I rode a hill climb yesterday. I use the verb loosely. Perhaps “attended” might be more accurate. It was the VC Walcot promotion on the Avenue in Bath. Over the past few years the event has grown in size and stature, to the point where it’s now one of the prestigious events in the West DC calendar. This has nothing to do with the climb and everything to do with the unstinting efforts of the club to get people riding, create an atmosphere and promote it in ever more exciting ways. Hats off indeed.
Make some noise (eat apple first)
I was excited, but several things conspired against me. On arrival one of my erstwhile clubmates asked jokingly “who’s this chubby man?”. It wasn’t the best start. At the weigh-in the night before i was 73kg. It’s about 5kg over my fighting weight. I chose to ride gears.
This was a lazy choice based on riding out to the event and not being bothered to change the sprockets on the back more than once. I got some stick from Rob Borek who is a proper fixed monkey, and his partner in crime, the young Warby.
On the start line my sprocket made a hideous crunching noise and the 17t exploded. The race was over before it started. I shifted it across and then rode off in one gear, the only problem being it was the 12t. I had to stop again and manually shift it back to the 23. It was a proper scheiße-show.
I got things moving and cranked it up a bit (after being overtaken by 3 or 4 riders whilst communing with my bike) in order to avoid the embarrassment of walking up the hill past the really big crowd with pots, pans, whistles, airhorns and cowbells, only to be balked by a huge 4×4 coming down the hill, so sat up and dribbled up to the finish. The timekeeper even asked me if I was really finishing. It was embarrassing. I carded a 5.09, a shade behind the winner’s 2.07, before it was later rounded down to a DNF.
The quest for a socially acceptable racing performance continues next week oop north, where I will be riding two events I planned to ride and one event I planned never to ride again, only to accidentally enter it this year after misreading the organising club and course.
This morning was the second annual Odd Down clagfest. It’s a grotty, filthy, bike-destroying assault on the sensibilities. As such, it makes perfect sense to spectate, armed with a cowbell and a strange pink honky horn thing.
I love watching cyclo-cross. It’s the most bonkers of all the disciplines and you get to see a wider range of suffering and confusion than in most other events.
The course deviates through the woods hanging off the back of the Odd Down road circuit. Recent heavy rain had reduced the course to a quagmire. Even better. There was a huge field of riders, even more than last year, well over 100. Cyclo-cross is growing in popularity more quickly than any other branch of the support, in part because it’s accessible and there is a perverted camaraderie amongst the groterati, a collective insanity that can also be seen at hill climbs. The strongest, luckiest rider wins. 5 years ago you’d be lucky to lure one man and his dog out to a race day in Hengrove Park, which is stretching the definition of ‘park’ a little bit, unless by park you mean scrubland with a disused runway in the middle and some ruined industrial buildings, the playground of the NEETs. And the cyclocrossers. Next year i’m half-expecting to see a Fritewagon and bar selling Duvel, pumping out furious Belgian techno trance to an enraptured audience of low-country cyclofanatics – otherwise known as “all Belgians”.
I staked out a spot in the woods and heckled like a madman. I rang the cowbell in Oli Beckingsale‘s face. A crowd formed and we cheered anyone who managed to ride their bike for more than 10 metres. The slope all but defeated them, making it the perfect spot to see crashes and some proper bike breakage.
The birch woodland echoed with the sound of derailleurs snapping. At the beginning the riders seemed to enjoy the challenge, revelling in the support and even smiling on occasion. By the end, all smiles had ceased, glassy eyes stared outwards, each orb a disconsolate and unthinking window into a mind shattered by the experience. A ghostly legion of pallid cyclists trudged onwards, destroyed in body and spirit by the accumulated trauma of 60 minutes in the woods. In years to come the locals will speak in hushed tones of the hauntings in the woods, how come January, if the weather is right, you can hear the sound of metal on mud, a hoarse tangling of twigs and chains, and the heavy, syncopated breathings of tortured souls condemned to circle through the undergrowth with bicycles wrapped across their heaving shoulders.
