At the start of the year I had one target, well actually I had a few, but one key one. As I’d just turned 50 I wanted to ‘podium’ in my age group (50-54) at the national hill climb. Wanting something and achieving it is a different matter though and I knew even in this very niche age group of ageing hill climbers I’d have my work cut out. With 6 weeks to go I gave up biscuits, beer and crisps. I dropped 2kg, I rode hard week in week out, some really nasty efforts and I began to focus. I picked up a few over 50 and Vets ‘wins’ in the preceding week’s events, (bagging a total of £85 in prize money!!!) but then when the start sheet for the championships was published I had a huge crisis of confidence. Unwisely I data stalked all 20 competitors in my age group on the CTT website, checking their results and PB’s and after this talked myself down into about 10th place. Scratch man in our group was Mark Lovatt FFS, six time Premier Calendar winner. AARRGGHH,
Come race day I was a mess with nerves, so much so I just felt drained. My warm up started terrible, the legs were non responsive but after half an hour they suddenly started to wake up and when I hot the line I was ready. The key to this monster climb is pacing. I was so terrified of the evil final section that until I got there I could not be out of breath, not at all. With my limited firepower I had to ride smart, stay in control because too much too soon would spell disaster.
Time ticked down, I rolled off from the start, picked up a little speed then checked my power meter to find a level and settled in. I made sure I kept the tempo up on the flat bits in-between the steep ramps and glued my eyes glued on the horizon. No emotion, no panic, no drama. It hurt, but not too much, I was breathing hard but not out of breath. I caught the rider who started before me then hitting the short descent before the finale I shook my legs some and got ready for the real PAIN. Reaching the final 20% switchbacks the crowd noise built and built until the point where it was deafening. How the pros cope with this for hours on end I don’t know, it was so loud it actually hurt. I wasn’t fresh but I wasn’t empty, I pushed, I wanted it over, I still tried to stay disciplined as the gradient got ever worse and then it was time for the final ramp.
Now it was all or nothing, dividing the corridor of noise I ground out that last 100 meters and almost summoned a sprint to the line to finish. It was done.
Within minutes I’d recovered and now it was time to have some fun. To hell with the result for now, I needed to find Andy Jones and grab my 100 sign out of his car. I rushed back down the hill, got his keys, sprinted back up, collected my sign and my bag of clothes. I put an extra base layer on, grabbed some chocolate digestives and a can of cherry coke and got into the scrum of supporters. The next hour was bedlam, the best atmosphere I can remember at a hill climb, we could have been on the slopes of Alps d’Huez, it was simply fantastic.
With the race over, now it was time to check the result and back at the HQ I started to scan through the 480 names on the wall to see the damage. This is usually when things start to go wrong but somehow only one other rider in my group at beat me, and they had all started.
I was only bloody 2nd in the 50-54 group, SECOND! (by less than a second) My 16:26 also just 27 seconds off the top spot, could I have gone faster? (Yes a couple of 55-60 years olds beat us all, butthey don’t count.) This also equated to 20th over 40 from the 98 vets and 142nd out of the 275 senior male competitors but I’d bloody done it, I had achieved my goal. JOB DONE.
Have a good winter Paragons.
All the best
You can buy an awesome poster of the struggle climb here. Proceeds the the Air Ambulance service.