The weatherman on Points West took time out of waxing lyrical about the conjunction of Jupiter and Venus to say that today was going to be a really lovely, sunny, bright and warm day once the cloud base lifted. With such delights in prospect i decided today was the day to unleash the C-Bomb. It’s actually a Cervelo R5, but in our house it’s acquired the nom de guerre of ‘The C-Bomb’. It weighs a bit under 7kg and is custom made for both stravabombs and smashing it up and down climbs all over the land. It is not custom-made for riding on the shitty, dirty, slurry-encrusted lanes of North Somerset, nor is it designed for ‘king of the club run’ type madness.
In keeping with such a sacrosanct and special occasion i adhered to certain rules: i wore my best cycling kit and made sure that the ‘colourway’ matched, including all trim and piping details. see the rules for more details. i also did not take a saddlebag, i carried the extras in my jersey pockets. No saddle bags on best bikes. i spoilt this aesthetic slightly by taking a levrier super musette so i could carry my work stuff – clean pants and socks, sandwich, flapjacks, bananas, oranges, apples, keys, phone and other assorted items. the bag is much lighter on the way home.
Lately i have come across Graham Douchebag on a couple of occasions – his training rides go the opposite way to mine. He’s gearing up for some Hardriders starting this weekend. The distance is marginally shorter than his target for last year, Paris-Brest-Paris. It was really foggy the other morning and looming out of the pea-souper was a pink shadow, gaining in substance and shape as the voluminous clouds swirled and parted. I thought it was a lady at first because of the pink softshell. i realised my mistake a a few seconds later when the unmistakeable profile of G appeared through the gloaming.
I bumped into him on the downs today. we were both a bit out of breath, i’d been digging in on the flat and he’d just ridden up a hill. He took one look at the bike and then asked what on earth i was doing commuting on it. I said that i was training anyway, and pointed at my 20mph average speed to try and justify it. Besides, as i pointed out, I put a clincher wheelset on there yesterday which practically makes it a hack bike.
This weekend sees the 3rd hardrider of the season, the Severn RC promotion. I had a torrid time in this event last year, felt really sick and came 9th. I’m hoping to do a bit better this year, although it lacks long climbs and is full of nasty little bits and a massive drag up a cratered B road. Great fun.
and so to this year’s most prestigious event outside of the National Championship Hill Climb, the Fibrax Wrexham CC event on the Horseshoe Pass in North Wales. It’s an epic trek from Bristol, but i thought it was worth it for a couple of reasons; it’s a long climb, 3.1 miles of steady gradient with two or three ramps, and it’s in an incredibly beautiful part of this sceptred isle. i ignored the ratio of petrol costs to prize money and concentrated on the experience of riding my bike (albeit competitively) in a fantastic setting, blessed by unseasonally wondrous weather. this philosophical approach seemed to pay dividends. i was relatively calm and relaxed throughout, with the exception of the race. i drove up the day before and took the opportunity to ride the course in the evening sunlight. i relished the physical sense of riding in such an amazing place; the mountains and hills undulate and fold along patchwork terraces of fields, giving a sense of being surrounded on all sides by something far bigger and more significant, and yet benign – hewn in rock through millenia, with the faint efforts of people amounting to nothing more than pencil etching of a road marked along the striations in the slate ridges.
whilst returning from the pass i bumped into two cyclists i met last year at the National, one of whom was Simon Warren. He’s the writer of a great cycling book, ‘100 greatest climbs‘. i heartily recommend it, the Horseshoe gets a 7 out 0f 10 for difficulty. We got to talking about things various, and expressed our displeasure at the choice of ‘hill’ for this year’s national. there may be a blog post there, i shall not mention it further now.
