Diaries of a hill climb racer...

7th September 2019. Hill Climb race season is upon us...

This year I have been training hard for the hill climb season and I thought I'd do a bit of a diary as the season rolls out.

What is a hill climb race?

Most cycle clubs organise an annual hill climb race on a local hill, they tend to be open events so anyone brave or crazy enough can enter. They are raced like a time trial where each rider is set off individually a minute apart and then races against the clock up the hill as fast as they can. Race duration varies from about 3 minutes up to 20 minutes depending on the length of the hill. Most races are held on a Sunday morning in the Autumn with the HQ in a village hall. Copious cups of tea, cakes and bacon sandwiches are the norm when it comes to recovery food post race!

Hill climb racing is a uniquely British sport, in fact the oldest cycle race in the world is Catford Cycling Club Hill Climb which first took place in 1886 and is still held annually.

The season is rounded off with The National Hill Climb Championships. This year The Nationals are being held on Haytor climb, Dartmoor on Sunday 27th October.

So why hill climbing for me?

Having had a go at road racing for a couple of seasons I quickly realised it is damn tough. You need to do a lot of training miles, in the region of 200+ miles a week and you need to be pretty fearless! (I can't help that being the wrong side of 40yrs old didn't help.) So being a 10 stone lightweight and being pretty handy with the spanners I built a really light bike and started training on a lot of hills. I've dabbled at a few local hill climbs over the last couple of years and done OK. - More about the bike in another post.

This season...

This year I've really focused on the hills and got as fit as I can. I've entered 10 or so local hill climb races which run through September, October and into November. I think the mind, body and bike are ready for the challenge, so it is now all down to the performance on the day.

Race 1

My first race this year is Somerset Road Club Hill Climb, tomorrow - Sunday 8th September. The course is on the Quantock Hills on the lane which takes you to Triscombe Stone car park. It is a 1 mile long climb with an average gradient of 7.6% The course record is held by last years National Champion Andrew Feather with a time of 4min 16secs. The weather forecast is looking good so possibly another course record from Andrew who is registered to race. My personal best time on this climb is 5min 5 secs so I'm hoping for a sub 5 minutes all being well! Keep an eye on Strava for results tomorrow.

That's it for now, time to fret over tyre pressures and wind directions, exciting stuff for a Saturday night!

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8th September 2019. First race of the season done...

7am. Sunday morning alarm. Check bike - bikes OK. Porridge. Add a chopped up Mars bar - amazing! Have a shower - going to stink of caffeine and adrenaline later. Check bike (again) - bikes still OK. Get dressed in an outfit only a badly dressed super hero would wear. Say goodbye to Leanna.

8am. Outside, dry, cool and sunny - perfect. 15 mile ride over to a little village hall tucked away on the Quantock hills, the HQ for Somerset Road Club Hill Climb 2019.

8.50am. Arrive at village hall, everything is now far more chilled out. Have a pleasant chat with a few local riders, sign on, pin number 27 onto jersey.

9.30am. Short ride over to the race hill at Cockercombe on the East side of The Quantocks. A 1 mile long hill at a 7.6% gradient. Quick spin up the hill as a reminder of what is ahead. Hopefully sub 5 minutes? Stunning morning and scenery. Not many places more beautiful than this. Caffeine gel and warm up.

10.24am. On the start line, a bit of gentle banter with number 26 and 28 to calm the nerves.

10.25am. I’m balanced on the bike with the ‘push off’ man holding me. Time keeper counts down... 30 seconds… 10 seconds… 3,2,1, go.

10.26am. Push, push, push, straight out the saddle into the steepest part of the hill, legs scream at the shock, going to hard, can’t help it, keep pushing as the adrenaline won’t let you slow down. The fence on the left is gone, the gradient eases a bit, try and settle into a rhythm. Riding up the hill through the trees, it is all a blur, trying to keep the breathing under control, trying to keep the cadence right, trying to hold the effort, seated then standing, ‘go on Ben’ someone shouts, round the corner, up, up, up, keep pushing, that’s it, I can see the finish line, head down, out the saddle, final effort, lungs screaming, legs screaming, look up, finish line seems no closer, same again, head down, final effort, push, push, push, nearly there… over the line... overwhelmed by total exhaustion. A couple of turns of the pedals as the bike wobbles I turn to coast back down the hill… Sub 5 minutes? I think so!!!

