At the beginning of October the cycling club I have been riding with, Harry Middleton CC (see earlier blog about joining a club), organised a club hill climb challenge. This is annual event towards the end of the season had been well talked about during a few group rides, even more so as Matt, club Captain, had taken the decision to keep the hill secret until 24 hours before the day. The last Thursday ride of the season was 4 days before the challenge so we made sure that it included a few additional hills, on my request it included Parbold Hill, (my nemesis for those that have been with me since the beginning) which (although not an official competition) I climbed first. With one cyclist locked on my wheel all the way up until a final burst shook him off, however the strongest cyclist of the small group who still were mad enough to turn out on a cold October night had tackled the hill using a 52-11 !!!
So the weekend came and Matt posted on the forum the climb would be Ashurst Beacon. With my success on Parbold Hill I felt some confidence, not that I would stand any chance of winning this hill time trial but that I wouldn’t embarrass myself. Time trialling is something I have never experienced, I love seeing the world around me or the camaraderie of cycling with others – donning a skin suit, wearing a silly pointy helmet and obsessing over the weight of my bike has never grabbed me. I love a little competition with other riders but riding against the clock and knowing/challenging your limits was alien to me.
With a few small butterflies I woke on Sunday to a typical grey overcast autumnal morning. I loaded up pockets with my usual cycling paraphernalia and set off to meet everyone. Outside the shop the conversation was a buzz with who would win, what the climb would be like in addition to comments about how some people were very serious (despite the change of season no heavy winter bikes were in attendance, this was a carbon lovers mecca). We made our way as a group out to the bottom of Ashurst Beacon and given my inexperience I grabbed some last minute advice from fellow riders. The climb itself is what I would call long and draggy, the climb was about 1.8 miles with 436ft of climbing (2.8km distance and 133m ascent) – not exactly a mountain time trial in a tour but enough to test the legs especially for me. When we arrived at the start I realised most people were taking this seriously, as everyone took every part of additional weight off their bike or themselves. Saddlepacks, pumps, bottles, gillets all placed by the roadside. Not wanting to look like a total noob I unloaded my bits and pieces and gulped down a gel (it couldn’t hurt).
I was off 4th which was a relief as watching people warm up made me feel that I was hopelessly underprepared and given I had no idea how I rode on my limits the nerves kicked in. We were set off at one minute intervals and before long I was shouted up. My bike was held and I clipped in, Matt stepped forward gave me an official TT countdown from 5 and I was off. I set off fast, out of the saddle moving up my gears (still on my big ring) and legs felt ok for about 20 seconds when I got back in the saddle dropped a gear and tried to find a rhythm. My heart was pounding but I knew this climb initially averaged 4%/5% and then kicked up to around 8% so I tried to ride within myself. After a couple of minutes I had found a rhythm and my mind wandered to how long I had been on the road when I realised my first mistake, I hadn’t reset my cycling computer and therefore had no idea how I was getting on. Cursing such a novice error I put my head down and kept going, past the church at Dalton round the bend and then I hit the steepest part of the climb. My heart rate had come down, I dropped to my small compact ring and kept my cadence high and accelerated into the climb. Feeling good I danced up the first part of the climb, my breathing was regular but I was riding within myself. I passed the first pub, knowing the finish was at the second pub, I then made my second mistake. In my head I had the second pub way up the hill, I sat back in the saddle found a decent rhythm letting my legs recover. The road went round to the left and I looked up and saw the second pub! Panic set in, I had lots in my legs and this was unexpected, all I could do was sprint for the line. I jumped out of the saddle, moved quickly up a few gears and went for it.
Annoyed at myself I crossed the line panting but knowing I had left something “out on the road”. My time of 9 minutes was mid range for the B group I usually ride with, (results here I am mr_poll) so overall I was happy that for my first effort, although annoyed that I was 30 seconds adrift from other B riders that I know I can climb with. This part of knowing I could do better has nibbled at me since the event, and as much as I never thought I would admit it the whole idea of time trialling has a certain allure, the challenge to better my time up the hill has meant I have returned to climb twice in October. I now understand why people love TT’ing, why they wear silly helmets and skin suits, the challenge to shave a few seconds of a previous best is strangely addictive, and may lead to me trying a few more TT’s next year.