Providence Lane

Today’s slice of unrelenting masochism took in Providence Lane in Long Ashton. It’s about 1300 yards long and it rises steeply over the first 400 yards, before easing slightly. it then pitches up again, eases, with a final ramp over the top. It’s technical and difficult to get right, which makes it good to train on. When riding fixed on a climb there are times when you’re undergeared and times when you’re overgeared; managing this is the key to success. I put an 18t cog on the back to give me a 60″ ratio. It was tall initially, but once over the horrible first bit it becomes more sensible. All in, it was 1200ft of climbing in 5 miles. Very quickly.

very steep bit

I rode up and down it four times, hitting it hard each time.  I even took my helmet off and turned my cap around, that’s how serious i was.  I felt vaguely nauseous for about 45 minutes afterwards. And i don’t think i really really went for it. I tried to, but i didn’t manage to absolutely muller it. I think it was close, my breathing was ragged and i was hurting. The 2nd and 3rd repetitions were the hardest, the legs were full of lactic and there was no end in sight. I was spotted by members of the Clevedon who were driving down the hill in their team bus just as i was pausing for breath prior to the 4th assault.

Tomorrow i’m riding the Dursely Club event on Stout’s Hill. I shall ride fixed, but it’s not really the right bike for the course by dint of the first 200 metres being flat. After that i’m off to yorkshire to do a 10 mile time trial, where all the 5s and 10s have ridden quicker than 20 minutes this year. I am on a 10. The event closed on a 21.25. Crazy. I shall also be factoring some reconnaissance on Jackson Bridge, Holme Moss and The Rake.

hill climb season

the short and brutish hill-climb season is all but here; and as i’ve loudly made it my season’s aim, it means i have to start working a lot harder and racing much more than i have been. this entails lots of hilly rides, seeking out savage climbs and riding them at pace, frequently above what might be comfortable. i kicked off my training proper (after a delightful enforced absence with belle in italy, eating pizza and ice cream) with a couple of rides into and around the mendips; these hurt a lot. it can be hard to find the motivation when other things are happening, but also when the weather is absolutely vile, as it has been for some time. i threw caution to the wind and went out in all conditions.

some of my favourite climbs near here are:

dundry – from both sides, although i prefer the longer, more subtle climb; it’s now right on  my doorstep which is a cause for much rejoicing.

blagdon – up through the village, straight on, around, and up to the top of the mendips. essentially, it climbs from the lake at the bottom, but i see the start of the climb as being the junction of the high street and the main road. this one is a total stinker, about 14%, if not more, and long.

burrington – the location for the BSCC hillclimb; it’s not overly steep but it is long and requires very careful pacing; i like this one a lot, but feel pressure when riding it because i know it’s a race hill.

wrington hill – a sort of hidden gem, it’s a wall, a complete beast, but thankfully quite short.

there are others, the mendips are littered with climbs edging up and down the escarpments; deer leap, draycott, brockley, red hill, cheddar gorge… it’s relatively easy to go out on a road ride and find you’ve done over 400o feet of climbing in an afternoon, much of it very steep; this is no mean feet, and matches the kind of height gain you’d find ascending ventoux. my friend chris has a ride he does once a year called ‘every climb in the mendips’, and unfortunately the title is literal, it takes around 8 hours.

so yes, hill climb season is pretty much here – and mine started last night with the dursley club hill climb, up stouts hill in the cotswolds. this is a short and sharp climb into a state of penury and wobbly legs, and this hill and I have a bit of previous – it featured as the last climb in the Dursley Hardriders back in April; i seem to remember limping up it in the granny ring on my way to seventh place. it was a very different experience last night; i took the fixed wheel and ran about 65″, which may have been a trifle too tall. i was hoping for a good placing – possibly even a win; being a club event it could have turned out to be a fish and chipper, especially considering the damp and miserable conditions. but really, the main aim was to wear the race number and experience the training benefits that subsequently occur.

a bit more about the conditions before i go on – riding in the rain is a tricky thing – it’s not that pleasant; but it is manageable on a winter bike with full guards. riding a lightweight hillclimb bike means a genuine soaking is on the cards; on the way back from the race i had to wait at the train station for half an hour, getting very cold indeed and feeling not unlike ian stannard. well, sort of.

