Building up the base miles

Since the National at the end of October, I’ve been taking it relatively easy. Apart from Zappi CC hill climb, I’ve had  a laid back approach to cycling – a bit of level one delivering letters around Oxford, the odd session on the rollers.  But generally it feels like a time to prioritise things other than cycling for a change. It becomes a bit of a relief to look at the pouring rain out of the window and know you can just stay indoors and without feeling like you’re losing form at the wrong time of the season!

To use an old fashioned cliche, everything has it’s season and November feels more like a season for eating cake and drooling over the latest TT machine.

The new Boardman TT bikes is tantalisingly beautiful. (Cycling weekly photos)  You want to buy it on aesthetics alone; how can such a wonderfully engineered bike fail to do anything but fly through the air – like the proverbial knife through butter?

Alas, there is always another bicycle to buy!

It’s also time to put some attention on that murky business of earning money so that I can re-enter the time trial machine arms race. We could declare a truce and mimic the UCI in not riding anything post 1976 and the Eddy Merckx era. But, although my credit care limit would be quite happy with riding steel frames, we would lose something if we didn’t have new bicycles to pour over in the winter months. If we didn’t have bike catalogues and internet sites to fill our winter months, we might find ourselves going out to train on the hard cold winter mornings and that would never do.


But, after a couple of weeks of easy riding, I find the old itch to get out on the bike returning. It’s one thing to pootle around Oxford, but when the sun comes out in November, I yearn to get out into the Cotswolds to enjoy the last colour of autumn before the winter gods shut up shop, leaving a bleak 3 months of austerity. Continue Reading →


Riding with Oxford University Cycling club

After many long Sunday club runs with the Otley CC, (see: traditional British club run) it was time to graduate to a more race oriented club. Arriving at Oxford University was an exciting time; as a Fresher you are confronted with an unending range of social and extra-curricular choices. I dabbled in everything from student politics to amateur dramatics (or were they the same thing?). But, cycling was my main interest. In the first year, I spent quite a lot of time riding into the Oxfordshire countryside (mostly on my own) it was a welcome break from lectures and the insular world of an Oxford college. I got pretty fit in those days, though for some reason didn’t do much racing.

My first time trial was a  OUCC 10 mile TT event at Stadhampton in October. It was ‘cuppers’ an inter-collegiate time trial run by the OUCC. I was representing Lady Margaret Hall, though I think the only one, so we had no chance of winning. I turned up on my old reliable, red Raleigh with steel 501 frame. I can’t remember my time, but I remember coming about 3rd. I beat a guy (Steve Morse) who was riding a proper time trial bike. I think he was perhaps a little peaked and intrigued at this skinny guy who had turned up on a real clanger of a road bike and beaten him. But, Steve was quite generous and a good friend at OUCC. (It is also possible with advancing years, I have misremembered events, perhaps I didn’t beat him. But, it always makes a good story to say you turned up on a road bike and beat established testers!)

On the way out to the time trial, I felt a bit of an outsider, but after beating a guy on a time trial bike I felt like a proper rider now!

OUCC team photo from 1998. Click to enlarge

OUCC team photo from 1998. Click to enlarge – spot the two hill climbers – clue look for the hair.


Italian elegance, I didn’t have.

There was a good social scene with the OUCC – we would often meet at Magdalen College bar, which was a great place to meet. The backbone of the club seemed to be primarily the ‘eternal’ physics post-graduates. Riders like Tom James, who seemed to have been around since alpaca tights and time trials with dead-turns. It meant club runs were pretty well organised going through a maze of Oxfordshire lanes, usually to places like Cirencester and Stow on the World. I was probably half expecting club runs to be the same as Otley. But, they were faster and only one tea shop stop, as opposed to the positively heady tea drinking of Yorkshire. Oxford University CC was definitely a bit faster moving than the more sedate world of the traditional British club run. One good rider, David Ryan was known to push the pace on Sunday club runs to be able to be back in time for his rowing training on a Sunday afternoon.

Jim Henderson was a modest chap, but sometimes on the autumn club runs, he would occasionally shoot up a hill as if he was a sprinter going on the flat. I remember one short steep hill near Stow on the Wold and Jim disappeared up the hill at top speed. I remember thinking ‘it would be great to be able to do that.’

Despite being quite fit, it never really occurred to enter races. I thought you might as well wait until your are ‘better’ But, the club was keen on entering the student team time trial and of course the Varsity 25 in May. This was something to aim for, and we started our Wednesday morning team time trial training, 9am sharp. This was great fun, 3 hours – 60 miles at a decent pace around the flatter roads towards Thame. I was in the ‘B’ team. The ‘A’ team was quite strong. Despite training through the winter, I got injured or something a week before the big event, so in the end didn’t go and race.

