When the weather has been horribly stinky for such a long time it seems almost anomalous to be out in glorious sunshine. I’ve taken to using my rain jacket as the default piece of cycling gear, but today was able to wear a soft shell. Even then i felt slightly overdressed. By way of overcompensating for the absence of horrible conditions i opted for a horrible route, including several of the steepest and nastiest climbs in the Mendips. Most of them began with the letter ‘D’; Dundry, Deer Leap, Draycott…
The first race of the season is on Sunday; it’s a 25. I tried the time trial bike yesterday; it seemed to still work, which is more than can be said for my ageing legs.
I’ve been trying to rebuild my base endurance after it took a walloping due to illness and other factors. this involves the same sort of training as normal, but with some extended weekend jaunts out into the mendips, taking in at least a few hills. Today i tackled a ride i usually favour during a ‘build’ period. it’s not one for the faint-hearted or faint-legged, for a couple of reasons. The total elevation tops out at 5000 feet, hitting that all important 1000 feet per 10 miles marker. There are 6 particularly unpleasant climbs, interspersed with some opportunities for recovery. It’s really hard work and maintaining any kind of average speed above 15mph is very difficult, requiring considerable exertion on the ups and and on the flat.
The route starts with an ascent over the steep side of Dundry, and it’s very steep. It takes around 4 minutes, oscillating between 10 and 20% with not much inbetween. The hairpins are also very steep. It’s a wall. Parsonage Lane is much gentler, at around 6% for about 0.8 of a mile. After that, Blagdon looms large. It’s the nastiest way to get up the north side of the Mendips, rising up from Blagdon Lake to the highest point of the hills in 1 3/4 miles. The elevation pitches up to around 15% at various points and is never particularly shallow. It’s a climb I really like but it’s never particularly easy, just tipping over the edge of steepness to make it hard to find and maintain a rhythm. It’s used in the Colin Carfield road race where the action generally explodes.
After a brief recovery and descent of West Close – a hill climb course used this year by Team Tor and for the National HC in 2000 – it was time for the hardest, nastiest, most revolting climb in all the Mendips: Draycott Steep. It’s a climb most people avoid on account of its unremitting savagery. it’s hard to explain precisely why, but it could be because of its unassuming nature. Essentially, it heads up out of Draycott to the very top of Cheddar Gorge in one straight, steepening line. There is no opportunity to gather breath or recover. The climb is a mile and a half long; once it pitches up to 15% it doesn’t slip back down for about a mile. Instead it gently pitches up to about 22%; the increased incline isn’t immediately evident, you can’t see it looking up the hill, but it’s evident when you start pedalling in squares and the front wheel becomes light and unstable. I find the climb exerts a curious allure, it’s a challenge and every now and then i head down and have a pop. I’ve never had a good climb on Draycott, my only memories are struggling up and wishing i had something else other than the 39:25. It’s simply too steep for too long to get any kind of rhythm.
Once i’d reached the top of the Mendips my legs were a bit ragged. A rapid descent of the gorge and blast through Cheddar allowed some respite. I’ve never seen quite so many cyclists coming up the Gorge, small groups and individuals enjoying the glorious weather; i probably passed around 25 riders. I’ve always preferred descending the gorge to climbing up; it’s not much of a climb, to be honest, and the scenery is more impressive when you plummet down through, remembering only to ‘think goat’: watch out for the bearded ruminants who line the cliffs.
Shipham is a main road rhythm climb, rising out of Cheddar and back up the side of the Mendips. It’s not particularly nice because it heads past a quarry, but it’s relatively straightforward. After that I hopped up over Wrington, a short and very steep climb with amazing views across to the Mendip escarpment, then rattled back into the city, pausing only to direct some leisure cyclists (aren’t we all?) onto the railway path and point some day trippers towards Clevedon. A quick ascent of Belmont and super fast descent of Clarken Combe finished off the ride. Average temperature, even at 8am, was 78 degrees. Very very hot. In an unprecedented development I drank two full bottles of jungle juice. I feel like my legs might be returning.
I managed to get out on the open road this morning for a quick blast in the rain with two other BSCC chums, Sam and Ed. The ride was made more eventful by Sam’s extremely shonky and useless disc brake set-up, worn away by 2000 miles of heavy commuting. We had to ride on ahead on faster sections and shout warnings to give him enough braking time.
Most of the club’s road race contingent are out in Majorca enjoying the sun (or snow, judging by today’s pics, hahaha) and wearing their best pro kit. It looks terrific and i’d really like to head over there* one day to get some sunny winter miles in, mixing it up with the pros. Well, hitting max heart rate in order to tag along on their recovery rides.
Despite the persistent rain and grimy filth encrusting the lanes, it was a really enjoyable ride. The weather might be closing in tomorrow, in which case it’s back to the rollers. I’m more than a little bit alarmed that the start sheet for the first race of the season has now been issued. I have both speed to find and weight to lose.
*apologies to any early readers for the horrific typo (even worser than usual)
Dundry Hill sits silently on the outskirts of Bristol, luring unsuspecting cyclists to their doom. It offers up 4 different ascents of varying degrees of steepness. The climb up from Queens Road is the beast of the litter. It’s known simply as ‘the steepside’, but is also called ‘Broad Oak Hill’, and it pitches up alarmingly. East Dundry is reputedly even worse, with a scarred and pitted road surface and a savage gradient. I have fond memories of trying to ride up it on a 60″, but being unable to sit down because it was too steep, and unable to stand up because of the most ridiculous wheelspin. It didn’t help that the tyre tracks looked like they’d been carved by chariots and the road was smeared with cowshit. In stark contrast, the ‘easiest’ takes in Highdridge road and climbs gently for about a mile before throwing in three short, sharp ramps and a nasty bend. This last one was the setting for an atypical ‘guerilla’ hill climb this afternoon, laid on by the mighty Hamilton Wheelers.