All of which made for a startling son-et-lumiere show. It was fantastic. Hats off to the amazing VC Walcot, a club committed to cycling and the community and a rich example to all clubs of what grass roots sport can look like.
This weekend i headed out to the Odd Down circuit with Trotters (of Hamilton Wheelers fame) to spectate at the club’s nominated trophy event. Cyclo-cross is spectator-friendly; the race is usually on and around a short circuit, comprising of about 8 to 10 laps. All the hardy onlooker has to do is stake out a suitable location and wait for the filthy, mud-caked racers to come past. It was lovely and claggy under tyre; creating challenging conditions for the (fool)hardy bike riders. Trotters and I watched the enormous field charge away from the flag; there were a hundred on the start sheet, an almost incomprehensible figure that suggests the numbers opting to ride competitively is on an exponential upwards curve. Good luck gaining entry to Cat 4 circuits next season, newbies.
After a lightning quick blast along the road race circuit, the peloton squeezed through a tiny gate and headed into the wilds. Therein followed a classically circuitous meander through scrubland before hitting up the bmx circuit for a few endos and some spicy 360s. After that it was down to the woods for a bit of proper sketchorama offski, followed by a deadly climb up a slippery slope. Arch-Cross supremo, Charles Coleman, designed the course and threw in a couple of hurdles at the end. It was a right derailleur-breaker and there was a satisfying number of strange and terrifying mechanical problems, mostly caused by the dense layer of clag coating any exposed metallic parts.
It was savage and exciting to watch; a stream of riders mullering it into a state of exhaustion, coping with the conditions and the terrain with varying responses from the fatalistic to the exhilarated. I took it upon myself to cheer and heckle uproariously, getting into the spirit of the ‘cross and waving the cowbell with violent abandon. Somehow Trotters and I managed to find a prime spot in the middle of the course – and by ‘middle of the course’, i mean in the actual middle of the course: hiding behind a tree with racers passing on either side, ambushing them with nothing more than a camera, cowbell, wooden spoon and saucepan.
Dave Atkinson joined us halfway through, then a few other people who were at first diffident, before suddenly getting into character, cheering and jeering in equal measure. Those who managed to ride up the short but impossible climb received the biggest cheer.
I made a short and slightly old-school audio slideshow. It would have been a lot easier to make a video, but i’m nothing if not anachronistic.
I tried a new climb yesterday, the Chippenham and District Wheelers promotion on Bowden Hill. It starts on the film set of Harry Potter before climbing up through an episode of Cranford, then finishes at the top by the granite and wrought-iron gates of Northanger Abbey. Such are the delights of the beyond picturesque village of Lacock. I’ve heard tell that the whole village is owned by the National Trust – in the traditional sense of the word, rather than ‘you just got pwned by the NT, all your heritage buildings are belong to them.’ Either way, it all sounds a bit Midwich Cuckooey.
The climb is a real challenge; it starts off with a few hundred metres of shallow and fast ascent before rearing up like a frightened donkey; scaring the bejeezus out of the cyclists who moments ago were enjoying a nice rhythm and cadence. I gave it full gas all the way up. I did my usual trick of trying to find a bit to sit down but the climb had other ideas. It hurt quite a lot. I managed 4th place behind the resurgent VC Walcot outfit.
Today i dusted off the fixed wheel for the first time this year to have a go at the VC Walcot event on Claverton Hill. It’s one of my favourite races because it’s really well-supported; the crowd form a bit of a tunnel and make huge amounts of noise. This all takes place by the entrance to the American Museum. At one point a blazered chump came out on some sort of golf trolley to berate us for blocking the driveway and preventing cars from accessing the Museum. He threatened to call the police. I think he must have confused us with people who actually gave a shit about his no-mark museum. I think he also underestimated the amount of bureaucratic organisation required to set up a hill climb, including police permission. He got pwned.
