And we do this for fun? Going uphill fast - the hillclimb season

17 November
And so it all went horribly wrong.... This time I left at 6am to drive up in the morning, just about over my jetlag from getting back from the US on Wednesday. Nice clear roads, got there in 2 hours 20 minutes, with plenty of time before I was due to start. The weather was about perfect - 10 degrees and not a breath of wind, and although overcast, it didn't rain until after the event. When I started warming up I realised something was good - I was spinning at 120rpm straight off, which is always a good sign that my legs feel okay. Went and did my ride, and was fairly pleased - I was third when I finished, but with a lot of good riders still to come. I don't think I could have gone any faster, except that the chain did fall from the big to the small chainring on the second half, which maybe cost me a couple of seconds.
Mark Lovatt - Gold Mike Hutchinson - Silver Ian Stott - Bronze

After riding back down, I went to watch the scores coming in. When I saw the half way splits I knew something was wrong - Jim was barely quicker than me, and Matt was well down. I knew Jim would have trouble beating Lovatt on this course, but I had been pretty confident that we would win the team - I expected Jim to go about a minute quicker than me, and for Matt to be pretty close to my time. Sadly it wasn't to be.

Jim Henderson - very disappointed in 4th Tim Bayley - flying to 5th Rob - 10th

The results below say it all really. Lovatt was in a class of his own on his home hill. Mike used his time trialling ability on the flatter top section to pull out a storming second half and take silver. And Ian did a great ride to keep Jim off the podium for the first time in six years. So not a happy camp for the Southport team; I was pretty pleased with my ride for 10th, despite an appalling second half. Jim just had a very bad day - he had predicted at least a short 20 from his training runs on the course. And I think Matt didn't really have his head straight for it after a busy season. Outside of the top two though, it was very tight - nine riders spread over 21 seconds. Meaning I was only 17 seconds off a medal....

But what can you do? That's racing I guess. But it certainly says something that the top three all used aerobars - is this really a championship hillclimb? Or a sporting time trial? We'll just have to try again next year when it is on a more promising hill.

Rides of note: Tim Bayley's blinding second half - without aerobars - and he said he blew! That's the first time he's beaten me in a hillclimb this year.... Peter Greenwood - first vet and sixth overall, putting us youngsters to shame, and Ian Stott and Carl Helliwell for being two of the few to ride the whole course consistently.

And now I'm off to eat lard...... ciao.

RiderTeam/club1st half
1st half
2nd half
2nd half
overall time
1Mark LovattCompensation group10:1319:20119:33
2Michael HutchinsonTeam MDT-Giant11:13109:25220:38
3Ian StottBlackburn CTC11:0359:555=20:58
4Jim HendersonSouthport CC10:53210:061020:59
6Peter GreenwoodClayton velo11:15119:533=21:08
7Mark ArnoldApibikes.com10:58310:1113=21:09
8Carl HelliwellBlackburn CTC11:117=9:59721:10
9Stephen FeeneyLeigh Premier11:117=10:01821:12
10Rob EnglishSouthport CC11:01410:141721:15
11David LawArtic11:08610:1113=21:19
12Adrian BirdArtic11:231310:05921:28
13Steve HulmeTeam Velocity11:301510:081121:38
14Ian DaltonCherry Valley11:4418=9:555=21:39
15Nathan TurnbullLeigh Premier11:321610:091221:41
17Dave CollingeBlackburn CTC11:241410:211821:45
18Dave EbbrellBlackburn CTC11:4418=10:1113=21:55
19Chris MyhillChesterfield Coureurs11:331710:2519=21:58
20Paul BarnardGloucester City11:512210:131622:04
27Matt SewellSouthport CC11:532310:5028=22:43

Team Competition:
1Blackburn CTC63:53
2Southport CC64:57

26/27 October
Well this was what we had all been building up to, but in the end we were all to be disappointed. The weather report forecast huge storms for the Sunday, and the weather lived up to the predictions, with 80mph winds and heavy rain. My mum joined me for this one, and we had a very tedious drive up to Macclesfield on Saturday, with lots of traffic. Quite a nice day though. When we got there and checked into our hotel, I went and rode the climb, and felt quite good for the race. But then overnight the weather blew in, and by the time we got to the HQ they had already shortened the course from 6.3 miles to 2.6; apparently you couldn't even stand up at the top! But instead of improving, it just got worse, with most of the course under water, and trees and debris all over the place. After first postphoning for an hour, eventually the event had to be cancelled, it just wouldn't have been safe. And so another five hour tedious drive home; I am soooo sick of driving.

Two days later it was announced that the event would be re-run on the 17th, so I guess I'll be making one more drive north this year.....

