So, it’s been a while… my last blog post was way back at the start of May, when I had just finished the Surrey League 3 day event. In the 6 months since a lot has happened; for one I managed to snap my chainset going up Milland Hill just 10 minutes into the race. I just about made it round the brutal Tour of Sussex. I even managed to bag my first win in the last round of the Surrey League handicap series. But I just missed out on gaining my 2nd cat license for next season, which was a disappointment, but it provides even more motivation for next season!
My 2017 Hill climb season
This has been the thrird year running that I have completed the full hill climb season, which officially beginning 6 weeks from the last Sunday in October. The hill climb season always culminates in the National Hill climb championships, which draws out the finest hill climbing talent year on year, no matter where the event is held. This year the National was staged on Hedley hill in Northumberland, but before I get to that let’s take a look back at the rest of the hill lcimb season…
Porlock Hill Climb – The one where I crashed
The first open hill climb of the year is always an interesting one because you can never be sure where you are in terms of form. This HC was even more of a question mark for me due to not riding this one before. I was drawn to Porlock Hill mainly because of its length – it’s rare to find a hill that’s longer than a mile in the UK so the fact that Porlock is 4.1 miles long with an average gradient of 5.5% makes it unique.
I did the intelligent thing of crashing on left hairpin bend about a third of the way up the climb, I lost about 20 seconds in the process and struggled to get a rhythm going after that. I ended up finishing 31st out of 120 riders, I’m keen to return next year and get a top 10 in this.
Steyning Bostal – Sussex CA Championships – The one I won
I was keen to return to this event after taking the Junior title in 2015 and 2016. As I am no longer a Junior I was left to battle for the overall crown this year. I was denied bragging rights on the day by Chris Newberry of Redhill CC and Andrew Kirby of University of Bristol, who put in fine rides of 4:07 and 4:08 respectively. I couldn’t be too disappointed with 3rd place though, as my time of 4:26 was a PB for the tough hill and it also meant I took the full title as Sussex HC Champ.
Denbies Duels – The one with the track stands
Denbies Duels awaited on the Sunday, a uniquely formatted hill climb event which has grown on me since I first did it. Denbies is a wine estate just round the corner from the infamous Box Hill, and is a dead end road which is concrete for a good part of it. The views over the vineyard and beyond into Surrey is something to behold.
As the name suggests, to win at Denbies Duels you need to beat your opponent to the top of the hill; however in round one it is the fastest 12 times which progress, so it helps to have a handy rider who you can work with to get through to the next round. I had the good fortune of having a strong ‘partner’ in Round 1, the type of guy you could tell enjoyed setting the pace for 5 hour club runs without asking for any help. So I stuck on his wheel and took him in the sprint. Yes, I wheelsucked him good, and I have no shame! The time was good enough to take 5th place, so in Round 2 I would be seeded against the 11th fastest guy from the first round.
My competition for Round 2 was Daniel Pink from Bigfoot CC. I met Dan a couple of years ago at a hill climb so I was aware of his climbing ability. I therefore made sure I didn’t do anything silly by going for a long one, as I knew I could beat him in the sprint. And so I did!
Round 3 was going to be a different kettle of fish (no offence Dan). I was drawn against Lewis Winfield from VC Londres, who I believe came 4th in last year’s edition. I knew Lewis would not be content dragging me to the line and so began an intense tracking standing competition which seemed to last for a lifetime. I thought I was just going to have him but I edged out in front and so had no choice but to lead the sprint. I opened up hard and early with 200m to go, but Lewis came round my in the final metres. Always a fun event though!
Steyning Bostal & Mill Hill Climbs – The windy one’s
I found myself back at Steyning only one week after the Sussex Champs. I wasn’t super motivated for this to be honest, the weather was pretty bleak all day. I knew it would not be a day for PB’s on Steyning due to a testing headwind on the exposed final of the hill. I recorded a 4:32, so 6 seconds slower than the week before.
We made our way over in the afternoon to Shoreham for the 2nd HC of the day. Mill Hill is more of a tester’s course due to it not being very steep and is a 7-8 minute climb. I will admit to there being a rather pleasant tailwind for this, which is always welcomed! I wanted to go under 8 minutes but I stopped the clock just over that.
