Gent-Wevelgem Cyclosportive 2018

I headed down to Flanders to ride the Gent-Wevelgem cyclo on Saturday. The sportive largely follows the route of the Gent-Wevelgem pro race on the Sunday, the main difference being that it starts and finishes in Wevelgem and goes nowhere near Gent. Presumably ‘Wevelgem-Wevelgem’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it!


Today’s menu will mostly feature cobbles, bergs and dirt roads

I’d been quite ill for most of the two weeks prior to the event, to the extent that I’d written off any hope of riding the full 135 mile / 215km distance. Fortunately I was feeling better by the time we headed out to Belgium and decided that the cycling-downtime might actually serve as a useful pre-event taper.

The furthest distance I’d ridden on a bike was 125 miles (200km) on the warm and sunny, pan-flat roads of the Loire Valley. So this ride would be a step into the unknown, especially when combined with the cobbles, hills and dirt-road sections.

We road as a four man chain-gang for the first 60 miles, heading North towards the coast along narrow farm tracks and country lanes. It was an exciting route of short, straight stretches followed by sharp ninety-degree turns, interspersed by rumbling across cobbled village squares.



We turned South to work our way along the French border and were met by the wind. The more experienced member of our group shouted at us to “echelon the f**k out of it”, probably the funniest and most repeated quote of the weekend.


The flatlands and headwinds were eventually replaced by the greater challenge of the ‘bergs’ – the hills. We had 12 in total to conquer, the most famous of which being the cobbled climb up the Kemmelberg. Individually, none of the climbs were too bad, mostly just short and steep hills. But within the context of such a long ride they began to take their toll. We broke up on the ascents and regrouped on the other side of each one. I was either 3rd of 4th in our little group so had the added nasty challenge of always having to fight to catch back up with a couple of riders who were rested and ready to burn again. The disadvantage tends to compound in these circumstances.


The Kemmelberg – avoiding the larger gaps in the cobbles

The bergs finally ended, but the final 25 flat miles were a battle to keep going, We still had our headwind so it was infinitely preferable to be in a group than riding solo. But I constantly felt the stretching of that invisible piece of elastic connecting my bike to the one in front. Over the last 12 months I’ve had more races and more hard training sessions than in all my previous years of cycling added together. I’ve been forced to quit a few times, and despite the macho-BS of statements like “pain is temporary, quitting lasts forever”, there is still a certain truth to it. Giving up can really sting afterwards. With this in mind, I just kept pedalling.


The feeling of relief and accomplishment at the finish line was fantastic. Plus the sun had unexpectedly come out so we stuffed our faces with frites, burgers and beer and enjoyed the warm glow of the first sun in six months, combined with the pumping Euro dance beats. Party time.




Bristol South Road Race 2018

I entered the Bristol South Road Race a few months ago. It was one of those spontaneous mid-winter decisions taken while browsing the following season’s race calendar. The race starts less than 5 miles from my house and is on familiar local roads so I couldn’t think of any good reason not to enter. However, as the race drew nearer and with my place secured, I began to think of several:

  1. I had never been in a road race before
  2. The race was Category 3 & 4, therefore the field was likely to contain a lot of better and more experienced riders
  3. The course is brutal (8 laps over rolling terrain with a significant hill)
  4. The race was on Mothers Day so asking my wife to look after the kids would mean  spending all of the credit in my cycling brownie points account
  5. The race was the same week as my duathlon race
  6. I was scared, mostly of crashing but also partly of just being crushed by the opposition

To add to the list I woke on the morning of the race with a sore throat and what felt like the onset of a cold so considered withdrawing. But in the end, I decided that I’d already lost too much sleep over the race to be a ‘DNS’ so whatever the outcome I would just try to enjoy the experience and not worry about the result.


Following the riders’ briefing at the HQ I scored my first newbie notch by being a bit slow to collect my bike and head to the start line. The result being that I started near the back of the 80 man field. Despite the start of the race being neutralised, the concertina effect of the peloton meant that we were constantly braking and accelerating at the back. There was a fair bit of shouting and jostling but it was less scary than I was expecting. I just held my line and tried to remember to keep breathing.