It was a similar experience in May, I was supposed to race the Varsity 25 mile TT, but some injury prevented me racing. To compensate, I did get to stand on a roundabout near Kingston Bagpuize and marshall the event we were promoting. I have quite vivid memories of marshalling on this roundabout for some reason. Whenever I race on the A420, I usually think of the time I was standing on that roundabout. The Varsity was a bit of a downer in those days, despite having a super hill climb team, this young tester called Michael Hutchinson had an irritating habit of turning up and putting 5 minutes into everyone else. I think it meant Oxford had a real draught and several years passed with Cambridge dominating the Varsity 25 mile time trial.

But, if Oxford University Cycling Club wasn’t dominant on the flat, we did have a pretty decent hill climb team. In 1996, Jim Henderson came third in the National hill climb championship. In 1997, Jim went one better and finished 2nd behind Stuart Dangerfield.


Jim in 1998 after winning national title. – With OUCC support crew dressed as badgers. I think that is on Nick Pashely left.

In 1998, Jim, riding for Oxford University Cycling Club, won the National hill climb for the first time on Dover’s Hill (Jim’s blog). Continue Reading →


Postie on a bike

This week, I’ve been cycling around Oxford delivering letters inviting people to a concert. It’s a bit old school to be using snail mail rather than these modern forms of electronic communication. But, in a way its a lot of fun cycling around Oxford looking for addresses. It’s a nice and easy training session. Going up to Kidlington and back gives a good 25 miles, for 2 hours of level 1. It’s not too often I average 12.5mph for a training ride, but it’s something a bit different.

Since the national last week, I’ve had a couple of hand written letters from 2 really old school time triallists. Keith Williams of the Oxford CC, and Brian James of Brighton Mitre. Both these ‘experienced’ riders are regulars of the time trial season. I often bump into them at races and have a chat. Brian James has been my minute man on the Bentley course, more often than you would believe. I used to ride with his son Tom at OUCC.

I wouldn’t want to guess their age, but I imagine they were born in an era where the closest to social networking was the good old fashioned telegraph cable. Hand written letters are so rare – it’s quite a thrill to get something through the post, which isn’t an electricity bill or an estate agent offering to sell your house.


The thing about delivering letters, is that the bicycle wins hands down. Delivering on foot would be painfully slow. Delivering by car would be no fun. Always getting stuck in traffic jams, finding somewhere to park, stopping / starting, one way systems. The bicycle is the perfect medium for delivering letters. If you treat it as a low level training session, it doesn’t even matter if you get lost and end up doing U-turns up and down Cumnor hill because you can’t find one road.

Though as much as I love old school technology, I have to admit to sometimes relying on the young pretender of the ‘Google map App’ it is magically good at showing you the way to go. Is it more fun than looking at a map? I’m not sure.

I was kind of lost in Botley, going up and down this hill, stopping to look at a map. A gaggle of young school-children thought it was great fun watching this cyclist going up and down a hill looking for addresses. Their parents spoke to me saying the children thought you must be a great cycling champion. It was interesting how much joy young children were getting – just  from seeing someone just cycling up and down a hill. One thing I can never claim is to be the fastest postie on a bike. That is undeniable Matt Bottrill. Matt works full-time as a postman, but still finds time to train with great focus and intensity. It enabled him to get on the podium of the British Time Trial champion this year, beating quite a few professionals into the bargain. He also recently won his first senior national title, after several years of trying (100 mile TT in 2012) and 50 miles – , and circuit TT in 2013.

But,  delivering letters on bike is far removed from the world of competitive racing. It’s just a good reminder that the bike really is a great invention.



Eric Wilson’s hill climb bike from the 1950 / 60s

A reader (Ken Stott) kindly sent in a few photos of Eric Wilson’s hill climb bike from the 1950s and 1960s. Eric Wilson won four national hill climb championships in 1955, 1957, 1960 and 1964. Four titles over a period of 10 years. Ken still looks after Eric’s bike, though he says he doesn’t ride with quite the speed of Eric Wilson in his prime!


Ken says the bike weighs about 18lbs….. (8.1 kg). That’s about 2.1 kg heavier than the average (geared) bike in the national hill climb 2013!

The bike is of course fixed. Nearly all hill climbers will have ridden fixed in those days. Though gears were starting to become more popular. John Woodburn became the first rider to win the national 25 mile title on fixed in 1961.

