Several years ago, I used to do a lot of time trialling. Given that, at my peak fitness, I weighed 8 and a half stone and looked like a bundle of pipe cleaners tied together, my favourite races were always hill climbs. Hill climbs are essentially short time-trials up a hill, and they usually happen at the end of the season in September and October. In a typical season I would ride several around Sheffield, Monsal Head and Curbar Edge being particular favourites. Then in 1999 I went to Canada to study for my PhD, and I didn't race again until this year.
This year I joined Stockport Clarion CC, and I've been riding the odd weekday 10-mile time-trial with no great success. But the event I was really looking forward to was the club hill climb championships. Hill climb courses are typically between several hundred yards and a couple of miles long, and they're usually steep, with gradients of 10-20%. Just to be different, ours is on the Cat and Fiddle road, between Macclesfield and the eponymous pub that stands, hemmed in by peat bog, at the road summit. That's about 6.5 miles of climbing, but at an average gradient of less than 4%. There are steeper railway bridges around here, but there's still about 335 m of height gain involved. The course starts in the outskirts of Macclesfield, opposite a bus stop, and the first 3 miles or so is a fairly steady 4.8%. The next mile and a half is very bendy, contains some short downhill sections, and is nearly flat on average. The final mile and a half takes you up onto Axe Edge Moor proper, climbing at 3.5% or so.
I had never ridden up the climb before, but I had a gameplan of sorts. The first section was the bit where my light weight would give me an advantage, so I would ride hard, but not flat out: the key is not to overdo it, what with there still being 3 miles to go. I would then use the fast section to take a bit of a breather, riding at slightly less than 10-mile pace, since you don't gain much time there anyway. Then it would be eyeballs out over the last mile and a half to the summit. What gears would I use? Hell if I knew. I would figure it out as I went along.
The race was last night, and I actually really enjoyed it. The conditions could scarcely have been better. It was clear and dry, about 18 C, and there was a moderate tailwind. There were only 8 riders, and I was off Number 2, with a slower rider starting one minute before me. I started well, settling in very quickly, and once I had emerged from the trees at the bottom of the climb I could see my minute man almost all of the time. I was clearly gaining on him, and that gave me a psychological boost, as I finally reeled him in on a sharp right-hand bend about a mile and a half in, just before Walker Barn. I was first on the road now, a nice feeling, and my legs were holding up just fine. After Walker Barn, into the fast part of the course, I switched into the big ring, and tried to maintain a slightly-slower-than-10-mile-time-trial pace. My biggest problem here was gear selection. The gradient changes so often and there are so many sharp curves that I felt like I was using nearly every gear on the bike, and I was changing front rings too often: I should have picked one and stuck to it. But I still felt good, and I knew I had something left for the last mile and a half. No strategy involved here; just eyeballs out until the summit. There was a guy out for a training ride in front, and that gave me something to chase. Round the last bend, and there was the welcome sight of the Cat and Fiddle Inn. One last leg-breaking effort, and I was past the timekeeper in 26 minutes dead, gasping like a freshly landed fish. It was about a minute faster than I'd hoped for, so I couldn't have been happier.
It was glorious at the summit, with views across the Cheshire Plain and the Peak District. Unfortunately, the pub is closed on Monday nights, so there was no chance of a swift half before the 25 mile ride back home. At least the first seven or so was downhill.