The view from the back

The biggest surprise was how quickly the field was decimated. Less than 10 miles into the race I looked behind expecting to see 20 riders and realised I was at the back of the pack. It wasn’t long after that my own race ended. We were halfway up Stowey Hill for the second time when I realised that I was following riders who were being dropped from the peloton. I moved past them to try and regain contact. But by the top of the climb there was still a small gap in front, then I was hit by the headwind. The gap grew. I gave it everything but could only watch the field gradually leaving me behind. Suddenly two of the other dropped riders came past me shouting so I dug even deeper and caught them. We rode as a three man chain-gang for a few miles, taking turns fighting the wind but the peloton remained tantalisingly just out of reach. Eventually we received our sign that our race was done when we were overtaken by the motorcycle outriders, marshals car and ambulance. I stopped pedalling and relaxed.

Realising that I had a fair bit of time before the race ended, I unpinned my numbers and headed off for an enjoyable warm-down cruise around the lake before then heading up to the finish line where I met the majority of the field cheering on the few remaining riders.


Andrew Kirby wins by a healthy margin

The race was won by Andrew Kirby – after mistakenly celebrating a lap too early he incredibly managed to ride on solo for another lap and hang on for the win. Second place was Ollie Bratchell and third George Jones. All three in their teens or early twenties which made me feel like a bit of oldie. What is wrong with the youth of today – wasting the best years of their life!


With Will, celebrating being in one piece ahead of our trip to Belgium in a fortnight – funds are urgently needed in the personal brownie point account! 

Getting spat out of the back of your first Cat 4 race is apparently a rite of passage. The fact that this race was also Cat 3 and over a hilly course meant there was only likely to be one outcome for me. My first priority was to avoid any crashes; my second was to try and finish. I think in the end there were only 15 or so finishers so I’m mostly just happy to have survived in one piece. I’m taking a few weeks break from racing now to focus on some training and some enjoyment. Next on the agenda is a lads’ weekend in Belgium to watch some of the Classics and ride a cyclo-sportive.

Royal Navy Duathlon Championships 2018

This week I was a guest at the Royal Navy Duathlon Championships which took place at Merryfield Airfield in Somerset. The race consisted of a 2.5 mile run, 10 mile cycle and then a slightly shorter 1.5 mile run. After all the recent cold weather, the temperature of 8°C felt tropical as I set up in the sunshine. However, the sun briefly disappeared and it started to hail and I found myself questioning the wisdom of entering so many early season races. Fortunately the sun soon returned along with my positivity, to the extent that I decided it was a prime moment to expose my milky-white legs to their first dose of Vitamin D for the year.


Checking how long I had before applying the Factor 50

At the start I took my place at the front, mostly due to the width of the track allowing the field to spread right out. But also partly as a show of intent to my Dad who’d travelled to watch the race. He told me he hadn’t travelled all this way to watch me plodding along at the back. I think he was joking!


If everything else went pear-shaped, at least I could say I experienced the front of the race


Go time

With a field of around 100 people I was hoping for a top 20 finish, but had no real idea of the caliber of the competition. Certainly the quantity of military and triathlete national team kits were enough to indicate the seriousness of some competitors. After the first 100 metres I was in 6th position as the field began to string out. A group of four elite-looking runners were disappearing in front of me, pursued by a solo runner, then a gap and then me with a fair bit of heavy breathing and foot stomping for company. I dared not look back.

It was a windy day and as we came around the first bend and into a headwind, I considered dropping back a couple of places to benefit from some wind protection. But then decided that the feeling of being overtaken might have a net negative effect on my pace. The first test of heart vs head in the race – heart won this time. I held my position without letting the gaps in front grow too large. Within the last few hundred metres, two runners came past me but I was able to stick to their pace and we entered the transition as a threesome. It was feeling good to be in an actual race rather than just a personal time trial.


Transition 1 

My transition was methodical rather than quick, but definitely better than my last race. My first lap of the three was again my slowest, whether this was due to my pacing or from being above my cycling limit after the run is hard to say. But after being overtaken by a couple of riders on the first lap I managed to hold my position for the rest of the ride.