The bike looks marvellous. Classic Raleigh red

The front fork has a large rake angle (giving low / zero trail) (good article by David Moulton here on Rake and trail here)


Hill climb bike – Trek Madone 6.9


My Trek Hill Climb Bike used in National hill climb championship 2013

bought in 2010

FrameOCLV2 SSL Carbon, E2, BB90, internal cable routing
ForkBontrager Race XXX Lite, full carbon
SaddleTune 85 grams
Seat PostBontrager Ride Tuned Carbon
HandlebarsBontrager Race XXX Lite VR,
StemBontrager Race XXX Lite Carbon, (non standard size

Groupset – Shimano Dura Ace. – 39*53 – cassette 23-12

Front Wheel – AX Lightweight rim front wheel – Tune Mig 45 20 hole.  It weighs 365 grams

Rear Wheel – Zipp 202 (604 grams)

TubularsVittoria Chrono tubular (170 grams) Continue Reading →


Winter training rides

Winter training rides. Do you see winter training rides as something to be endured – long slow miles in cold, wet weather or an opportunity to enjoy the rigours of the British winter and display you’re the Flanderian hard man of your local area? Do you’re winter training rides involve 30 minutes on the rollers once a week or will you clock up 250 miles per week, whatever the weather?


There are some compensations for riding in winter – especially late Autumn before it gets really bare

Sean Kelly’s attitude to riding through winter, could be summed up by his quote

“I go out on my bike, I do my ride, and when I get back home I decide if it’s too wet or not!”


a bit of water never hurt anyone

I don’t think Sean Kelly would approve of long fuzzy socks and full length gloves in races… My attitude to winter training rides varies enormously. Sometimes, I’m an amateur who will spend 30 minutes on the rollers rather glad to listen to the rain beating down on the conservatory. Other times, I’m motivated to ‘get the miles in.’ and religiously clock up the miles and write them down in the training log. I become the proverbial mile-eater churning up the lonely Cotswolds miles through eerily quiet countryside and grim weather. After last season’s hill climb championship, my winter break lasted one day, before I couldn’t contain my ambition for next season, and before I knew it I had 2,000 km for November alone. This year, winter training rides are a bit on the back burner. I’m winding up a bit more slowly to those epic 100 mile winter rides. The only problem is that if you leave it too long, winter will fly by before you can say ‘who ate all the pies?’

Secret of Winter training rides


1. Do you need a winter break? It depends on your season and how tired you are physically and mentally. I would take a break, if you really want one or if you have a niggling injury. Winter is a good time to take a break. But, generally I don’t like to take a winter break. The reasons are:

  • After hill climb season of October, I’m actually quite keen to get on the bike and do some ‘normal’ cycling. The end of my season is very low mileage high intensity. If I’d done a 1,000 miles in October, I might feel like a break. But, in last few weeks, you’re not really on your bike that much anyway.
  • Not taking a winter break gives me greater freedom to take days off. If I took three weeks off in November, I would be keener to be quite strict to go out in December and January. But, I tend to find you might get an awful week of weather In January, a cold in December, and another week where there’s so much going on that you give the bike a miss. The winter is one time, where I prioritise non-cycling over cycling. I have even been known to make a vague effort to be sociable. Not taking a winter break works quite well for me because it gives a flexibility for taking time off at odd intervals throughout the worst of the winter. Continue Reading →

Zappi CC hill climb at Watlington

The Zappi CC hill climb on Watlington hill November 2nd 2013.

The Monty Python sketch goes ‘Another wafer thin mint, Sir?’

In my case, it was another hill climb I just couldn’t resist. I’ve been out on my bike a couple of times this week and had a very strange felling of aimlessness. What do you do in the week after the nationals?

But, I popped into BikeZone in Oxford and had a chat with Steve Avery. He mentioned Zappi CC were having their club hill climb on Saturday and invited me along. Steve Avery is a very good tricylist and he explained one of the advantages of using a tricycle in a hill climb is that you can come to a complete stop and have a breather half way up. That sounded like a good kind of hill climb to end the season on, so I went along to Watlington hill and signed up for last race of the season.

I was having a good time at the top of the hill taking photos of the riders and listening to the encouragement from the spectators at the top. Flavio Zappi was on top form, telling people who didn’t seem to be sprinting 100% to the end of the line they could go back down and have another go.

I nearly missed my start time, arriving only 5 seconds before I was due. It’s nice doing a hill climb without so much pressure. I didn’t even have time to take off my two water bottles and a saddle bag, big enough to go touring with. After two months of lactic acid overdose and sick inducing efforts, I couldn’t quite motivate myself to go eyeballs out. For a hill climb, I took it relatively steady. It was only at the top where I saw the spectators, that I tried to show off and sprint for the line. It was a great friendly event and after the last rider crossed the line, the riders went back down the hill to enjoy some chips at a local pub before the prize ceremony.

Results to come hopefully. But, I think the winner was Matt Steven Zappi CC, 2nd was Chris Baines of Buxton CC, and 3rd was Tejvan Pettinger.



Flavio himself roaring on a rider


A big effort. Why do we do hill climbs again?


