Haytor Vale, Mamhead Hill Climbs

things really kicked off in anger this week. with all the forethought of a drunk attempting a series of impossibly ambitious dance moves, i took on a two double-headers in as many days. that’s four hillclimbs in pretty much 24 hours. yet again, hubris bites me on the ass. what the heck, it’s one of the problems with hillclimb season, there’s way too many events to choose from,  and the season is too short.

so, to haytor… which i rode last year. it’s an epic climb up the side of dartmoor, cresting out by the granite outcrop. i like it, but it’s incessantly technical, with several changes of gradient, including one section of downhill near the top. i started well, but a gathering headwind dented my time. the last section ramps up twice in swift succession and is unquestionably the hardest bit, i was all but cooked by then. in the video below you can see the peloton in the ToB round the downhill section at high speed, before suffering on the wall ahead.

i was slower than last year, which was disappointing, but managed 3rd place. Tavis Walker won with 13.58, James Dobbin was second in 14. 10 and i was 3rd in 14. 35. i managed to disrupt a potential Adeo Cadence 1-2-3-4, which was mildly satisfying. everyone was slower than last year, except Tavis, who has come out of nowhere to become a genuine title contender for the nationals in 4 weeks.

The second climb of the day was Mamhead, a much less extreme and more consistent ascent out of Starcross, lasting 2 minutes at around 6-7%. it was just the kind of gradient that holds you in limbo between the big and small ring. the course record is held by Colin Lewis, at 8.43. I managed 9.30. Colin Lewis is a bit of a local hero and inspiration to the Mid-Devon Cycling Club, as well as the wider fraternity of the wheel. I was quite surprised to see him on photo duty half way up, it’s a minor claim to fame, Colin Lewis took my photo… In the end i was second behind James Dobbin. Not hugely far behind. this gave me second on aggregate time. Maybe next year i’ll get under 14 minutes on haytor. i shall live in hope. i think i just about covered my petrol costs with the prize money.

Cervelo R5 for Hillclimbs

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.


RTTC National Hill Climb 2010

…the final event of the season, and by some distance the most significant. i rarely get nervous, beyond a certain edginess, but i woke up today feeling nauseous, with a vile headache and vague sensation of things not being right. a week’s worth of anxiety had built up; exacerbated by the same recurring not-knowingness of it all. i wanted a top 30 finish, but knew that there were too many variables that could swing the result in different directions.

it’s odd to see a time trial of such scale and proportions; road closures, overflow car parks, two separate results areas, a corps of caterers: hats off to coventry road club for doing such a fantastic job of organising the event. the hill was lined with crowds, thickening at the top near the race commentary (amazing, a commentator) and the finish.

i was off at 11.40; an earlyish start time. after a brief warm-up, spent mainly dodging sudden rain showers, i joined the queue of tense riders waiting for their time. dave clarke was warming up on the rollers a couple of feet to my right, all sinews and hair. the early part of the climb is gentle, and gives you a chance to get into a rhythm, so i tried to help this along by botching a gear change or two. it made me chuckle audibly, and also made some spectators laugh, which i was pleased about. after that the hill ramped up around the corner, and i just pretty much went for it. all the way up the middle third i was thinking ‘it’s the national, just have it’, and then moments later ‘don’t blow up otherwise it’s curtains’. it creates a tension, the two opposing and competing desires lift you up the hill, and your progress is bolstered by the shouts from the crowd, calling you by name, words of encouragement and the constant chorus of ‘hup hup hup’. i picked out a bristol south jersey in the crowd; one of the esteemed and older members of the club, cheering me on, then my girlfriend and her parents. the recognition was fleeting.

after about 2 minutes i could hear members of the crowd suggesting there was a catch, sometimes directly to me, which made me think that i might be able to overtake the minuteman – in a national! i changed up a gear, too soon, then changed back down again. but then, around the next bend, at about halfway up the ascent, i caught a glimpse – a sighter – an elusive and fantastic thing, another rider on a piece of invisible elastic, a fish on a line. cue further tension – ride harder, catch him vs ride your own race, take it steady. i found the balance, but this momentary second of harmony was overturned by the commentator, who had also picked up on the possibility of the catch and was shouting it out to the crowd, who in turn swelled in voice and cheered, and i stamped on the pedals and gave it everything i had (which wasn’t very much by this point) and the elastic shortened and i overtook him before the line, through the thicket of people and cameras. and it was amazing, until i nearly crashed into the barriers at the end of the road closure. i was seeing palely luminescent stars dancing in the murky grey skies above dovers.

shortly afterwards i felt sick, unable to warm down, unable to sit still, i could have happily vomited. my time was good, around 11 seconds quicker than my last race on dovers earlier in the season, 4.21.7. i knew i’d given it pretty much everything and could walk away content.

dan fleeman won in 3.41, a staggeringly quick ride, followed by matt clinton, michael smith, tejvan pettinger – just outside the medals on this occasion, but i think next year will be his event, mike cuming, rob gough, then dave clarke. i managed 24th place (it says 25th on the sheet, but i think they have made an error with the 9th placed rider). i also beat glynn, my clubmate, by a tenth of a second – he rode an absolute blinder. it was good to share a field with so many amazing cyclists, and even figuring in amongst the battle for the top 30 felt pretty special. it’s easy to forget that this is my first season of racing, and it’s been an exponential learning curve.

i’m going to drive to work tomorrow. and eat some cake. then tomorrow night i’m going to cook with wine, and then drink the wine left over. then eat some more cake.