Duathlons are peculiar races in that they have 2 false finish lines where I naively hope that the pain will lessen once that leg ends, only to find that it actually increases.


I ended up in a battle with these guys for most of the race




Considering a flying dismount before bottling it


Stopping during a race, however briefly, is generally a bad move 

My final transition was representative of someone who just hasn’t practiced the discipline. I came to a complete stop to dismount, too afraid of crashing spectacularly. I marvelled at someone else as they came gliding past with one foot on the pedal before effortlessly breaking into a run with their bike. Note to self – practice this fundamental part of the race.

I exited transition alongside a competitor doing my perfect pace so I decided to sit on his shoulder rather than hurt myself trying to overtake. We overtook one person. I considered passing him but just the thought of increasing my pace hurt my chest and lungs. With the finish line in sight I decided it would be ungentlemanly to overtake him, having benefitted from his pacing. In the end this proved inconsequential as he stretched away in a sprint for the line. I could hear heavy breathing behind me, and with my Dad at the finish line counting places I decided to cement my position and also charge for the line. I held on for 12th place.


The pleasure and pain of giving everything

I was really pleased with this race and result. Not only am I beginning to feel like I may be at my highest ever fitness level, it was a great experience to have been in a proper race – one where I was mostly aware of my placing throughout. I’m looking forward to pushing on and increasing my fitness further.

However, if I want to continue with duathlons (or enter a triathlon) then the race results confirm that an area in need of work is my transitions. I was 9th fastest in the runs, 10th in the cycle but ended up finishing 12th overall.


Salt & Sham 10 Mile TT 2018

I took part in an early season time trial on the U102 course in Iron Acton this past weekend. It was a bright and sunny day but also typically freezing for February, so it seemed slightly mad to be out racing in nothing but tight-fitting lycra. This was the inaugural event of Salt & Sham (SAS) cycling club, so I wanted to take part and show my support for a local club. The fact that I might catch pneumonia seemed a small price to pay.

After signing on and collecting my race number I headed out for what would normally have been a warm up, but was more a case of just keeping moving to avoid freezing. There was a headwind for the slightly longer outward leg, and combined with a hill leading up to the turnaround it could potentially have made the first half of the race a tough mental challenge. But I felt like I found a good rhythm, walking that fine tightrope between going bloody hard but not overdoing it. Plus I overtook my minute man and then two-minute man on the outward leg which always helps the confidence.


There were 42 riders taking part, plus a healthy number of spectators along the route shouting encouragement and shaking cowbells making it an enjoyable event. And the tailwind and downhill stretch from the turnaround improved things even further. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be buzzing along at high speed with nothing but the sound of the whistling wind and a disc wheel whooshing for company.


With the wind on my back, I kept my momentum up most of the small rises without losing too much speed and for the final couple of miles I was hanging on, wanting to give it everything but also knowing that I was already at my limit.


Emptying the tank



My finishing time was 25:41 giving an average speed of 23.4mph. I rode the race blind in terms of data on my bike computer, but looking at it afterwards I averaged just over 300 watts which is a personal best power output, a significantly positive outcome for such an early season race. The winner was Josh Griffiths from Bristol South CC in a time of 22:51. I ended up placing 16th.

So if I want to start threatening the podium I need to find another 3 minutes from somewhere. I’m not sure whether this could come from improved aerodynamics, increased specific fitness or better rest and nutrition. These are all areas that I’ve only recently started paying better attention to. However, I do have enough experience of cycling to know that whatever the question, a new bike is usually the answer.

The Chilly Duathlon 2018

I kicked off my racing for 2018 with the ‘Chilly Duathlon’ at Castle Combe race circuit in Chippenham. My cycling club-mates made me fully aware that a duathlon is a major breach of the cycling rules but I’d been doing a reasonable amount of running over the winter and felt like putting it to good use.

The duathlon consists of a 2 mile run around the perimeter of the circuit, followed by a 10 mile cycle (5 laps of the race track) before finishing off with another 2 mile run. My previous best was 56 minutes, a time I was hoping to smash … mostly due to the increasing aerodynamic arsenal that I’ve acquired since then. However, while it’s possible to buy time on the bike with new slippery weaponry, there’s not much you can do to improve your running apart from good old fashioned training.