Results... The race was won by Andrew Feather in a time of 4min 10secs, I got 4min 56 seconds, 13th out of 35 riders and 2nd veteran.

Thank you to Somerset Road Club, all of the marshals, the photographer and all of the competitors for a great event! Well done to everyone who entered. It is truly punishing!

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14th September, Hill Climb Season is off to a good start...

Tomorrow is hill climb race number 2. Last week went well, but that is in the past and it is all about tomorrow's race. Before we get onto that I thought I would do a bit of a feature about the bike, so to some it might be a bit bike geeky and to others it may be really interesting...

Hill Climb Bike... (My absolute prize possession)

The 2 main focuses with a hill climb specific bike is to make it light and stiff. Light - because your main enemy on a climb is gravity. Stiff - because you will be putting huge amounts of power through the bike and you want every last bit of power to be driven through the pedals to the wheels to propel you forward. Part of the beauty of hill climb racing is building a bike. The bike can be as light as you like, as long as it has 2 brakes and is safe to ride. Here is some idea of typical bike weights...

Loaded touring bike 35kg+
Town shopper bike 18kg
Hybrid bike 13kg
Gravel bike 12kg
Lightweight road bike 9kg
Professional race bike 6.8kg (UCI regulation minimum weight)
Ben's hill climb bike 5.9kg (Leanna has heavier handbags)

As you can see there is a vast difference in weight, so how is 5.9kg achieved? Start with a light-weight frame, then find all of the lightest components and then remove what you don't need. Here is my bike specification:

Scott Addict R2 carbon frame and forks (2008 model)
Sram Red 10 speed shifters (left shifter workings removed)
Sram Red 10 speed crank
Absolute Black 38T narrow wide chainring
Sram Red 10 speed cassette 11-28
Sram red 10 speed rear derailleur
KMC 10 speed Silver EL chain
KCNC brakes
Shimano Dura-Ace pedals
FSA Omega handlebars (shortened)
XLC Pro SL 110mm stem
M-Part gel bar tape
Grammo Ultra SL seatpost (shortened)
Prime RP-38 carbon wheels
Schwalbe One clincher tyres
Continental light-weight inner tubes
Prime lightweight carbon Q/R skewers
Garmin Edge 13
Shimano Falcon carbon saddle

Bits missing from the bike are: shortened handlebars, no front derailleur, single chainring, no gear workings inside left shifter, no bottle cage. Most of the bike has been sourced form second hand parts over the last couple of years. There are some pictures of the bike below...

Race 2
My second race this year is Salt and Sham Club Hill Climb, tomorrow - Sunday 15th September. The course is in Chew Magna, not far from Bristol Airport. It is a very short 0.7 miles - the shortest of the season with an average gradient of 7%. I'm not familiar with the hill but I'm expecting there might be some much steeper sections. The weather forecast is looking good, hopefully dry roads again. The plan is to hit the hill hard - out of the saddle from the start and push the power all of the way unless it levels off somewhere. Hopefully sub 4 minutes? Keep an eye on Strava for results tomorrow.

So its time for me to ponder on if wearing a skinsuit and changing the stem length will make me go quicker, most importantly should I put that Mars bar in my porridge tomorrow morning?

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15th September, second race...

10.30am Sunday 15th September... Chew Magna Hill Climb start line. 5 minutes before I'm due to start 'How did you get on?' I ask my mate, he has just raced the hill. 'About 3 minutes 15 seconds' he answers. 'What? I was expecting it to be a 4 minute climb!' This really throws me, it is a climb I have driven up, but never cycled. Short climbs are not my strength...