I cheered on most of the riders; generally trying to shout at people and take pictures at the same time. Watching hill climbs is infinitely more enjoyable than riding them. After about 30 minutes I hotfooted it down to the bottom, turned round and charged back up again. It was good to be on fixed, no choice, no issues, no options, just me and a 57″ gear. I suspect it might be faster on gears, but that would spoil the fun of riding fixed. In the end, Rob Gough took the win from a rapid Charles Coleman, currently in the form of his life. Glyn, Richard Cartland and few others scrapped it out for the minor placings and I think I came 7th, a couple of seconds quicker than last year. I won a nice t-shirt and £10 for my efforts.
Hats off to Laurie Chalk and John Arnold of VC Walcot for creating a brilliant event, publicising it relentlessly and making sure the club turns out to watch. VC Walcot are a bit of a galvanising force, they have been involved in the Odd Down Circuit and do great things in getting young people riding and racing bicycles. For this they have my utmost respect.
The Bath University CC put together a super video of the event:
Next weekend is a bit of a break; most people are heading to Catford, I’ll be staying here and doing a few different things, mainly trying to hone my form for Burrington the week after.
One of the features of the hill climb season is the ‘multiple event weekend’, featuring up to 4 or 5 or even 6 hillclimbs over the two days. It’s possible to do a short event, recover, do another short event, recover, ad nauseum (literally). Organisers across the south west banged their heads together and came up with the simple idea of a ‘south west hill climb weekend’. With four clubs all cross-promoting each other’s races and a real head of steam on the interweb, they saw bigger fields than usual and a palpable sense of excitement. I missed yesterday’s double, the Chippenham and Severn races; i was supposed to be doing a 30 mile time trial as a last tilt at a club record and the end of my TT season; instead i went out on Friday, drank ale, then had a lie-in, went out and rode my bike in the sunshine and generally took a devil-may-care attitude to this tricky thing called ‘training’. it was the perfect antidote to a general malaise and knackering game of catch-up that’s been rumbling along for weeks and weeks.
The VC Walcot Climb was up first. The weather was perfect, slightly cold but without a breath of wind and deliciously dry undertub. I unleashed the fixed wheel and it met with almost universal acclaim – the bike, not the rider. People were drawn to the lovely orange finish and the clean lines. There were a few other specialist hillclimb machines in attendance. Tavis Walker had taken a hacksaw and a drill to a rather comely Cervelo R3 in the pursuit of lightness. The construction of a hill weapon is possibly much more fun that the riding of the aforementioned hill weapon. Tav also spaced out a rear cassette to provide only 4 cogs on the back. I opted for a 57″ gear in the end, and it proved spot on for the steady gradient of Claverton Hill. There was a significant crowd at the event and I issued the wife with a cowbell to ring repeatedly and with gusto. A student turned up with some pots and pans to add to the cacophony of noise. By the time i was barrelling up the hill they also had managed to amplify a recorded version of “Olé, olé olé”. It’s great to ride through a crowd of people shouting. Tom yelled right in my face as I came past: “ignore the pain, IGNORE THE PAIN”, and i tried my best to ignore the horrible, unrelenting pain in my legs and lungs.
The level of competition was fierce, both in amongst the top end of the field and in amongst the Bristol South riders. I think I came 8th and was first rider on fixed. I was the only rider on fixed – this was a surprise, it’s a great hill for a single gear. Rob Gough won with another demonstration of the dark arts of riding uphill; dancing on the pedals, post-ride emphysema, nausea. Glyndwr Griffiths followed on a close second, by about a second, with a matching cough and ashen face. The rest of the top order consisted of Richard Cartland of Corley Cycles, Tavis Walker and Tom Marshall. The organiser and the host club deserve praise for putting on a fantastic event and generally being really lovely and likeable people. Next weekend Tav, Glyn and Tom are aiming to bag the team prize at the Cat and Bec. They are in with a shout. I will be up north, wrestling with some long and epic northern inclines that suit me a lot better.