I scraped under 12 minutes for the first run before being uncharacteristically faffy in the transition and taking a minute and 15 seconds to get going again. Running in cycling shoes before coming to a complete stop to clamber on my bike, I probably looked like some piss-head in high-heels trying to get a piggy-back. If I want to get quicker I may need to practice some of that stuff.

My heart rate when I run is always higher than my heart rate at threshold on the bike. About 10 beats higher. So the first lap on the bike felt dreadful. I wasn’t going fast enough, my heart felt like it was about to explode and my shoulders were burning from swinging for 12 minutes before being locked in the TT position. It felt like the thread was totally unravelling.

Fortunately I had a moment of clarity and decided to just ease off the pace and bring my heart rate down to a more normal level. It seemed incongruous to slow down mid-race but within a minute I was at a more comfortable level and able to focus on riding faster. For the following four laps I had the satisfaction of seeing my average speed climb.



My bike dismount was another stuttering display before I ran into the transition zone and failed to find my spot. During the first transition I’d located my bike by looking at the numbers of all the neighbouring bikes. But the transition zone was now mostly empty of bikes and I wasn’t the only owner of blue running shoes. My visor was steaming up so I took my helmet off to get a better look and ended up being stopped by the marshall and given a time penalty for unclipping my helmet before racking my bike. It was pure comedy and wasted a lot of valuable time.

I started my final run completely vexed and well off the pace. But once my back had relaxed from the aggressive bike position and I’d stopped mumbling naughty words under my breath about the time penalty I actually decided to start running properly and finished strong in a total time of 51 minutes and 24 seconds.


If you learn from your mistakes, then this duathlon was an epic learning experience! It was also really enjoyable and well organised so I look forward to doing it again some time and trying to smash my new PB.


Bristol South Hill Climb 2017

For the final hill climb of the series I decided to try something different. Instead of just going full gas and then dragging my oxygen-deprived body to the top, I tried actual pacing. This was partly from a realisation that the previous “tactic” wasn’t working for the longer climbs, but also because I didn’t feel like putting myself through that depth of suffering two days in a row. This psychological barrier is worth bearing in mind next season if I ever contemplate racing two days on the bounce again.

Burrington Coombe is my local hill and one that I use for most of my training rides, so I looked at my previous results on the ascent and set a target heart rate and power for the climb which was slightly above my PB. Not exactly the heights of scientific analysis but it seemed like a sensibly ambitious approach.

I also put deep-section wheels on my bike. There was a slight sacrifice in terms of weight, but I decided that this would be offset by the aero advantage on a 2 mile climb at 6%. Also, it made the bike look significantly more badass which cannot be dismissed in terms of an added psychological edge!


Looking fast is surely the first step in being fast?

A few friends and family turned up to offer support which was greatly appreciated. It always helps maintain a positive mentality when you hear people shouting encouragement mid-climb. I gave them an anguished glance in the midst of my struggle, deciding not to smile. Smiling on a hill climb looks like you’re not trying. If I’m honest I’m not sure I could have mustered a smile, so I guess I must have been doing something right.

Bristol South HC 2017 A

Focussing on something

The race went to plan and I hit my target power. However I was below my max heart rate which indicates that I probably could have gone harder. My time placed me in the top half of the finishers, but I still felt like I could have gone faster. I did set a PB on the hill which I have climbed most weeks for the last 6 years so can’t really be too disappointed with the end result.

There’s a fine line between going too hard and taking it too easy. It’s obviously also very easy to think in hindsight that you could have pushed harder, but in reality once that number has been pinned on your back and people are shouting at you from the roadside, one of the the hardest things to do is pace yourself sensibly. Overall, my learning from this race is that riding too conservatively will not result in a fast time.