however, riding up the hill, through the mist and fine rain, underneath an ever-darkening canopy of ancient deciduous woodland was an emotive and curiously uplifting experience; the sort of thing that you don’t get to do because it seems like a silly idea. on the climb the pervasive gloom bought out a genuine and unexpected ethereal beauty. i was chasing my minuteman, and he steadily emerged out of the darkness, gradually acquiring a distinct outline to distinguish him from the murk beyond, like a crespuscular being fighting a private elemental battle with the incline.  later, when on the way back through Uley i saw a flock of circling crows cast as blackened, twitching Vs against a blanket of grey fog; as distinct as stars in the cloth of night.

it was an informal affair at the startline, as befits a club event, signing on at the back of a car and so on. at first i took the wrong number, but survived my error. i knew derek from dursley would be racing, and he was the one to aim for – but then the situation changed somewhat when James Dobbin turned up. He’s a former national hillclimb champion and rider of some repute. and that was that really; thoughts of the win disappeared in the time it took him to extract his team-issue bike from the back of the car. he flew up the mile long climb, which has sections of 14%, and meanders at around 10-12%. his speed was breathtaking, and chastening. he broke the course record with a time of 4.59, derek took second in 5.45 and i got third in 5.47. doing it fixed was an experience, and a good one – but i think i lost time at the beginning where the first 200 metres are pretty flat; i was spinning out at this point. there’s another one next week and i shall try it on the gears to see if there is any difference. the weather may well be sunny – i certainly hope so, but the memory of the inclement conditions will linger for the right reasons.

The Hardest Ride of All

today was the Dursley Hardriders WTTA 28 mile time trial.

i say ‘time trial’ in the loosest possible sense of the word; it’s more a savage assault, with each rider being brutalised by 5 filthy, evil climbs in the cotswolds. the race even starts on a steep ascent, the pusher cackles audibly and off you go – and with a ‘note to self’ i must remember if i ever do this parcours again to not start in the big ring.

this was the sales pitch from the organiser:

“Last year just three riders averaged better than 20 mph on a course including four severe climbs. Riders were typically 7-8mph slower than their Line 2 times. This year the finish of the course includes a final climb up the awesome Stouts Hill! So that’s five climbs, three of which have been used as Dursley RC club hill climbs. One thing’s for sure, this CTT event will again have the “slowest” winning time of the year”

this pretty much sums it up; hill climbs are designed to destroy all but the most psychotic of riders. they are events that employ catchers.

and this event had three hill-climb courses, and two other hills that are worthy of hill-climb courses. in other words, perfect! hurrah for hills! i have been anticipating this event for weeks, in the hope that i might be able to get a good result here, but telling myself not to get too excited, to dampen down any expectation. this became more important after last week, when i thought i rode well but managed a paltry 18th place at the Swindon event. (Although i did manage a 22.54 ten mile TT the day before, which was a bonus. anyway, back to Dursley). Steve and James, fellow BSCC riders were also riding, and they are both strong. Steve in particular royally kicked my ass up and down the slopes of Ventoux for 4 days, and James had the measure of me in the flat events of late. no pressure. i secretly harboured hopes that we might be in with a shout for the team place, with the likelihood of three fairly consistent times.

i went off hard (in the big ring, like a klutz) and sighted my minute man before the top of the climb, this gave me a boost because i knew him to be a quick rider. i had to let him go for this very reason, choosing to wait until the climbs and not try to catch him on the flat and thus blow a proverbial gasket. i took him on the next climb, he got me on the descent, until the 4th climb, whereupon i dropped him and he never got back on terms, which was pleasing; and i felt i was going well. it hurt, but i found a rhythm on each climb, using a 12-25 on the back and 53:39, i regularly found myself three cogs up, roughly in the 22 or so, apart from the last one, which really did hurt.

end result was my best placing yet, a totally thrilling (for me) 7th place, 5 minutes down on Derek Smetham who produced an astounding ride to win, but only 2 minutes down on David Kiddell in 3rd. Other firebrands included robert gough and luke dunbar, two prodigiously talented riders; Rob came 9th in last year’s National HillClimb and is a course record holder up and down the land. frightening stuff.

further success – BSCC took the team prize, which is really satisfying, with James in 9th and Steve in 13th. All in all, a fantastic day.

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