Huddersfield Road Club: Ripponden New Bank

and proverbially, what a difference a day makes. ripponden nestles cautiously at the foot of of a vertiginous piece of moorland. this makes it perfect for a hillclimb. it was a beautiful and crisp morning, no clouds, possibly a slight headwind over the top. the field wasn’t massively strong, with the exception of tejvan pettinger, who is massively strong.

the first half of the climb looked horribly steep, a typical wall, after which it gradually levelled off with a fast finish. i rode it twice beforehand, as i had done with Barley the day before, marking off two points that would act as markers for the level of effort, and to break the climb into three. this makes it more manageable. the first bit filled me with trepidation, misjudging it or going too hard would really take a toll later on.

in the end, it didn’t seem nearly as bad, i went quite quickly up it, hit the flatter sections with a bit of vigour and consciously looked to push a bigger gear. i rode hard to the line and felt that i’d learned from yesterday. i bagged second place, the second time this has happened this season in open events, and was very pleased. it gave me a filip for the nationals next weekend. and i got my name in print (outside of the results pages), if you read down far enough, and if you count bikeradar online as being ‘in print’, and if you accept that words relating the scale of someone elses’s victory to your own performance are a good thing. i accept all of the above.

there are only 4 minutes and 30 seconds of the season left.

Nelson Wheelers Hillclimb: barley lane

i took my my girlfriend up north to meet my mum and Ian. it just so happened to coincide with two hillclimbs the weekend before the national, both of a similar length and incline. what are the odds on that? amazing.

the first one was at Barley, and it was a dour, damp affair. the host club were lovely, it was well-supported and boasted the frightening mike cuming and ian stott as favourites. i rode the climb twice beforehand, it was quite a gentle gradient, possibly around 7% and consistent, no nasty surprises around hidden bends.

the only downside was a persistent drizzle, making it very difficult to get warm, and stay warm. it reminded me of dursley, except it was a lot colder. the rainfall and malevolent low-cloud slightly spoiled the beautiful scenery, lots of rolling lancashire moorland.

i’m not sure if i dug quite deep enough, i rode to 4th place, and was pipped by two seconds by carl helliwell to third – i’m almost certain i had at least another few seconds i could have found from somewhere. that’s not to say i didn’t feel happy with the ride, it’s more that i just felt i didn’t quite measure the pace, or does the effort accordingly. still – i felt pleased, riding against the northern hard-men and women for the first time, to come away with a result of sorts.



BSCC Hillclimb, Burrington Combe

the club hillclimb has been in the back of my mind since last year: back then it was my first open event and i rode to 5th place on fixed wheel, with little or no awareness of how it happened or why. looking back, i’m still none the wiser. it’s felt like an erratic boulder.

a year further on and everything looks a bit different; i’ve ridden quite a lot and raced numerous weekends, it’s been a bit of an exponential learning curve.  and yet all year long the club hillclimb has been lurking beneath the surface, it sits in my subconscious, a horrible big fish rising up to meet me in the  shallow shadows of a murky pond. it’s the cause of self-doubt, the interminable worry that i might never go as quick again.

in preparation to go as quick again, i spent the weekend with my feet up, eating bread and cheese, drinking squash and watching the pro peloton get covered in rain and mud in la classica delle foglie morte. I offered silent thanks to no-one in particular for the promised clear skies here in albion. this morning was indeed clear and beautiful, but also by some distance the coldest morning of the autumn thus far; the kind of cold that creeps malevolently with icy grasping fingers, through the interstices and into the house. intense effort and intense cold are not comfortable bedfellows; it invades and assaults the lungs and chest. but those are the breaks; as if riding uphill fast wasn’t painful enough…

i’ve had plenty of time to think about this one; and on the morning of the race i felt quite calm and unperturbed. the sun warmed the higher slopes of the coombe, but the ascent was shrouded in shadow, and a lot colder. i got to the start in good time, within two minutes of the push, thus staying as warm as possible for as long as practical. it makes an enormous difference knowing the climb; judging the effort becomes more instinctive and much more effective. at three or four key points where the gradient kicked up i rode more softly than i would instinctively, not kicking on and standing up in the pursuit of seconds, but sitting down, maintaining cadence and riding through the short ramps. On Burrington this is the important thing, and it’s a climb that rewards a seated, regular effort –  each sharper section is linked by a longer drag during which you can press on and move up through the gears, gaining in pace and speed. beyond this, i didn’t overly analyse it, but just went for it, riding hard and pushing it as close to the edge as i could. i had no sprint at the top, i just pursued the same relentless cadence as my aching legs propelled the bike forwards. a sprint at the end of a hillclimb sometimes strikes me as the pursuit of time already lost.

it was an exercise in suffering, but unusually i wasn’t waiting or silently begging for the finish, or fighting the demons; both the cartoon devil chastising my lack of pace, or the angel urging me to ride more cautiously. the deafening inner monologue was strangely quieter than usual, replaced by a repetitive focus on breathing and cadence and a sense of distance – almost from myself. i was still accelerating over the line, but had no sense of time to go on, and no way of knowing. it felt quick, but as per usual, on the descent a few riders seemed to have infinitely more souplesse, rode more effortlessly and danced across the camber of the sweeping uphill curves.

i knew i wanted to get under 8 minutes; anything else would be a disappointment; last year i managed 8.01… i felt quicker and lighter this year. the top end of the field was packed with featherweight thoroughbreds, including rob gough, james dobbin, tejvan pettinger and luke dunbar. i came fifth in 7.45. i have a feeling this might be a new club record on this course. i am over the moon and this afternoon i have eaten carrot cakes made by belle; they tasted even more delicious than usual.

1 Tejvan Pettinger 7’10
2 Rob Gough 7’27
3 Luke Dunbar 7’29
4 James Dobbin 7’36
5 Paul Jones 7’45
6 Robin Coomber 7’57


graham, riding his beautiful 1950s cantiflex bates to a quick time



derek on the warm-down


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