One thing’s for sure – whether you attack or try to pace yourself, hill climbing is hard. It’s certainly left me with plenty to ruminate for the next 11 months …

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Hanging with my MTB bro’s after the race

Team Tor Hill Climb 2017

If marginal gains are the accumulation of small improvements into something significant, then my race today was an exhibition in marginal losses. It seems I’ve made decent improvements this season with the important stuff like training, nutrition and recovery. But today I got a few little things wrong that accumulated into a significant loss. These were:

  1. Not allowing enough time. The race HQ was moved 2 miles from the start line. I misjudged this and ended up having to race a personal time trial there and back to sign on and collect my number. The result was that I was a bit stressed and tired by the time I reached the start line with just a minute to spare.
  2. Equipment errors. I forgot to remove a few bits from my bike like lights. I also forgot to open out my brake callipers before I started which tend to rub the rims when I put down the power on a climb.
  3. Not knowing the climb. I thought the climb ended earlier than it did so I really struggled from that point on.
  4. Going too hard too early. This hill was about twice as long as the previous few that I’ve raced. I ended up overcooking it on the first half of the climb, going massively into debt and suffocated my way to the top.
  5. Not training for this length of hill. Most of my training has been for shorter climbs so had I got the other stuff right I may still have run out of juice.
  6. Not prioritising this race. The final race of the series is on Burrington Coombe tomorrow and it’s one I’d like to do well on. It’s a long and fairly shallow gradient so in advance of this I put deep section wheels on my bike. Unfortunately the added weight of the wheels were a hindrance on today’s steep climb.

In terms of finding positives, at least I didn’t die. Although I heard someone say “if you ain’t dying, you ain’t trying” so perhaps I should add “not trying hard enough” to the list above!



Peak suffocation – photos by PJ 

Team Tor Hill Climb 2017


Last few days of pinning on a number this season


The hunter and the hunted – I was caught by my minute man just before the line

Team Tor HC 2017 A

Arriving broken at the line


Catching breath

It’s too early for the results to be published yet, but 3 or 4 riders got up the climb in under 6 minutes. I finished about 20th which isn’t too shabby. I’ll put this one down to experience and try to iron out the errors in the future. Last race tomorrow.


Bath CC Hill Climb 2017

This weekend’s hill climb served as a lesson in not making a stupid mistake and ruining all of the training, planning and preparation that goes into a short race. Hinton Hill in Wellow is 15 miles from home so I rode to the HQ as a warm up. After signing on I headed to the start to check on progress. From looking at the numbers waiting I gauged that I had about 20 minutes left and headed off to complete my warm up. At some point I stopped for a wee (no point carrying any excess baggage up a hill) and lost track of time. Then as I was heading towards the start I stopped to chat to a friend. He asked my start time, checked his watch and then looked quite alarmed and said “you’re starting now!”

I raced to the start to be greeted by many riders’ faces all peering over their shoulders and looking for a missing rider – me! The starter was fortunately still calling my number. I got to the line to be told I had 30 seconds. Apparently this is what some of the pro’s do to make sure they start fully warmed up. However the pro’s almost certainly don’t do it still wearing a gilet, gloves and arm-warmers. Inevitably I had a bit of trouble with the zip of my gilet and almost ended up racing in it! The starter was counting down from 5 by the time I’d thrown all of my clothing into the hedge. It was far too close for comfort.

Bath CC Hill Climb 2017

The point where I attempted to unleash a sprint (picture courtesy of Lukasz Marcinkowski)

Like the previous week, this was another 0.5 mile long, 16-ish% climb that flattens out near the top. I decided to attack and then hang on, the logic being that I would cover the steepest sections as fast as possible and could live in hope that I might still have enough juice to accelerate at the top. Whatever the outcome, it was certain to make it a nasty experience.

There was good support from the side of the road. I find it difficult to see much during that level of intensity, but I can hear most of the shouts of encouragement quite clearly. They seem to help, especially when your name is shouted. Near the top a friend from a rival club actually started running alongside me, shouting encouragement in my face. It was pretty mad but it really spurred me on for the last hundred metres.

Bath CC Hill Climb 2017 A

The point where I realised there would be no sprint (picture courtesy of Lukasz Marcinkowski)

I rolled on past the finish line, immediately commencing the hill-climber’s cough that continued into the evening. Added to the taste of blood in the back of the throat it’s all a fairly unpleasant physical experience. Fortunately this was counter-balanced by the slightly euphoric feeling of having accomplished something to the absolute best of my ability. It’s a nice feeling to be able to think “I did as well as I could have done”.