The afternoon’s action shifted to a really sharp hill near Wellow. On first inspection i was a bit worried that the 57″ might be too tall, but my worries were unfounded. I turned the gear over without too many problems and climbed well. In both races i felt a teeny bit too fresh at the end. I need to work on this – i’m still not in the death zone, where extreme privation and savage, lung-shredding effort leads to higher speeds and better placings. I’m slightly optimistic that i might yet reach it, which is an odd place to be – silently hoping that i will be able to inflict more pain on myself. I was 4 seconds quicker at Claverton than the last time i rode, which is acceptable.
Charles Coleman was down to start on Hinton this afternoon, but it was always going to be a tall order; he had a cyclo-cross event in the morning at Hengrove and came second behind Oli Beckingsale. He appeared in his race kit at the start, ambling out of his parents’ car to support the riders, a mere minute away from the moment when he should have been pushed away up the hill. A combination of extreme peer pressure and a spare bike (miraculously on hand) saw him take on the climb with seconds to go before his slot. Adrenaline got him through a few shaky cleat moments and he posted a more than respectable time given the circumstances. It’s all good training.
Glyn took first place from Rob Gough; a fantastic achievement and the first time Rob has been beaten this season. Over the weekend the two fought a ding-dong battle, with Rob taking the honours on 3 out of the 4 climbs. I suspect they will both fare well next week at the Catford, with a possible 1-2, and their chances for success at the National are high. BSCC are chasing the team prize at Catford – although we may miss out on the National because it looks like we will only have two riders. I’m currently the fourth counter in most of the hillclimbs I’ve entered, this is mind-boggling. I’m not saying i’m that good or anything, well, i’m not shabby at the long stuff, top 25 at the National 2 years running, open victory on Haytor Vale, but i’m a long way off being one of the top 3 hillclimbers in the Bristol South ‘Mega Team’, as it’s been nicknamed. It’s faintly reminiscent of John Lennon’s response to an interview question asking whether Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world. He replied “he’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles”. All last season and the season before i longed to have just a few more riders from the club on the startsheet to get some team prizes and generally build up some camaraderie. it’s happened, with some extras, and I’m really happy about it, even though it squeezes me out a bit. It’s fantastic for the club, and turning up en masse as a part of frighteningly strong team is a lot of fun.
I’m riding the National for the experience this year – I’m hoping to do well but also realistic about the shape and tone of the climb: it doesn’t suit my physiology. Therefore I’m already wishing my life away by thinking ahead to the Stang in 2013. Such is the nature of the ever-changing National Hill Climb Championship.
After a really tough week i opted not to drive a long way and tackle a 30 mile time trial. last night i went out and had an ale with friends. I was feeling a bit despondent about hillclimbs and the nefarious effects work can have. Today, instead of racing on a dual carriageway somewhere, i opted to ride my bike in the sunshine, an unexpected pleasure, and lazed around indolently.
Tomorrow is the VC Walcot event on American Avenue near Bath, followed by the Cadence RT promotion a little bit further out. the fixed wheel hill killer is getting an outing for the first time this year and I’m quite excited. I have no expectations, the hills are a bit short and explosive for my liking, but it will be good to ride. The BSCC outfit is absurdly strong and i suspect i won’t even be the 3rd counter if we do take the team prize.
I rode the VC Walcot event 2 years ago, also on fixed. It’s the same bike, but it’s had a fairly radical overhaul and is now yellow instead of blue, along with a heck of a lot of other modifications. The picture below was taken by Tim Holsgrove. Interestingly, i am bearded again.
I’m hoping (against hope) that next week will see more gains and less disappointment in terms of time on the bike, and the work/cycling/life balance will realign nicely. It’s two weeks till Burrington, the highlight of my season, and only three weeks until the National. Yikes! 5 Races to go!