19/20 October
It's about typical - having been well and healthy all year, on the Friday I woke up with a sore throat and other signs of cold/flu. It was still there Saturday morning, but I decided to go race anyway. Another three hour drive up to the Peak district for the first event at Rowsley. The nationals was held on this course in '97, where I came 22nd with 6-08. Dangerfield won with the still standing course record of 5-12. We had a tailwind this time, which should help on the second half of the course. It was cold (four degrees!) but sunny.... until the racing started, when it hailed and rained for a bit. I was really pleased with my ride, I controlled the pace perfectly and don't think I could have gone any faster - unfortunately I lost to David Clarke (who got second on the Rake last week) by half a second! So there went my one chance of getting a win in this season... At least I still have my course record for Streatley from last year - Jim failed to beat it by 7 seconds a few weeks ago. Incidentally, my time on Rowsley, 5-44, would have put me sixth in the '97 nationals. Anyway, after the urge to vomit passed, I went to pre-ride the second leg of the Chesterfield Coureurs competition, the Beeley climb just up the road. Rather different, being a ten minute climb with a steady gradient. Seemed okay. I was staying with friends in Nottingham Saturday night, so headed off that way, pausing to drive the other climb for Sunday, at Riber.

Turned out I was allergic to something in Kate and Sam's flat, so didn't have a particularly pleasent or restful night. But didn't feel too bad once I got outside in the morning. Very cold again as I rolled up to Riber for the first race of the day. Very easy first half, with a very steep finish. I don't think I went hard enough early enough, but I wasn't going to make up the nine seconds to better my third place (behind Jim and David again - except that David won by a single second!), so it was good to save something for the second race. There was only two hours between events, so it wasn't long before I was setting off again. Once more, fairly happy with my ride, and ended up sixth against a good quality field. Jim was beaten into second by Mark Lovatt, but then it was his fourth race of the weekend.... We'll see what happens next week. I'm feeling fairly positive about it, just need to shake off this cold and give it a go.

12/13 October
For those not native to the UK cycling scene, October here means it is time to travel vast distances in order to make vomit-inducing efforts up very steep hills. Quite why we do these races when the air is cold, it often rains and most people are knackered from a long season I don't know. Probably just tradition or an old charter or something. But anyway, for some reason I have always done fairly well at these events, and for an even stranger reason, actually enjoy them. I missed the 2000 season as I was over in America, but came back last year to do fairly well with a win and two second places, followed up by helping Southport CC to the team win at the nationals. Yes, Southport may sound a little odd for a Southerner like me, but I joined to backup National Champion (four times!) Jim Henderson, whom I know from university days (he was a member of the dark side over at Oxford when I was at Cambridge).

What with being over at Nevada until last week for the WHPSC, my season is a bit short this year - three weekends and six races. This weekend was the first, with the Huddersfield Star Wheelers' event at Jackson Bridge on Saturday and the Lancashire RC race on Sunday up the awesome 'Rake' in Ramsbottom. So over ten hours driving for seven minutes of racing, but I think it was worth it.... Saturday went pretty well, despite the rain. I came fifth, going 11 seconds faster than last year. However, the Blackburn CTC boys, Ian Stott and Carl Helliwell, also went 10 seconds quicker to remain ahead. Jim won in the same time as last year, just beating Dave Coulson by a single second. And so, after my first full nights sleep since coming back from the US, it was onto The Rake. I can't enthuse enough about this event - it is a two and a half minute climb, with the last section 1:4 - not that special in hillclimb terms - but this one is in a town centre! And they shut the road, and there are always crowds lining the steep part, and there's commentary. It's what hillclimbing should be like. Last year I did a storming ride to come second to Jim in 2:31. This year I hoped to break that ellusive 2:30. Now I'm on new pedals this year - Speedplays, which you can't pull out of... providing of course that you clip in properly at the start. And it is easy to get the half click and think you are in when you're not. On the start line I was too busy hyperventilating to check my feet, and so sure enough my right foot came out half way up the first section... I got it in pretty quick, but it must have cost me something, as I went on to do 2:35, missing second place by 2 seconds (Jim won of course). With the prize money difference, that cost me 40!

On the way home I stopped off to preview the National's course for this year, the Cat and Fiddle climb. There has been a lot of controversy over the choice of this hill as the nationals - in a departure from the usual short climbs, it is over six miles long, and not very steep - in fact it even has some downhill on it! And there was me struggling on last year's course, which was 2 miles/7 minutes. I drove it first; a very fun drive, lots of corners, though getting rather greasy as the rain started. Then onto the bike, in the rain, with the temperature dropping down to 5 degrees.... I rode at a fairly good pace, and was able to do about half in the 53T, cresting the top in 24 minutes. And actually I really like it, totally different but good fun. I did well on a nine mile climb in the US last year, so perhaps this will suit me too, we'll see. Some people have talked about using tri-bars, but I don't think I will. I felt comfortable tucked down on the hoods or drops. The rest of the drive home was pretty appalling, with heavy driving rain and lots of traffic, but otherwise a pretty good weekend really. Three races next weekend, then the Nationals the weekend after and that's it.