I rode back down the hill to thank my supporter and to watch the final few riders battling it out. The high speed of the top riders is really noticeable in comparison to everyone else. I’m sure they’re suffering just as hard as the rest of us, but their speed seems other-worldly.


Winner Jacob Pilkington smashing the competition – me in the background, sat on the fence coughing my guts up (picture courtesy of FauxPro)

My time was 2:43.5 which put me in 24th place. I managed to average 480 watts, for me a big number compared to just a few weeks ago. It’s difficult to know whether I can push this number higher with the right training next year, but hey, this is a journey of discovery so I may as well hope so.

Full results:
1 Jacob Pilkington Velo Club Montpellier 02:15.0
2 charles coleman DRK Racing 02:16.9
3 Andrew Kirby University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:18.5
4 Glyndwr Griffiths 73Degrees CC 02:19.9
5 Daniel Alford Bristol South Cycling Club 02:22.8
6 Tom Simmonds Velo Club Walcot 02:23.9
7 Joe Hawksworth Bristol South Cycling Club 02:24.6
8 Russell Peace Dursley Road Club 02:25.0
9 Fred Cook University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:27.4
10 Adam whitehead Bristol South Cycling Club 02:27.9
11 George Jones Velo Club St Raphael 02:28.5
12 Oliver Adams Devizes Town Cycling Club 02:29.0
13 Callum Hunter University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:30.0
14 Hugh Brashaw University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:31.6
15 Tom Radburn Dursley Road Club 02:36.0
16 Matt Griffin Cycology Bikes 02:36.7
17 Oliver Walker-Hayes University of Bristol Cycling Club (UOBCC) 02:39.0
18 Gordon Markus Severn Road Club 02:39.2
19 Jack Phillips Salt and Sham Cycle Club 02:39.3
20 Khem SATTAUR University of Bath Cycling Club 02:39.7
21 Harry Tucker Trowbridge Cycling Club 02:40.7
22 Ned Jackson Islington Cycling Club 02:41.1
23 Robert Grover Velo Club Walcot 02:41.4
24 Mark Jerzak Chew Valley Cycling Club 02:43.5
25 Lewis Henry DRK Racing 02:45.1
26 ben wainwright Team Tor 2000 (Kalas) 02:45.7
27 David Cullen Bristol South Cycling Club 02:46.3
28 Michael Hoare Frome and District Wheelers 02:48.3
29 Adam Whittaker Salt and Sham Cycle Club 02:48.8
30 Jim Beales Dursley Road Club 02:49.5
30 Andrew Turner Bristol South Cycling Club 02:49.5
32 Jacques Coates Performance Cycles CC 02:55.5
33 Andrew Diffey Somer Valley Cycling Club 02:58.5
34 Roy Slide Velo Club Walcot 02:58.9
35 Andy Stuart Velo Club St Raphael 02:59.2
36 Hannah Slade Chippenham & District Wheelers 03:02.8
37 John Benjamin Velo Club Walcot 03:03.0
38 jonathan corp Bath Cycling Club 03:05.0
39 Chris Crowther Army Cycling Union 03:07.9
40 Callum Barnes Bath Cycling Club 03:09.6
40 John Grenfell Bath Cycling Club 03:09.6
42 Tom Price Chippenham & District Wheelers 03:11.1
43 Lisa Greenfield Radeon-Bike Science RT 03:16.2
44 Benjamin Nickolls Bath Cycling Club 03:16.4
45 Chris Laurie Bath Cycling Club 03:20.6
46 martin wiltshire Somer Valley Cycling Club 03:34.8
47 Aimee Parsons Velo Club Walcot 03:41.3
48 Louise Hargreaves Salt and Sham Cycle Club 03:46.3
49 Heidi Blunden Sodbury Cycle Sport 03:49.9
50 Alice Earle VeloVitesse/ALLCAP/James Barry/Johnson Controls – Hitachi 03:50.5
51 Steve Wiltshire Somer Valley Cycling Club 04:03.2
52 Richard Jewitt Bath Cycling Club 04:03.4
53 Helen Parkin Woking Cycle Club 04:04.3
54 Jon Wiggins Frome and District Wheelers 04:05.2
55 Gillian Clark Road Club Cumbernauld & Kilsyth 04:07.7
56 Elizabeth Wheeler Bath Cycling Club 04:17.0
57 Aileen Brown Bath Cycling Club 04:17.5
58 Fiona Vallis Bath Cycling Club 04:44.9
59 Simon Hodgson Bath Cycling Club 04:45.3
60 Laura Lawson Romford Cycle Club 04:58.7
61 simon ker Bath Cycling Club 06:03.3
DNF Erreka Gil Bath Cycling Club 00:00.0
DNS kay drury Bath Cycling Club 00:00.0
DNS Frances Bromley Buxton CC/Sett Valley Cycles 00:00.0
DNS Kate Derrick Chippenham & District Wheelers 00:00.0
DNS Justin Gage Velo Club Walcot 00:00.0
DNS Callum Middleton Lewes Wanderers CC 00:00.0