It attracted around 45 riders, divided into 3 categories: pros, bros and girls. To qualify for the pros you had to have ridden either a CTT or BC race at some point. It’s a loose interpretation of the word ‘pro’, but with my palmares (audible chortle) I was happy to ride with the other ringers. It was essentially a hillclimb with riders off at minute intervals. There were some added bonuses, including some hand-ups along the way.
I was off near the end with the other pseudopros (sounds like something taken as part of a TUE). The weather was lovely, in fact it’s been a particularly lush weekend to be out on the bike. Despite yesterday’s races, or perhaps in spite of, I felt really good and the legs were working well. I went out fairly steadily on the first bit where there isn’t much of a gradient, there’s only so much you can do with a 65″ gear before the bike transforms into torture device. I waited until the left turn for strawberry lane, maybe a bit before, then i went full gas. I grabbed a dollar and felt really pleased with myself for doing so, then carried on up to the finish where a stonking great crowd had amassed to watch the riders. There was a surge of noise and it was all over in about 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
Lucy Walker absolutely blasted up to take the girls’ prize with a savage 7 minutes something. She will go well on Burrington. Dan Alford took the bros’ category with a pre-meditated assault on the climb and a time which would have got second in the pros, coming in with a 6.45 or thereabouts.
It was a fantastic end to the weekend and great fun. Events like these, run slightly surreptitiously and open to anyone, represent the first steps in competitive cycling for many people and it was clear that some people were getting the bug. In fact, my first race of sorts was a hilly alley cat three stage thing in Bath. Having had some completely unexpected success i figured i may as well enter CTT hill climb. I then had a further bout of completely unexpected success. I have had three years since where competitive cycling has been a defining feature of my life and a constant source of happiness and wonderment.
The Hell Climb is grass-roots and community based, not because that’s necessarily what Tim, Ed and Christian set out to do, but just because it is. Above all, it’s hugely enjoyable and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Right now, with a miasma of deceit, lies and denial swirling around the professional sport in all its forms, grass-roots and amateur cycling is where it’s at. A huge pile of real-life kudos to everyone who rode today.
i like the word ‘crepuscular’. i’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of my favourites. yesterday’s training ride was entirely crepuscular. i ventured out into a calm and quiet evening, eager to get a good hour and a half in with some big climbs before the scheduled club meeting. the pace was good – i felt liberated and emboldened by the absence of the bullying winds, and i slowly began the climb up and out of Bristol.
Dundry was shrouded in a dense fog, the orange lights bled a murky glow onto the hillside and the fog flowed in waves across my bike light (hope vision one, in case you’re asking, a staple of the past three winters and the perfect country lane light). i enjoyed the surreal and otherworldly glow, felt safe and secure and was riding well. still nights or mornings with fog are beautiful. sometimes in spring i can ride through the fog and see the sunrise and experience the ethereal beauty of the morning, and when i get to work all i have is the vague memory of something different; my colleagues arrive and they are unaware of the spectral beauty that i have experienced on my way to work; all traces have been expunged by the sun’s diurnal progress. i feel privileged.
i inched my way down dundry carefully, visibility was a bit restricted, but not too much. by the time i’d arrived at redhill the fog had closed in. i turned up into the woods and swifty found i couldn’t see much further than around 10 feet; car lights approached as a nebulous glow, and my headlight seemed to dissipate and bounce off the droplets in the air. it was spectacular, and daunting. i know the road well, and yet at one point the branches and trees closed in and I lost all familiar references; for a fleeting few moments my mind meandered and i felt as though i might be entering a different dimension in time and space – i thought it was the road to backwell, but it could well have been a shortcut to some fantastical land. it was quite an experience. at its thickest, the fog was sufficient for cars i met to come to a complete stop and wait for me to pass, such was its encompassing power. i dropped back down to the valley and was pleased to be able to once again recognise landmarks.
on my way back in to Bristol i came up and over the suspension bridge. i am unfailingly moved by the scale and wonder of this feature. it’s fantastic. i try to factor it into as many rides as i can, and regularly ride over it in the early mornings. it’s one of the many remarkable features of the city.
Firstly, happy new year, i hope last year was good and that this year will be better.
Today I got out and about on the bike to continue the winter base theme. the weather today was supposed to be fairly nice. in the event, it threw everything at us over the space of 45 or so miles; glorious sunshine, hail, wintry sleet and rain.
the central bit of the ride was a long ascent from the a38 at churchill to the top of the mendips. it works out at around 4 miles, with some flat bits and small descents and a height gain of 650ft. it finished at the highest point of the mendips, cresting out at 900ft. it’s a great climb partly because of the length, but also because of the small sections which offer respite. it also takes you up into a secluded and beautiful section of moorland behind Dolebury Warren (an amazing iron age hill fort). there is lots of evidence of prehistoric and neolithic occupation across this stretch of the mendips, including ancient burial mounds, stone circles and curious circular enclosures. it’s fascinating and strangely reassuring to see the physical connections between people and the landscape, stretching forwards across the millenia as a reminder that they once lived and shared this space, if not time.
right at the end we opted to tackle dundry lane. no-one i know likes this climb. it rises steadily before throwing in 3 ramps where it pitches up to around 20%. they are mercifully short. i had better legs today, which was a good thing.