likes, everything.

I raced yesterday on the Somerset levels. It wasn’t quite the same.

 

 

I want to give a really BAD time trial. I mean it. I want to give a time trial where there’s a brawl and seductions and people going home with their feelings hurt and women passed out in the cabinet de toilette. You wait and see.

Capture

Time trials are much of a muchness. A group of men, often of a certain vintage, clad from head-to-toe in shiny, tighter than skin tight lycra, gather together in a layby littered with the pages of a discarded copy of razzle magazine and a once-used prophylactic. They then take turns to ride at speed in the inside lane of a dual carriageway for 10 miles, no more no less, before retiring back to the shelter of a village hall for tea and cake. It’s an act completed under the cover of the stillness of the pre-morning, the only speculative onlookers are the drunk wastaways and students completing the walk or drive of shame. Once the furtive act has been completed the lone rider can get changed and sneak back into the house; his absence not noticed because it’s not even 9am.

And then there is the Megahilly. An apocalyptic battle of survival against the elemental power of gravity and the sheer, unrelenting and savage beauty of the Cotswolds. A mere 28 miles incorporating 3,500 feet of climbing. For some reason, the event is growing in popularity. Hardened veterans of the event now speak of the addiction; ask to be reminded why it is they can’t keep away, why they keep coming back for more. It’s acquired a metalanguage of battle, the semantics of war being the only vernacular capable of describing the horrors of the course.

It’s a real time trial, a technical and challenging course where you have to kill a small dog just to be allowed to start and the citizens of Uley complain vociferously of ‘those shiny bike riders weaving around, like they wuz drunk, like, and being sick and that all over the hill, awful it wuz’.

And it hurts, it really hurts.

Iain Hounsell tries to find the right words, the right cog, the right rhythm, but can only grip the bars and hope the end will be soon.
Ed resorts to counting the individual pieces of gravel on the road to cope with the slowing down of speed and time, of self-similarity, and of the desire for oblivion

This is the second year i’ve organised the event. I chose to run it again because I like hills and was convinced to do so by Mike Hallgarth, the course designer. It used to be slightly easier, until Mike decided that the winning average speed needed to be kept as low as possible, and that a 20mph average should be a rarity to be celebrated. He succeeded.

This year the startsheet was headed by Tejvan Pettinger, National Hill Climb Champion. Further down the field it promised to be a royal scrap with the fastest hilly testers in the district lined up to enact the slow dance of oxygen death on Frocester’s fabled slopes. In a similar vein to last year, road bikes far outnumbered the TT bikes. I don’t think there’s any question that a road bike should climb better than a TT bike, but that’s probably where the advantages end. Even on this course, there are enough stretches to justify the use of bongo-weaponry. I spiced up the dilemma by throwing in a handful of road bike prizes, enough to tempt the waverers.

Tejvan showcases his superpowers on Crawley Hill. However, the magnets have fallen off his visor just like mine: he is human after all.

I managed to squeak a spot in the field. I didn’t seed myself as a rider (said the bishop to the actress) because i wasn’t entirely sure i’d be able to ride due to the fairly intense duties involved in organisation. Thanks to fantastic help and support from the club, it was ok. I snuck in between the mighty atom (apologies to Eileen), Derek Smetham, and the VC Walcot blade-for-hire, Sir Tavis of Walker. Tavis nearly missed his start on account of a prior appointment with a small terrier on Adey’s Lane. He hit it amidships on his TT weapon, ending up in the hedge. The fate of the dog is unknown. He then legged it back up the hill to switch bikes, making it back down in a surge of adrenaline and confusion. It solved the equipment angst at least. Tav is a bit of a monster, but with me on the bongo and him on the road bike I steadily reeled him in.

Classic bongo shot (rich lewton)

I also kept it level on the climbs with the splits being fairly equal. I made a superfast descent to Selsley after catching him over the top and over took a Honda 4×4 which was sticking rigidly to the 40mph speed limit. This was quite exciting. Tav tried the same trick but the Honda lady got a bit freaked out by being overtaken by one frighteningly fast bike person and slammed on the anchors, Tav got fresh with the back of the car, just like he got fresh with that dog. He has a line of ‘kills’ painted on his top-tube, mammals, children, adults, Chelsea tractors, anything impeding the pursuit of straight-line speed pays a heavy price.

The last climb is Stouts Hill. It’s also the toughest. On approaching the bottom it’s easy to think ‘last climb, let’s rag it, make up the time’, but it’s not possible. A string of riders are lined up the hill experiencing the same dichotomy, betrayed by the fading legs and lungs. I was out of the saddle and caught three riders engaged in mortal combat. Something wasn’t quite right with the picture: the one in the middle wasn’t actually racing. He was a weekend warrior, out for a jaunt, and yet he stumbled across some real life bike racers, and to be fair, was giving them a bit of a hard time. I’m not sure how i’d cope if i got Kimmaged. I might never touch or look at the bike again.

The Stouts Effect (amazing picture from rich lewton)

Despite it being a bit of a windy day and arguably slower than last year, I rode pretty much the same time, within 2 seconds, for a 1.22.48. Derek was 3rd, at 30 seconds. I was pleased to come second. Tejvan Pettinger, unsurprisingly, took the win. It’s worth noting that the Hill Climb course record on Stouts is 4.58 by James Dobbin. I’ve managed 5.09. During the race today I managed 5.54. Tejvan Pettinger scaled the heights in a frightening 5.18. All told, Tejvan made it round in 1.17.17, or 5 minutes quicker than me. In short, he bagged about 45 seconds per climb, more on the longer ones, and also eked out time on the flatter seconds. It was a masterclass in hilly time trialling and he was imperious. He managed to take 36 Strava KOMs during the ride. Sometimes a race can be won or lost by a slim margin; last year Derek edged it by 6 seconds. I think i know where those 6 seconds went. This year, it’s a little bit hard to tell where exactly those 300 seconds disappeared to.

All told it was a successful event; no-one crashed (apart from the dog thing) and people seemed to enjoy the masochistic side of things. There is something curious about the out and back aspects of the course; you get to see other riders far more than in a typical time trial and there is a hushed solidarity. Everyone is fighting the same battle, trying to get up Frocester Hill, or London Road, or Crawley, or Selsley, or Stouts. And at the end, there is a shared sense of achievement, it was hard for everyone. Even the winner.

I may ignore his suggestion for two laps. Although he has planted a seed.

 

 

 

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