And finally it is over, time to relax at last! Although it is slightly anticlimatic now that the nationals is done. Anyway, it was a rather tedious four hour drive up to Halifax on Saturday. But what a cracking climb! Definitely the hardest nationals course in the last few years. I rode it twice, but only seeing it for the first time the day before doesn't afford the opportunity to ride it hard before the race, which is definitely a disadvantage. After overnight rain and frost, Sunday dawned cold but bright. It was only 3 degrees at the start early on, but thankfully the sun warmed it up a little before I was off. When I started my legs didn't feel great; not bad, just not with the good zip of last weekend. My plan had been to ride up the steep bits, then lift it where it leveled out a bit at the end. I didn't feel like I was going that hard, just riding up the hill was hard enough. Apparently I was 4 seconds down on David Clarke at halfway - who went on to get the bronze medal in 5:38. But when I came round the last bend I was spent, and although I changed up a gear I was unable to raise the pace. In fact I was so far gone that I almost crashed in the last stretch, swerving into the gutter, but managing to get back on the road and up to the finish line. Over the line the catchers did a good job, and got me off the bike. I was sat on the floor getting my breath back for a while, but when I tried to stand up I was still very nauseous and dizzy; eventually I ended up sitting in the back of the ambulance and throwing up - which is the first time I have actually been sick after a hillclimb, despite often feeling like it! After a quiet half hour I started to feel more human, and was able to watch Jim come across the line to convincingly re-take his title! He did a storming ride to win by 19 seconds in 5:19. Defending champion Mark Lovatt surprised by taking the silver, a fraction ahead of David Clarke. Our Southport teammate, Chris Myhill, had unfortunately been suffering from a knee injury since July, but still managed 6:32. If he had been fit we probably would have won the team prize, as the Artic squad won it from us by 29 seconds with three riders in the top ten. I ended up with 6:08, which got me 15th - a bit disappointing, but I always said it was too long for me! And now it is time to eat cake.......
Well I totally failed to update this last week, so first we must flash back to October 12th and the Lancashire RC event on the infamous 'Rake'. The last two years I've gone up on the Saturday and ridden the Huddersfield event first, but this year I decided just to do the Rake and see if hitting it fresh made any difference. Plus my mum wanted to come to see it, so we booked a hotel in Ramsbottom for the Saturday night. I wasn't feeling that great in the days leading up to it, possibly overdid the training a little, it is so hard to get the balance right. But felt okay on the day. My race went well, except for almost getting run over shortly after starting! An errant car had got onto the closed road (while the marshall just stood and watched!) and came within about an inch of knocking me off when I swerved round the front bumper. I didn't go quite as quickly as I had hoped, but still my fastest for the course in 2:31. Jim won in an incredible 2:21, also a PB for him, showing he is well on track to reclaim his national title. And inbetween us, completing a repeat of last year's top three, was David Clarke with a good improvement to 2:27.
Then onto yesterday's races, back down South, so thankfully much less driving. The Catford CC and Bec CC events are both short and steep, so should be suited to me, though I hadn't done them before. I drove over there on Thursday to check the courses, which was very worthwhile. The first, Yorks Hill, is steep! It felt harder than the Rake in practice. But I wasn't on a good day on Thursday. By Saturday, when I went for a spin my legs were finally feeling good, so I was optimistic when I got there on Sunday morning. Big crowds! All the local clubs seem to use this a social occasion, so the top of the hill was lined, Tour de France style, with cheering cyclists. I rode what I think is my most controlled ride ever - I was actually able to lift it at the end, rather than struggling to finish. Still felt awful afterwards though, so did get the full effort out! And it worked, as I was the only rider to get under two minutes, winning in 1:58 from Matt Goodes in 2:01. After warming down, it was on to the Bec event, scheldued three hours later. I didn't feel as good as in the first race, and there was a headwind at the bottom. So I was almost surprised to find that I won again! Another 1:58, with Matt second once more in 2:03. I was dead chuffed with that, shame the nationals course is that much longer.....
I was pretty nervous before my first hillclimb of the season yesterday. My preparation had been going very well until I was struck down with a cold two weeks ago. Fortunately I am pretty much over it, but I missed a week and a half of training. Anyway, I drove down to Kent on Saturday afternoon, and went to reccee the course. Nice sheltered road, gradually getting steeper all the way up, average of 1:8. Course record of 3 minutes, so should be suited to me I hoped. It was encouraging that I rode up in 3:38, not going flat out. Then had a restful evening staying at a friend's house nearby. Sunday dawned bright and sunny but very cold - only 6 degrees when I set out. Quite nice in the sun, but very cold air - not good for the lungs when you have to make a maximum effort! I did a nice long warm up on the turbo, then it was time to race. I set off fast, probably too fast, as when I got to the steepest part at the end I couldn't hold the 19T as planned and had to resort to the 21T. Got across the line not feeling too impressed with my ride, and went for a little warm down. Came back to find to my surprise that I had won! Only just though - the top three were all within a second, I won by 4 tenths! Satisfying after losing races by that sort of margin the last two years. Way off the course record though, in 3:12. But very good to start the season with a win. Hopefully I can now stay healthy and train well for the next three weeks - three more races then the Nationals.