10.35am Race time keeper is counting down... '30 seconds... 10 seconds... 3, 2, 1, GO.' I power off the start line straight out the saddle, the start is on the hill - no run up. It is not as hard to pull away as I thought, legs spinning uncontrollably I bang the bike down into smaller cogs, turning the cranks, feeling the pressure of the pedals through my shoes, drop into the saddle for a few spins before it gets steep. Glance down at Garmin, 1min 27 seconds, brain can't compute that I may be halfway through the climb - the fact is totally lost on me - hill climbs are just not that short. Back out of the saddle, the gradient growing, a load of spectators are up on the left making a right din, cow bells, shouting, screaming, banging on things, 'don't be distracted, race face all the way' I tell myself powering towards them. As I draw alongside the noise is overwhelming, I get a mental image of a grand tour rider going up Mont Ventoux, a small taste, or rather sound bite, the noise and excitement, race face is gone and I can't help but smile, what a buzz. Pushing on... the road steepens under the trees, slight bend right then left then 'wheres the hill gone?' its flat, I can see the finish, desperately dropping through the gears, from standing out the saddle into a time trial aero position and over the line at 23mph.

Things learnt... Firstly, always ride the hill first. I got caught out by how suddenly the hill was over. I'm not sure if I could have gone harder or faster but I feel I definitely could have gone further at that pace. I didn't get that feeling of total exhaustion at the top, this suggests I could have gone faster, but I'm not sure. Secondly, the skinsuit, although faster it is not comfortable when riding out of the saddle. Lets just say that being a tight, all in one suit, when stood up out of the saddle it puts an uncomfortable amount of pressure where a fella doesn't want it! The skinsuit is getting tucked away in the drawer until TT season next spring.

Results... The race was won by Josh Coyne in a time of 2min 24secs, I got over the line in 3min 01sec, 18th out of 41 riders.

Thank you to Salt and Sham Cycle Club and congratulations on organising a great first hill climb! Well done to all who took part and a big thank you to the spectators who made me smile whilst in the depths of hill climb suffering!
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September 20th, a big weekend...

A big weekend of hill climb racing coming up... Four races in all!

Saturday AM - Exeter Wheelers Stoke Hill Climb, 1.2 miles, 6.3% gradient, hoping for a time of 5.25 so a short and fast climb.

Sunday AM - Chard Wheelers Ottery St Mary Chineway Hill Climb, 1.5 miles, 6.6% gradient, looking for a time of around 7.20, it starts off with a fairly flat TT run in then ramps up to about 20%, I like this one!

Sunday PM - Mid Devon Cycling Club double Hill Climb event.
Firstly Haytor Hill, 3.1 miles at 6.4% gradient, the longest climb of the race season, looking for around 16 minutes. Located on Dartmoor it ramps up from the off, after about 2 miles it levels to a flat TT with two final steep rises up to the car park at the top near Haytor rocks.
Later on in the afternoon is Widecombe Hill Climb, 0.9 miles, 11.7% average gradient, with parts at 20%. Looking for about 6 minutes for this one, the course record is held by Chris Boardman MBE at 4 minutes 10 seconds. The steepest hill of the season, it starts steep, it's steep in the middle and finishes steep... So steep all the way!

It all kicks off tomorrow morning, breakfast is laid out, bike is ready, legs are rested. Bring it on gravity!
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23rd September. 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th races of the season...

A cracking weekend of hill climb racing! Four hill climb races with 4 very different climbs! I'll do a proper right up later in the week. Well done to everyone who took part and organised these events and thank you to all of the people who turned out to support, cheer, shout and clap! A few results...

Saturday 21st Sept. Exeter Wheelers Stoke Hill. I achieved 5m 08secs, 9th / 45 overall, 1st Vet. The winning time was Tom Nancarrow in a lung busting time of 4m 17secs.

Sunday 22nd Sept. AM. Chard Wheelers Chineway Hill. I achieved 7m 38secs, 6th / 33 overall, 1st Vet. The winning time was Richard Gildea in a leg burning time of 6m 15secs.

Sunday 22nd Sept. PM. Mid Devon CC Haytor Hill Climb. I achieved 15m 55secs, 24th / 57 overall, 6th Vet. The winning time was Richard Bussel (2015 Hill Climb Champion) in a heart pounding 13m 01secs.

Sunday 22nd Sept. PM. Mid Devon CC Widecombe Hill. I achieved 6m 04secs, 18th / 43 overall, 5th Vet. The winning time was Miles Burton in head spinning time of 4m 46secs.