the morning of the climb was a bit damp and mizzly, in contrast to the world of record october everywhere else, but the silver lining in these particular clouds was a gift tailwind for the last 300 metres where the road swung out of the horseshoe and up over the top. i chose to leave the garmin in the car. i’ve come to the conclusion that the garmin is pretty much useless in hillclimbs. it tells you accurate information – specifically that you are riding slowly, uphill, and your heart-rate is absolutely ripping through your chest; the legs and all other aspects of the body are locked in a mortal struggle to keep turning over the cadence, and there’s not an awful lot you can do about it, other than put on your painface and pedal harder. i didn’t miss it at all. in fact, i felt more comfortable not worrying about it and just rode the race.
one of the more difficult things was being the last rider off. James Dobbin didn’t start – and i’d been placed second to last, leaving me as the last rider on the road, which was certainly a first. the bottom end of the field was stacked with quick riders, but i hadn’t been seeded. The quickest on paper was Richard Handley who rides for the Raleigh UCI team, and is extremely quick. He rode this year’s Tour of Britain and the Olympic Test Event, amongst other things, whilst i was mixing it up on the Graveyard. Also in attendance was Mark Lovatt, his palmares is a thing to behold, suffice to say they don’t let just anyone race for Great Britain at the UCI world championships.
I rode fairly hard all the way, it’s very much a rhythm and cadence climb; find a gear, get on top of it and don’t let up, force the pedals through and ride as hard as you possibly can, a fraction from blowing a gasket. apart from one particular section, it’s a quick and pacy climb. the last bit caught me out slightly, it rises to 20% for 200 metres, causing a real flood of lactic acid and a bit of out of the saddle pain management, but then the last bit was a tailwind-fuelled, big-ring charge for the checkered board. i stayed sat down and hammered it, just coming in under 10 minutes for the climb with a 9.52. this translates to about 18.5 mph for the 3.1 mile climb. i think. (should have checked the garmin).
there was some sort of kerfuffle at the top with the times. apparently someone went off in the wrong slot due to a DNS, and all sorts of crazy shenanigans broke loose. a stern-looking lady in a luminous tabard managed to quell the hordes and set things right. it involved taking a minute off everyone from 61 onwards. apparently. i’d like to add that for my start slot i had no countdown. it was almost amusing. the timekeeper and starter looked confused and a bit haunted. he got me wrong and the guy in front, we both were sent off rather suddenly, with a ‘you better go now actually, yes, go go’. quite disconcerting.
the finish was at the ponderosa cafe. we shared the space with legions of terrifying bikers who queue up to assault the horseshoe pass on high-powered motorbikes. i imagine they’re usually inside Chris Boardman’s course record. brief results are below. i won a lovely shiny medal for my efforts, although the image depicts two cyclists lunging for the line, which couldn’t be further from the truth for the solitary, existential quagmire that is the hillclimb.
1. Richard Handley UCI Raleigh 9.23
2. Dan Evans ROS CC 9.33
3. John Findley Southport CC 9.39
4. Paul Jones BSCC 9.52
5. Mark Lovatt Planet-X 10.18
6. Darren Biggs Deeside CC 10.38
Next week sees the action shift to Brighton for a two-stage humdinger. I’m seeded this time, as is Pete Tadros who will probably absolutely thrash the pants off everyone in a showstopping demonstration of uphill power.
I rode the Gillingham and District hillclimb this evening. It’s a 1.5 mile or so blast up the Mere, with a couple of nasty kicks and super-fast finish. i was feeling a bit battered after a weekend of birthday-related cakes, ale and cheese, but thought the best way to get back into riding was to do a hillclimb, it made me nervous though.
it was exciting to ride the cervelo properly, give it a bit of welly and see how it shapes up. in short, it’s very very fast, super stiff and a lightweight beast. it drew admiring glances from all and sundy, which is nice.i did three climbs before the race, seeing how it went, working out the thirds, getting out of the saddle and so on. from the push i went quite hard, moved up through the gears, attacked it quite hard all the way up and won with a time of 4.33, beating a quick junior called Josh Day by about 12 seconds or so. I wasn’t that far off the course record which i may go back and chase on another day, even though it’s pretty quick – i think it’s gettable if i’m in slightly better shape, and now that i know the hill it’s slightly different. it was good to feel the real hillclimb burn, managing the effort when it’s much more harsh and intense than any other kind of time trial.
so, back to the cervelo – it defies gravity. i got the weight down to 6.7kg with not much bother at all, using a kit carbonio saddle and some lightweight skewers helps, i have an even lighter wheelset to go on once i’ve relaced the back. there’s no limit really, it’s pretty easy to make it UCI non-compliant, which gives me a furtive thrill. it’s so ridiculously stiff and responsive, i love this bike.
