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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Early season sprightliness on the A361 (FDW 10)

The first race of the season is probably the worst one of the lot. It’s the moment when all the pre-season fannying around is dispelled in a few short minutes and you find out in simple terms whether you’re going well or riding like a sack of potatoes. As such, there’s a hefty degree of race anxiety, even though no-one wants to turn up in peak form for the Frome and District Wheelers 10 mile time trial in early February. The best you can hope for is a sense of things being not as quick as you might have hoped, but not as slow as you perhaps feared. And so it goes.

Trotters warms up by getting into position for the ‘crane kick’ from the karate kid part 1

The weather was kind, if a tiny bit chilly. It didn’t cause any problems though and my armwarmer/kneewarmer/defeet glove combo was perfect. I was very cautious on all the roundabouts, scrubbing off all my speed and cornering gingerly, to say the least. There was some sort of time equation in my head; 10 seconds gained on the course could easily become 6 months lost after a heavy crash.

Ed and Rob were also riding in the red and gold, both on fixed. Rob opted for a healthy 97″ and Trotterz went big with a hundred and something, dialling in a long 23. I managed to ride 22 dead, 1 second slower than last year. I’ll settle for that. I was also up on a few other people which was comforting and took home £15 for 3rd place. Ben Anstie and Tejvan Pettinger were both a cut above, with Ben edging it by 3 seconds in 21.26. There were some other impressive rides, James Coleman blasted round on a road bike, making the most of his Ludgershall legs, Steve Potts put in a quick time, Richard Spink managed to complete the course in short order, even with one of his ski poles swinging all over the place.

I shall move on to the next event with a degree of confidence and the knowledge that I’ve put in a race effort – always the hardest thing to replicate in training. Apart from all of that, it was great to catch up with various people I only ever see at races, especially Tejvan who I somehow managed to miss last year. The social side of time trialling is perhaps overlooked. Today’s event had all the hallmarks of club life; a village hall, sturdy mugs of tea and hearty cake, lots of gentle banter between racing cyclists and a presentation of used banknotes in brown envelopes.

thanks to the host club

Perspectives on the National Hill Climb Championship

There are a number of photo galleries online.

Velo UK have a comprehensive set.

Chorley CC have captured some frightening hill climb gurns.

There is also a video nasty on youtube:

There are various race reports and blogs:

Cycling Weekly.

Tejvan’s take on things. 

Hamilton Wheelers…

This image is from Velo UK. It encapsulates the climb: rider in complete agony, struggling to keep it together, spectators having a whale of a time, beaming from ear to ear.

Shap Fell Hill Climb

Yesterday I made the epic trek to the lake district to take part in the Kent Valley Road Club hillclimb. It’s 9 miles long and finishes at around 1400 feet. It’s never really steep, and there are several sections of slight downhill. the last 2 miles could probably qualify as a nasty hillclimb though, it’s steeper and quite daunting.

i rode my condor acciao, which is considerably heavier than my old hillclimb bike, probably an extra 2.5 kilos. The wheelset was a set of zipp 340s, and they were lovely. however, i can’t help but feel that i lost some time on the ascent due to the extra weight. some other riders used time trial bikes, and the winner, tejvan pettinger, rode with tribars. it’s one of those thorny ones where there’s no clear benefit to either.

i managed third place with 30 minutes dead. I am pleased with this, it was a windy day, again, and i held off the scary challenge of a legion of Scottish racing cyclists – their national junior team was on the way home from an Isle of Man stage race and broke the journey with a quick bit of hillclimbing. One of them – Tom Arnstein, was riding at Revolution when I spectated in January. Quite a strange experience to be riding in the same race.

Peter Greenwood came second, he is a racing snake in his 50s, who set the course record some time ago. pretty impressive.

this is the steepest  descent you can see, with the cyclists in the foreground starting the battle with the last two miles:

prior to the M6, Shap Fell used to be a fearsome route over the high ground…

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

 

Dovers and Saintbury

this morning heralded the second (and third) events of the weekend. i started early — took my bike, to Weston-Sub-Edge for the Warwickshire Road Clubdouble hillclimb. In terms of the competition, it was an altogether more challenging affair, with a veritable glut of finely-honed (read: borderline underweight) racing cyclists. It’s a prestige event, and a chance for the contenders to check out the course for the National in a couple of weeks time, as well as lay down a marker. The first hill was long, nearly two miles, with lots of changes in gradient, the second – Dovers –  was a steady climb, quite steep, with a fast finish. there were two hours between climbs, allowing time to sit down, cool down, have a coffee, a jam sandwich, before getting out and about to warm-up again for the second hill.

a couple of things struck me quite forcefully today. there were a range of abilities and ages competing, all of whom were going far far away from any semblance of comfortable cycling. in some ways, it doesn’t really matter if you are fast or slow, riding upwards on a bicycle always feels slow; i feel i should be going faster, and become locked in mortal battle with my cadence, trying to eke out a few more revolutions, hoping i can change up a gear and my legs will not lapse into a crampy sulk. that’s it really, racing up hills is slow and painful, it’s an indescribable battle of will, seeing how far you can go before everything grinds to an undignified halt. in a double hillclimb the self-doubt is amplified with the waiting and the exertion. the inner monologue that accompanies the climb is something i may try to explain for you at a later date (coming soon! Inception! on bikes!).

the first climb felt about right – not too savage. i spoke to tevjan (the winner) beforehand and on my way up i saw him coming down – he cheered me on, and i said thanks. afterwards we laughed about this and he said lightheartedly – and i knew it was coming – something along the lines of ‘if you can say thanks you weren’t trying hard enough’. which is very much the spirit of hillclimbs; catchers, retching and the unscheduled seeing of stars. incidentally, the giving of the prizes at haytor was delayed because two of the recipients were puking violently at the side of the road on account of their efforts. and possibly an ill-timed lunch to meet the 2pm start.

the second climb felt better; for around a 100 metres or so. after this point the build up of lactic and the pain in my legs from my third hillclimb in 24 hours became suddenly, pressingly apparent. the sage advice given to me was ‘give this one everything because it’s shorter than saintbury’. which i duly did, throwing my ‘keep the pot boiling’ advice out with the bathwater. however, giving it everything is conditional on just how much of everything you’ve got. i had a small amount of everything, which just about got me up and over the 14% climb, i even got out of the saddle at the end for a reckless, jellied-eel of a sprint. and today, this evening, i am deliriously happy with pulsing endorphins. I came tenth in a race featuring elite riders and national champions.

and as a postscript, there’s no logic to it. if i ride my bike a lot, and deliberately choose hills, and ride over them, and be careful what i eat, this is what happens. it’s not scientific. i appear to be quite good at riding upwards for lengths of time over 3 minutes, at steep gradients. it’s an odd talent to have. it’s not much use in the wider world; it is the most arcane and physically tough of disciplines. when struggling up toys hill 6 years ago with friends after returning to cycling, i would never, ever have thought that i had the capacity to achieve these kinds of results. there may or may not be a salutary tale there somewhere.

tomorrow is a rest day.