Severn RC Hill Climb 2017

This weekend was my second race in an intensive month of hill climbing. It is my first season of racing hill climbs in a quest to gain the experience to hopefully become somewhat competitive next season. Fortunately, with a lack of experience comes a lack of pressure and I arrived at the HQ to this weekend’s race feeling free of any real targets or aims other than to try and improve on the stuff I didn’t get right the previous week.

The Severn Road Club Hill Climb is fairly similar in length and gradient to the previous weekend’s VC Walcott race. Both half a mile, with the Severn climb being a slightly lesser average gradient of 9%. This difference is mostly due to the Severn climb flattening out near the top, some useful knowledge I could have done with prior to the race. I had only ridden this hill once before while touring on my steel frame with rack and panniers, so I had no real sense of how to approach it.

Rather than ride to the race as a warm up, I drove there and warmed up in the car park on my turbo trainer. Very un-BikeVCar! After a 20 minute steady warm up, I did a few intensive efforts and then packed up the turbo and headed to the start line. I was aiming to arrive at the start five minutes early but was more like 10 minutes ahead of time. Fortunately it was quite a mild day so I didn’t cool down too much but this is definitely something to work on.

My start was a complete hash. The timekeeper was distracted chatting to someone and the guy holding me was leaning me over at such an angle that I ended up sticking out a knee and elbow to try and counter-balance my skew. Just to add to the drama I started having an existential crisis about whether I should lead with my left or right foot. It was a mess and felt like it resulted in a slow first few metres.

The first minute of the ride is a bendy ascent through a shaded woodland, the gradient ranging from 8 – 15%. Unlike the previous weekend’s race, I stood up on the pedals for the steeper sections to try and generate a bit more power and speed before sitting back in the saddle once the gradient reduced to try and spread the pain around my legs. It was a fairly instinctive approach but I felt like I was riding at 100% without going too far into the red.


Fully focussed

The race ended earlier than I was expecting. The road flattened out near the top and by the time I’d changed into a more suitable gear I was across the finishing line feeling like I’d missed an opportunity to attack. I think the proper tactics are to empty the tank in the final 30 seconds so I may have lost a little time at the finish as well as at the start. Nonetheless, I still felt the overall satisfaction of having ridden the main body of the race at full gas.

73511431-severn-hc-uh90-20171007-0023I finished a more respectable 19th position this week with a time of 2:19.5, and was 22 seconds behind the winner so definitely some tactical improvements on last week. On to the next one…

Severn Road Club 2017 Results (Top 3):

  1. Charles Coleman (DRK Racing ) – 1:57.5
  2. Andrew Kirby (University of Bristol CC) – 1:57.7
  3. Russell Peace (Dursley RC) / Glyn Griffiths (73 Degrees CC) – both 2:01.1


VC Walcot Hill Climb 2017

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.


Welcome to the pain cave (picture courtesy of

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.


Hill killer


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.


Last moments of calm

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.


Finish … Line … In … Sight … (picture courtesy of Anthony Grimley)

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):

  1. Charles Coleman (DRK Racing) – 2:08.0
  2. Joe Norledge (Bristol South CC) – 2:08.5
  3. Jacob Pilkington (Velo Club Montpellier) – 2:08.9