I’ve recently come into possession of a new road bike. it is a replacement for the nanolight i used in last year’s hillclimbs. this year, the nanolight didn’t seem nearly as comfy in longer rides and a few irritating tics started to really get on my nerves, the worst one being more than occasional heelrub on the chainstay. i unceremoniously sold it and began the process of ogling new weaponry.
after eyeing up a few choice pieces of carbon, including the felt f1, i felt that the only way to go was a cervelo for the elusive combination of rigidity and low-weight. the brilliant guys at strada cycles put the build together and i picked it up yesterday afternoon.
i went pretty much the whole hog; 11 speed chorus groupset, rotor chainrings and a fetching 3t cockpit. i even went fully extra on the pedals and got some carbon fibre dura-ace. the saddle is a kit-carbonio that weighs 125g. the new campag levers have odd parallel lines that resemble the gills on a blue whale.
i rode the bike to work this morning, and managed a 21mph average over the 15 mile commute, with 900 feet of climbing, which was reassuring. it caused quite a stir at work amongst the cyclerati… as this email demonstrates:
i took the bike out to have a bit of a blast today, factoring in some of my favourite climbs in the mendips. i started with burrington combe, rode tempo, fairly brisk, attacked it quite hard in the face of a gnarled and blustery headwind, but managed a respectable 8.21. i then rode back across shipham and ascended cheddar gorge; i made mincemeat of the one steep bit before putting the hammer down for the rest of the shallow gradient. a couple of killer climbs were quite testing, chew hill is a real beast, rears up to around 20% at key points and is pretty long. i was about three cogs off the bottom and it felt comfortable and certainly had a semblance of reduced effort and more speed. this could be the psychomatic effect of a new bike.
the downtube is enormous, square and oval, or ‘squoval’, according to the blurb. it meets in the bottom bracket shell with an asymmetric set-up to cover the non-drive side spindle. this means there is very little flex, at all. as a point of comparision, my mercian 531c flexes like a russian gymnast. this r5 is utterly calcified, rigid and unyeilding. in real terms this makes it efficient, but also skittish at low speeds, in a nice way (if that’s possible, i guess what i mean is that it has that sort of reassuring out-and-out racer feel to it). the magic really happens when you start to crank it up, power transmission is instant, the bike flies along and tracks beautifully. i tried the old ‘adjust the jersey, hands in back pockets no hands on bars’ trick at around 22 mph on a fairly lumpy road near priddy. no deviation, it kept a straight face and i felt secure. descending on the r5 leads to a vaguely damascene moment; it’s possible to throw this bike at the corners, work with gravity and ride really aggressively, the stiffness translates into a reassuring stability that means 40mph+ seems like less. at one point during the ride i had to stop and check the cassette because i thought i’d been short changed with a 12 sprocket instead of an 11, but no, it’s just the pace of the beast.i have rotor chainrings, these are very nice.
other things to note, the seatstays are absurdly thin and beautifully elegant. with full light build it weighs 6.8kg. it shouldn’t be too much bother to get it under the UCI legal limit – i have some lighter wheels i might be able to switch, i’m currently a set of fairly old but lightweight zipp 340s.
keith bontrager is always right, and unfortunately he was right in this case:
‘light, cheap and strong – pick two’.
i am looking forward to some races where i can turn the very lovely pedals in anger. i am particularly looking forward to hillclimb season, this bike defies newton.