This weekend marked the start of four consecutive weekends of hill climbing events in my calendar. The races are part of a series run by the Western Time Trial Association, with each one being hosted by a different local cycling club. For me, this has been a step into the unknown with no real idea how I would fare against the local talent.
The VC Walcot Hill Climb up Claverton Hill in Bath is probably one of the most popular and hotly contested events in the series, so to choose this as my inaugural race was properly chucking myself in at the deep end. The fact that it’s a brutally short and steep 11% average gradient for 0.5 miles only added to the fun and foolhardiness.
I spent the evening before the race fastidiously removing any excess weight from my bike. I even scribbled a few notes of the weight savings in my cycling diary, guiltily knowing that this type of behaviour was only indulging my OCD. It’s always difficult to know where you sit on the spectrum of ‘Obsessive Cycling Disorder’, but there can’t be many traits more concerning that weighing individual components on the kitchen scales.
Fortunately there are plenty of other cyclists getting up to these kind of antics and worse. In many respects I’m a complete amateur compared to some of the bike-butchering that I witnessed at the weekend. I saw a couple of bikes with the handlebars chopped down, bar tape replaced with electrical tape, saddle fabric removed and running only a single chainring in the search for marginal gains.
For the record these were my weight saving “easy wins”:
- Bottle cages removed (40g each) – 80g
- 25mm wide tyres switched to 23mm (20g each) – 40g
- Butyl inner tubes switched to latex (55g each) – 110g
- Lightweight skewers taken from TT bike wheels – 60g
- Lighter saddle – 100g
This totalled 390g. What effect this would have was unclear but it felt like I was at least honouring the hill climbing tradition. This brought the total weight of my bike to 6.8kg. Clearly the biggest weight savings come from the rider’s body rather than bike. Unfortunately those type of savings take a bit more dedication than an hour spent messing around with a few allen keys.
There was a fantastic crowd lining the road about 3/4 of the way up the hill with an assortment of noise-making instruments. Saucepans, cow-bells, a trombone and an ingenious bike-frame-triangle were all being used to create a great atmosphere. I rode through the noise and down to the eery quietness at the start line.
It’s difficult to know how best to describe the event, other than the incredible toughness was slightly compensated by the shortness of the race. 2 minutes and 46 seconds of going as hard as I felt I could handle. I rode the entire hill in the saddle, too afraid that my legs would feel dead and hollow if I tried standing up on the pedals.
I remember thinking halfway up that I couldn’t go on and that I wouldn’t be able to face the spectators. But then before I knew it I was going through the wall of noise without really being able to see anything and then across the line where the suffocation slowly eased off. It took me a good ten minutes before I felt like I was breathing normally again.
I ended up finishing 42nd out of 70 competitors, which seems a bit disappointing on paper. However, I managed to average 440 watts for 2:46, was at my maximum heart rate for most of the climb and finished 8 seconds behind a friend who was 3rd placed veteran – a classification that I’m only a few years away from. That feels like a more positive spin on it. I feel like I did well enough to look forward to the next one, but also that with a bit more knowledge and experience of hill climbing I could probably beat my time on this climb next year.
On to the next one.
VC Walcot HC 2017 (Top 3 Results):
- Charles Coleman (DRK Racing) – 2:08.0
- Joe Norledge (Bristol South CC) – 2:08.5
- Jacob Pilkington (Velo Club Montpellier) – 2:08.9