David Ross was in good form for this one – he won both events by a comfortable margin. I had settle for 2nd place in both.
York’s Hill – Catford HC – The favourite one
Why is the Catford HC my favourite one? For starters, it claims to be the ‘oldest continuing cycle race in the world’ – basically it has been running a bloody long time, I believe since 1886. There is such a rich history of the event, with a long list of famous winners in the past. The atmosphere on the hill is unrivaled in my opinion, I am yet to ride a hill climb that gives the same buzz as taking on the steepest slopes of Yorks does. It’s the closest you will feel like riding the Tour de France, even if it is just for 2 minutes!
I was very pleased with my run on this one, I managed a 2:07 which was good enough for 10th place. The next aim would be to join the sub 2 minute club next year.
Firle Bostal – East Sussex CA Champs – The uncomfortable one
After the Catford it felt like I was gearing up perfectly for the Nationals, typical then that I came down with a cold only a day or two afterwards. This meant I had to hold off on hard training sessions during the week. Unfortunately the cold had not passed for this weekend, and a hill climb is not the best medicine for a cold, but I still turned up! The first 2 minutes went well, but it caught up with me on the final straight and I felt rather embarrassed as I coughed and wheezed my way to the finish in front of everyone. I managed to hold on for 5th place, but some way off Rowan Brackston’s awesome ride to win.
Butts Lane – The new one
This is only the second year that Velopace have run this event, but it already promises to be a favourite for many riders and spectators in the future. Velopace seem to have gone the extra mile to make the day stand out, with rows of bunting, a commentator and motivational music playing at various points on the hill. And if there was any more incentive for riding this event Velopace and ESCA teamed up to award an extra £50 to the fastest combined time from both hill climbs. Rowan won this event to add to his victory in the morning race, and obviously take the combined prize as well. I felt a bit more comfortable in this one, although I only took 3 seconds off my time from last year and unable to go sub 4 minutes. Nevertheless I still came 4th, not bad for an ill guy.
Time to rest up for the National!
National Championships – Hedley-on-the-Hill – The big one
I will admit that there were a few curse words used when I found out that the 2017 National was to be held in the North-East. 2015 and 2016 was worse enough with travelling to a fair distance up north, but Hedley-on-the-Hill near Newcastle was another matter. But I have to say – this was a superbly organised event by Ben Lane and GS Metro, the promoting club. The whole club should be very proud about what they have achieved, this National was a step up in atmosphere to previous years. The little things were done right, such as producing rider profiles on the Facebook event, a startsheet which accurately reflected the ability of each rider etc.
It was not an easy course to judge in terms of pacing, as there were a couple of flat sections with some tough ramps thrown in for good measure. I set off hard and fast, as I knew there would be a helping hand with the wind on the final stretch. I got to the half way mark and I believe it was 2:10 or something like that, so I knew I was on for a good time. Pretty soon after I was greeted by the roar of the crowds on the steepest part of the climb, which I needed because by this point I was starting to fade. But I’m nearly there, and it’s the last race of the year so I better make it count. The gradient eases off slightly in the final 300 metres, so I have to find the strength to produce one last sprint for the year. Over the line and fall onto the verge. I finished with a time of 4:35, a long way off of Dan Evans’ storming course record ride of 3:54, but it was a performance I could be proud of nonetheless. It was pleasing to see Joscelin Lowden take the title in the women’s event, it’s fair to say Jos has been smashing it this autumn in the Soouthern hill climbs so it was great to see her take the National jersey. Improving on 2015’s 130th, and 2016’s 81st overall, this year I sneaked into the top 50 to claim 47th place in a field of the country’s best hill climbers and thus achieving one my targets for the season. It was also good enough to take the fastest 18 year old. Next year I would like to get a top 25 in the National, which is to be held in the South for a change!
Results can be found here – https://cyclinguphill.com/national-hill-climb-2017-2/
A HUGE thanks goes out to all of the promoting clubs this hill climb season, I can speak on behalf of the riders when I say your efforts are appreciated greatly. From Brighton Mitre’s events of 20 riders, to GS Metro’s event of 240 riders, each race has been awesome to race in. It would also but a lot more dull without the amazing support from all the spectators that turn up and cheer everyone on, so thanks again!