The 2015 National Hill Climb championship was held at Jackson Bridge – a 0.9 miles averaging 11%. It’s a steep unrelenting climb, widely regarded as a classic of the British hill climb genre. For a late October day in Yorkshire, the weather was probably as good as it gets – Mild, dry and a light tailwind up the climb. With good weather, 240 riders, and considerable interest in the pre-championship build-up, there was a good sized crowd up the steep slopes to Tinkers Monument.
In the mens event, Richard Bussell RST Sport/Aero-Coach won in a time of 4:15.1.
Given the tight margins of the race, Bussell’s winning gap of 5 seconds over defending champion Dan Evans (Team Elite/Paul Bethall Electrical (4.20) was quite impressive. Joseph Clark (Team Bike Box Alan/Envelopemaster) rounded off the podium with a time of 4.21.9
In the women’s event, Maryka Sennema (Paceline RT) won her third title in a time of 5:31.9. Just ahead of Hayley Simmonds, Team Velosport 5:34.2. Simmonds has had a great year of time trials and is just a few weeks back from World road race championship in Atlanta (helping GB to gold). 3rd on the women’s podium was Lou Bates Carnac Planet X in 5.34.9. Less than 5 seconds separated the top 5 women. There were seven men within seven seconds of a podium finish. Never make fun of hill climbers and their marginal gains!
Jim Henderson, making a welcome comeback to hill climbing this season, was fastest vet in a time of 4.37. But, I think this was scant consolation for a five times national champion. To put five titles into context, since 2002, there have been 14 different men champions in the past 16 years. It’s a hard title to win, it’s even harder to retain. Fastest junior was Kieran Savage (Yorkshire Road club) in a time of 4.28.8 – this was good enough for a top 10 position overall too. Fastest Juvenile Nathan Allatt (Royal Marines) There are many good juniors lurking in the wings. As Paul Jones of Corinthian Endeavour fame, mentioned in his forward to the 2015 programme – “hill climbs are in rude health. Which is more than you can say for hill climbers who remain an emaciated, ill-looking breed….” (well at least the whippet thin testers like me!)
Before the race, it was interesting to read Jeff Wright’s (1994 winner on Jackson Bridge) comments in Cycling Weekly that he liked to split the climb into three sections.
“I used to ride it in three parts: a start, middle and finish effort – the starting effort is almost effortless and the middle stretch the tough one. If I could keep the cadence than I could go out at the top and finish strongly.
“It was that feeling of there’s no surrender. Your state of mind has to be right.” (Cycling Weekly)
I felt pretty good about the race, though didn’t have too many expectations about the result. However, there was also part of me looking forward to the race coming and getting on with it; the race was very hard to predict with it being too close to call – I could see a personal finish of anywhere between 1 and 10.
I got there nice and early and had a bowl of pumpkin soup in the fascinating surroundings of the Oil Can Cafe and their innumerable bikes and car paraphernalia. It’s hard to get much of an appetite before a big hill climb. You don’t want to me lurching up a steep hill with a stomach full of fried eggs. So I ate the soup and nibbled at the bread.
With the rare luxury of a some team-mates from Sri Chinmoy CT to hand out wheels and drinks, I had a good warm up and everything went pretty well.
At the start I set off at pretty good pace, I actually felt a little under geared for first 100 yards – but I was committed to using the same gear all the way to the top of the first section. The first hairpin was quite fast and rather than go wide, I took a slightly straighter route than previously. The next left-hander is the hardest part of the course, as you have to dig deep to keep the momentum up. After that first section was over, I took a little recovery, before the middle section really kicked in. At this point (1.30 into race) there’s no holding back and it was about trying to keep a strong momentum all the way to top. I felt I was keeping a relatively good pace, though it’s always hard with the changing gradient.
There was a good crowd all the way up to top and the encouragement definitely helped. I took the technical corner quite well. The first time I rode this course I braked going around there. But, I came up to practise last week and spent quite a bit of time on this corner. It’s also important to remember that in the championship (with closed roads) – you don’t have to worry about cars coming down on the left hand side. It made me laugh watching the 2013 video when I was hugging the left hand side like the road was open to cars – everyone else was taking the shortest line – old habits die hard where self-preservation is concerned
Anyway, after that last fast corner, I got a little momentum for last steep bit. Here it’s all about holding on. At this point, I had arranged another team mate to shout ‘Tejvan 200 yards – Go!’ This was for the final eye-balls out effort to line. It was also a nod to the six times national champion Granville Sydney (of Huddersfield Star Wheelers) who used to get a crew to shout at a particular point for an improbably last ditch acceleration into the hill. (They used to shout ‘mushrooms’ to be audible through the crowd)
I finished really exhausted with a feeling I had done good race, good pacing and good effort. My mind was virtually blank throughout the race, and though it was painful, seemed to go incredibly quick. I then lied down on road and contemplated the emptiness of something.
A champion for a minute
For a minute or so I was under the mistaken impression that I had won. I have to admit, it was partly my fault.
After collapsing on the line someone came up and said are you Richard? The fastest time of 4.15 has just been recorded. I think I might have said “Yes!”
The reason being three-fold. My legs had turned to jelly, but so had my mind. I was in that delightful post-hill climb world of utter emptiness. Thinking straight is not a possibility if you’ve really emptied the tank. You really can’t expect a good hill climber to remember something difficult like ‘what is your name?”
The second reason is that in a pre-Tejvan incarnation – my name was actually Richard. I sometimes get called it, very occasionally old acquaintances may come up and say – are you Richard?
So there I was top of the hill, with people taking photos of my bike and the like. I didn’t really feel any euphoria, I was mostly confused about what my name was. By the time, I was starting to think maybe after all I had won, the mistake was realised. In the end, it was not even a podium finish that I would have really liked – but 6th place.
3 seconds off podium
This is the 11th time I’ve ridden the national hill climb championship. On 10 occasions I have consistently finished 1-12 seconds off the podium place. I have now finished:
- 4th (twice)
- 7th (twice)
It’s a tough just to miss out on a podium when you get so close. However, the one, not inconsiderable, consolation was on one occasion upsetting the pattern of near misses and making it to the very top. So I can’t complain, there are plenty of others in the same boat of just missing out. That’s the nature of the championship.
On the one hand, I did a good race, 6th is a relatively good result, especially for someone who will soon be propping up the veteran category – and especially with all the young whipper-snappers making the kind of rapid progress, only the folly of youth can give you.
Overall I enjoyed the championship. There is something very special about the national hill climb championship; an atmosphere like no other – even if at times it’s pretty painful.
On the positive side, I had a good meditation in the car before hand, we found a nice post race restaurant up the road afterwards. And, I also avoided the temptation to cut my expensive Shimano Dura Ace brakes in half to save another 100 grams. So at least I don’t have to buy a new pair.
Most importantly, the race was really a great buzz. Thanks to all spectators and organisers from Yorkshire District.
2016 will be a hill climbers classic on Bank Road Matlock. So all I have to do is put on 5kg over winter and reinvent myself as a lightweight sprinter. You heard it here first!
Results top 10 Men
|Team Elite/Paul Bethall Electrical
|Fluid Fin Race Team
|Sri Chinmoy Cycling Team
|Mike Vaughan Cycles
|SportGrub Kuota Cycling Team
|NFTO Pro Cycling
|Yorkshire Road Club
Results top 10 Women
Carnac Planet X
Fusion RT Gear Club
Yorkshire Road Club
Bishop Auckland CC