They think it's all over.... it is now! Hurrah, finally tme to relax! So, the National Hillclimb champs today, and I ended up fourth. A little disappointing not to get a medal, but I was happy with my ride, and being a whole 2 seconds behind third (which is a big margin in a two and a half minute race) meant I couldn't have done any better. Sadly Jim just got pipped for the win by a measely 0.3secs (makes you wonder what the margin for error is with handheld timing) by Ben Greenwood. Times were all quite slow for The Rake, probably to do with the wet weather - fortunately it wasn't raining by the time I rode, but the road was still wet, leading to a fair bit of wheelspin on the way up. But anyway, that is my season done now, so I can enjoy November off before training starts again for next year.... I'm writing this from just South of Perth in Scotland - going up further North for a few days next week, with two chocolate cakes (well, one and a half now...) to keep me happy.
Well what did we learn yesterday? That I should be in with a shout at Nationals, but it is likely to be extremely close. And that aluminium cassettes, although very light, don't last very long at all.... But better to find that out yesterday rather than next week!
So it was two races yesterday, the South's biggest events with the Catford and Bec CC events. I was going for my hat-trick in the Catford, which is on Yorks Hill near Sevenoaks, and suits me well - short and very steep! I was really feeling the pressure though, getting pretty stressed despite my attempts to stay calm. Then my gears were skipping all the way up! And yes, I had tested the bike the day before, but obviously not at that sort of power. I still felt I went fairly quickly, but it must have cost me something - what, of course, I'll never know, but although I only came fifth, I was a mere 1.2 seconds down on the winner.... So very disappointing but not discouraging. Fortunately I was able to steal a steel (isn't the English language great?) cassette from another wheel for the Bec event in the afternoon. Although I have been first and second in this race, I don't like the hill so much, and am not so good at doing two such efforts in one day - the morning race had me in the worst state for a couple of years, it took me about half an hour to stop feeling physcially sick. Anyway, I just decided to stuff any idea of pacing and treat it as a sprint, and hope I didn't die too badly over the top. Which worked out pretty well - I went six seconds quicker than I ever have before on that course, to finish 5th again, three seconds down on the winner. I'll have to wait to see the full results for further analysis, but I'm pretty certain that at least two of the top four in both events aren't riding next week, so it is still all to play for. Just got to avoid cake for one more week.....
Quite a good week, albeit a bit short on sleep! Monday morning I had to get up at stupid o'clock (4am!) in order to drive my mum to Luton airport. Then, since I had gone a bit North already, I kept on going, headed up to Ramsbottom (just north of Manchester) in order to train on 'The Rake', which is the climb for the National Hill Climb Champs this year. I had to pause in Derbyshire for an hour's kip in the car, but, thanks to the early start, was still in Ramsbottom by 10:30. The Rake is one of my favourite hillclimb courses - short, steep and with a unique town centre location. It has three distinct sections - the bottom starts shallow, then ramps up to the first corner. Round the left hander and the middle section can be ridden in the saddle, before turning right onto 'The Rake' proper. This final section is 25%, and even has a handrail up the side! Then over the top there is a little bit of flat before the line. 875m with 98m of vertical. The course record is a staggering 2:14, set by Jeff Wright years ago. In the last few years, Jim Henderson has been unbeatable on this climb, taking one of his five national wins in 1999 with a 2:21, which I think is also his quickest time for the course. That year I was 9th with 2:38, but two years ago I did 2:31, and hope to get well under 2:30 this time.... I've probably raced it four or five times, but hadn't been up there for two years, hence the need for a reminder visit. My legs didn't feel super on Monday - amazing how much one two and a half minute effort (Sunday's race) can take out of you - but I rode the climb 5 times before calling it a day. Then, having some time spare before I was due at my friend Richard's place, I called into the velodrome at Manchester - I knew the national track champs were on this week, and happened to arrive just in time to watch the points race qualifiers. Good events for spectating, and a chance to watch our collection of world and european champions at work - you don't realise quite how fast they are going until the average speed comes up at the end: 37mph! Afterwards I drove down to the Wirral and found the amazing windmill that Rich now lives in. Good to catch up with him, and my bed was very welcome after a long day!
Tuesday was rest and recovery - I did very little, apart from a nice gentle ride round the Wirral peninsula, which was very pleasent. Then Wednesday it was back to the Rake. I met up with Jim Henderson and we did reps together - so much easier mentally, and nice having someone to chat to between efforts. Plus a chance to try and learn a bit from the master! Another seven ascents and we were cooked, and it was time for me to head south again; a rather tedious five hour drive, but nicely broken by dinner with friends in Leicester.
Friday night I had to return to Luton to collect my mother. She was meant to get in at 11:15, but was delayed to 1:30; so I eventually got to bed at 3am.... Fortunately I didn't have much I had to do on Saturday, so could rest up a bit, 'cos I had hillclimb number two of the season today. It was the Wigmore CC event on Hollingbourne hill in Kent, and we were blessed with a beautiful, sunny, warm day. I'd ridden it once before, two years ago, and had won - but only by a fraction of a second - and just remember blowing horribly about 30 seconds from the end.... So I went early this morning to have a good look at it, to try and be able to judge my pace correctly. Not really my sort of hill; bit long at just over three minutes, and not terribly steep. And with a long flat final section to the line - so you needed to hold something back to be able to sprint that bit. I decided I needed to sit down and spin for the first not very steep bit, then stand up and lift it at halfway, before sprinting over the top. Which is what I did. I felt reasonably pleased with my ride, though I wasn't anywhere near as exhausted as last week. It was more a very controlled effort. But I had no idea how I might have done - it was a fairly quality field, with a great turnout of 69 riders. When I got to the results board after warming down and packing up, I was delighted to discover I had won! I did 3:05:8, to take the win by 4 seconds. Two years ago I did 3:12, so much quicker. Bit of a shame to miss the £25 bonus for beating 3:05, but very happy with the result.
Afterwards I went over to ride Yorks and Titsey hills for training - I'll be racing these in two weeks time, and since I was in the area and it was a nice day, decided to get some practice in. I felt good on Yorks and did four reps, but was pretty knackered when I got to Titsey and just rode it twice to get a feel for it. Need to do some hard training this coming week, but the end is in sight - three weeks to go.....
Alright then! Win number one for the hillclimb season - such a relief to get the first one successfully out of the way, I was getting nervous all week about it. We were blessed with beautiful sunny weather, albeit with a definite crisp autumn feel to the morning. I did a half hour warm up on the turbo, then it was just breathe, focus and go. I felt pretty quick going up, and afterwards knew I had tried - bizarrely even my teeth hurt!? I knocked another three seconds off my course record to do 2:21, with Danny Axford in second on 2:29 - so much better than last year's slim half second margin. So very encouraging, since I have more specific training to do yet; just have to see if I can get it to all come together for nationals in a months time....