British National Hill Climb Championships 2019

I finished my season last weekend with the British National Hill Climb Championships in Dartmoor. Despite a handful of top 20 finishes in the local hill climb series, I had fairly low expectations about facing up to the best hill climbers in the country.

My best results in hill climbs this year have come on shorter courses – two or three minutes of intense effort seem to suit me a little better. Haytor is a 5km (3 mile) climb so I was expecting it to take me around 16 minutes to reach the top. It’s so much longer than any climb near me. I’d been down to Dartmoor and recce’d the climb once and it had taken 18 minutes. This was going to be a long and painful death!

In normal circumstances, climbs of this length can be really enjoyable. Not so much when racing against the clock!

I wasn’t stressed about the event – as well as having no real expectations and just being there for the experience, I also had the company of a couple of clubmates, plus my wife, kids and Dad who had all come to watch.

The first minor panic was realising in HQ that I’d forgotten my bike mount! Overcome with a few strips of moustachio duct tape … probably saved a few grams too!

It was a cold day so warming up was a challenge. I rode up a short hill near the start several times, but every time I turned around and rolled back down I froze and felt even colder than before. In the end I opted to just wait in a small patch of sunshine with a few fellow riders. It felt like we were a bunch of seals basking on a sunny rock, waiting to be eaten by a shark!

Off the line and “Go Go Go!”

I tried setting off at a moderate pace. I tried not to focus on my power (the duct tape helped with this!) and just ride on feel. My power curve seems to indicate that I paced it fairly well – as well as setting a season-long power PB from around 7 minutes onwards, I didn’t do anything too overzealous in the opening minute (the purple line was this race, the grey shading is my 2019 power PB)

16 minutes & 30 seconds at 320 watts average

I couldn’t really have done any better, which is pretty much the only result that mattered to me.

The race was on open roads which is unusual for a National event. I got held up a few minutes in, stuck behind a queue of cars who were inadvertently stuck behind a leisure cyclist. I was a bit too hot-headed to sense the irony of being held up by a bloody cyclist! I ended up taking a few risks racing around the outside of the first few cars, then trying to duck down the inside and squeeze up the verge … all the while shouting for people to get out of the way. it was quite frustrating but on balance probably didn’t cost me too much time. It sounded like some other riders had much worse so hopefully the event organisers have taken note of all the complaints and will only use closed road courses in the future.

“DIG IN!” Haytor Rocks providing a dramatic backdrop to the race

There was a great crowd near the top of the climb, up on the moors. Loads of shouting and cowbells. But by this point the pain had escalated to the point that I was genuinely worried that I might stop and climb off. All I can really remember is my brain shouting “DONT QUIT! DONT F**KING QUIT!” After crossing the line I wasn’t sure whether I had enough strength left to stay upright on my bike. I rolled on for a few hundred metres, trying to decided whether or not to pull the brakes and collapse in the verge. I just about held it together and rolled on.

Must … find … oxygen …

After recovering I headed back to my friends and family to shout and cheer at all the other riders, and to marvel at the speed of the big guns. The men’s race was won by Ed Laverack, a professional rider in a ridiculous time of 11 minutes and 30-something seconds. He averaged 430 watts. I managed 320 watts in comparison, although was riding for nearly 5 minutes longer!! He weighs about 59kg; I weigh 68kg. So at least I know what’s needed to get to that level, just lose 9kg and find 100 watts. Fat chance! For the record I finished 145th. A humbling and enjoyable experience.

Spectating with my Dad – “I took a video of you racing, son – it looked like slow motion compared to these guys” #keepingitreal

This basically wraps up racing for me in 2019 – a year where I raced both a European Duathlon and a National Hill Climb Championships, as well as setting PB’s in cycling timetrialling and road running and taking part in my first ever cycling criterium and trail running races. It’s been a year of improvements while still maintaining an eclectic approach to exercise. Being a Jack-of-all-Trades gets a bad press, I find it’s the best way to enjoy my hobby.

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