A great weekend which enticed some of the best climbers from all over the country to race.

Haytor Hill Climb was all a bit bovine... Hay (Tor), cow pats (in the road), cow bells (being rung roadside), cattle grids (to ride over), cows (in the road) and calfs (the leg variety screaming to stop).

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September 30th 2019...
I had a really nice surprise when Cycling Weekly magazine dropped through the letter box this week... Finally famous having made it onto the Cycling Weekly results page for Exeter Wheelers Hill Climb! (Picture below)

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October 10th 2019, Mid-way through the hill climb season...

Six races done this year with more to come. The last two weekends have been spent out on the local hills training and searching for long climbs.

Now only one thing is in my mind, to be on top form for the National Hill Climb Championships at the end of October. I've entered... but there is no guarantee of a place. Riders are selected from across the country to compete based upon their performance in other events throughout the season. So fingers crossed I'll get a place!

This years National Hill Climb Championships are at Haytor, Dartmoor on the 27th October. A distance of 3.1 miles and an average gradient of 6.4% A long climb for hill climb racing but more to my liking than a short sprinty climb. It was a great opportunity to take part in the Mid Devon CC climb on the 22nd September on the same course, I rode a time of 15 minutes 55 seconds. Can I improve on this? Yes, I should be able to. Firstly I already had two races in my legs that weekend, secondly I blew out on the final bit of the climb and lost maybe 20 seconds. My training is now focused on longer sustained efforts of 12 - 16 minutes rather than shorter interval efforts, just can't find many hills that long around here!

With all of that said this coming weekends race is a short sprinty climb organised by Bristol Uni Cycling Club. It is 0.8 miles with average gradient of 7% near Failand, Bristol. Not sure how its going to go against all those youngsters from Bristol Uni, hopefully the'll all of been on the beers the night before! Here is the Strava segment...

https://www.strava.com/segments/772649

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Monday October 14th 2019

Just got an email!!! I've qualified for the Hill Climb National Championships, October 27th 2019,  Haytor here we come!!!

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Thursday October 17th 2019

7 down and 4 to go! Yes I'm still talking Hill Climb Racing, 4 races left this season...

I'm really looking forward to this weekends racing, two hill climbs up on the Mendips.

Saturday's race is Team Tor 2000's climb up Westfield Lane near Priddy. It is 1.2 miles with a nice steep average gradient of 9% it should be a real lung-buster particularly considering that I've got reigning Hill Climb Champion Andrew Feather chasing me up the hill! Strava segment:

 https://www.strava.com/segments/5812627

Sundays race is Bristol South CC's climb up Burrington Combe. Similar to Cheddar Gorge it is a beautiful climb with stunning scenary. It is almost 2 miles long with an average gradient of 5.7% The Strava segment shows 12,544 riders have ridden it... Have you? Here is the segment:

 http://www.strava.com/segments/2619591

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Thursday 24th October 2019

Hill Climb Racing update... 9 down and 2 to go!

Last weekend saw a dry and mostly sunny weekend of racing.

First race was Saturdays hill climb organised by Team Tor 2000. A steep climb averaging 9% over a distance of 1.2 miles. I thought this was going to be a good climb for me but I was a bit disappointed with my performance. 20th out of 35, 6th vet in a time of 6:38 The winning time was National Champion andrew Feather in a time of 5:07 I think I went into the climb a bit too fresh having had too many rest days the week leading up it. A great event, on a challenging hill!

On Sunday morning was Burrington Combe hill climb. organised by Bristol South CC. An impressively big event with 93 riders. A stunning climb of 2 miles with an average gradient of 5.7% I felt really good on the climb and paced it well. 33rd out of 93 riders, 8th vet in a time of 8:29 The winning time was 6:40 by Ed Laverick.

This brings us on to the coming weekend...

THE NATIONAL HILL CLIMB CHAMPIONSHIPS!!!!

Very excited and feeling good! The Nationals is this Sunday on Haytor climb Dartmoor. A distance of 3.1 miles with an average gradient of 6.4% and an elevation gain of over 1000ft. The best in the country are gathering to race who will win??? Ed Laverick? Dan Evans? Andrew Feather? Callum Brown? My personal best time is 15:55 so I'm hoping to improve on this.

Here is the race info...

 www.cyclingtimetrials.org.uk/race-details/19415

Here is the Strava segment...

 https://www.strava.com/segments/8223593

Finally if you fancy pinning a number on your back and having a go at this hill climb racing why not enter Wellington Wheelers hill climb? Sunday 3rd Novmeber, there are spaces left... go on, give it go. I can think of loads of customers who should be doing it! Go to Wellington Wheelers website for more info...

 https://www.wellingtonwheelers.co.uk/hill-climb

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Saturday October 26th 2019

Time for the big one tomorrow - National Hill Climb Championships, Haytor, Dartmoor. Can't wait to get on the hill!!!

This year in numbers...
4,573 road miles,
336,883 ft elevation climbed
(Equivalent to Blagdon Hill 700 times)
284 road hours
62kg - my weight
5.9kg - bike weight
15 min 55 secs - PB on Haytor HC

That's about all the prep I can do, time to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the ride!

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Sunday 27th October 2019

National Hill Climb Championships today. Amazing day out!!! 14 min 49 secs. PB by over a minute! 14th Vet, 103rd / 180 overall. 😎

Thanks to everyone for cheering shouting and making loads of noise on the roadside! 😃

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Sunday 3rd November 2019...

Hill Climb season is over…

Sunday was the last Hill Climb race of the season. Wellington Wheelers annual Hill Climb on West Buckland Hill…

Sunday morning, 3rd November, 9.15am, West Buckland village hall, the warmest of welcomes, a lot of pre-race chat, people catching up with each other, a few nerves of what is ahead. Race organisers and volunteers donning high vis and heading off to their duties – without them none of this would be possible.

This is my fifth year at Welly Wheelers hill climb. Will I finally make the podium? There are a couple of names on the start sheet worrying me, one will certainly beat me, the other? Maybe… Will my knowledge of the hill give me the edge? According to Strava I’ve ridden the whole hill 141 times and the lower part 430 times, not particularly in preparation for today – the hill is on my work commute home. My personal best at this event is a time of 10 minutes 10 seconds. I’m aiming for a sub 10 minutes today, 2.2 miles with average gradient of 5.6%.

10.11am… Start line… Wet road… Cool and sunny… 30 seconds… 10 seconds… 3, 2, 1, Go! A flat startline, put the power down as you cross the motorway bridge, the road swoops down into a sharp right hander, go steady the roads are greasy from the autumn leaves. Push out of the corner as the first part of the climb rises to a steady 3.1% Get low and aero for the first half of this hill. Wizz past Leanna, Dad, Tony and Robbie at the roadside… ‘Faster, faster, faster’ Leanna shouts. The first half mile to ‘The Joiners’ is covered in 2 minutes, average speed 19.9mph – up hill. The gradient now rises to 6%. Keep pushing, still seated, still aero, feeling good, second right hander to the big Oak tree, 4 minutes into the climb the road levels and dips a bit, don’t slack now, no time for recovery…

Left hand hairpin into the steepest part of the hill straight out the saddle and attack the gradient, it is up around 20% at this point, feeling good, legs are fine, lungs are starting to run a bit ragged, pace it out, suddenly lungs are at the limit, ease off a bit and then the mental battle begins… The shock of the gradient has taken its toll. The climb eases to 10%, still out the saddle, pass Heather, she is going very well, I attempt to utter words of encouragement but just a grunt comes out, body is starting to refuse my minds demands, tunnel vision, keep pushing, 2 minutes more effort and it’ll all be over. ‘Go on Ben’ a voice bellows from the roadside, driving on, pushing harder, again ‘Go on Ben’… I can see the summit, right hander onto the flat I can see the finish, hammer down through the gears and over the line… got it!!! 9 minutes 53 seconds.

Lungs heaving, vision blurred, slumped over the bike and close to puking… Hill climb season is over.

Final results…

I achieved 9 minutes 53 seconds, 4th overall, 2nd veteran. The winning time was Jack Dallyn 9:25, the 1st lady was Heather Maine 13:17, the 1st vet was Dan Eastment 9:42

A big thank you to everyone involved and a big well done to all of those who took part!