A tandem is not easiest way to ride a hill climb


Chris Baines probably had most stylish bike a beautiful Bob Jackson


A good gurning effort

Continue Reading →


Enjoyment of sport

When I look at the football Premiership there always seems to be dissatisfaction bubbling below the surface. Even if you look at the most successful teams in the Premier league – Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea – even at these clubs that win trophies, there always seems to be an underlying under-current of dissatisfaction. A few loses and everyone turns on somebody to blame.  I watch highlights of the Premier League on Match of the Day for the beautiful goals, but usually fast forward through the football punditry in between. ‘The beautiful game’  does seem driven by money and the need for results. That’s the modern game, and perhaps people enjoy the pressure, tension and all that goes with that. But, if I had to choose between the riches of being a professional footballer and an amateur cyclist, I’d jump an the chance to pay £7 to ride up and the A31 before you have chance to say ‘it’s only a game.’


For me sport is something to be enjoyed, not in the traditional sense of a nice pleasurable experience. It is a very different kind of satisfaction that you get from racing at the limit. I try to do the best I can, and to win is a real bonus. But, that’s not the only motivation for sport. I’d like to think I will keep enjoying cycling, even when the advancing years, start to push me down the results board. Continue Reading →


Cycling weekly and a future career in sumo wrestling

It’s not often a time triallist gets on the front cover of Cycling Weekly, so I went out and bought a copy from WH Smith.  I share the front page with the rather bizarre sight of Chris Froome taking part in Sumo wrestling – I think the correct term is ‘quiet news week’

Perhaps next year, Chris Froome should be invited to enter the British hill climb season and I can use my natural muscular build to take Japanese sumo wrestling by storm.

Looking at the photo in Cycling Weekly,  I think top of my Christmas list is a new pair of lightweigh aerodynamic racing socks, and a packet of safety pins to be kept in my car at all times.

Also: Interview with Velo UK 


Just missing out on the medals

I’ve been looking back through my cycling logs to have a look at previous seasons. I must admit I did think quite a bit about what happened in previous national championships and why I was just outside the podium on several occasions. This is a potted history of the past 9 national championships.

1993 – My 1st hill climb at Otley CC (placing unknown, close to last)

2004 – My 1st season racing. My first open was a Cardiff Byways triple hill climb. (3 hill climbs in one day. I finished 2nd out of 11 – a good experience, though I’ve never been back!). I also came second in Burrington Combe (Bristol South CC), with a time of 7.10. I haven’t often beaten that initial time. In retrospect it’s a shame I didn’t go up to  north east for National champs it was won by Jonathan Dayus  just ahead of James Dobbin on Winter’s Gibbet a fairly long climb.

2005 12th (2.39.1) – Rake  – 8 seconds behind 3rd, 12 secs behind 1st. My first national championship was at the Rake. A great experience, I finished 12th. I didn’t quite know what to expect. But, it was great crowd and atmosphere. I rode it pretty well, though I had very bad wheel slip at the steepest climb. (I was still Richard Pettinger in those days. Report at | 2005

2006 – 7th (5.18) Peak Hill – 11 seconds behind 3rd, 36 secs behind 1st Devon. I did little racing in 2006. I few slow 10 mile TTs.  so I was pleased to finish 7th, only a few seconds off the podium. I thought if I can keep improving at this rate, I could get on the podium quite soon. James Dobbin was a standout winner from David Clarke. Peak hill was a great hill, flat at the bottom getting steeper and steeper. I remember it was a beautiful warm sunny day. Blog on 2006 national hill climb.

20077th (7.14) Cheddar Gorge –  6 seconds behind 3rd, 23 secs behind 1st Another season of little racing. I only did 2 hill climbs in the lead up to the national championship. My Guru, Sri Chinmoy passed away October 11th and I went to New  York for a week. Hill climbing took a back seat that season. Despite racing only once, I turned up to national championship and finished 7th, just a few seconds behind 3rd place. I was pleased. If I’d had more racing, I could easily have got a few more seconds. But, it didn’t feel important in 2007. It’s a great climb Cheddar Gorge. Steep at the bottom then a long drag to the top. James Dobbin retained his title from David Clarke. A young Alex Dowsett finished 18th.  Results at CTT


Bank road Matlock

2008. 14th (2:42) Bank Road, Matlock, Derbyshire. 16 seconds behind 3rd, 18 secs behind 1st – A short and spectacular hill climb through the town of Matlock. Again a light season of racing, and a climb that didn’t really suit me. I remember setting off really fast and being light-headed by half way up. I slowed down utterly exhausted. At least I’d given it everything. I remember being quite taken by experience.  The winner was Matt Clinton ahead of Bill Bell and Jim Henderson. (blog of 2008) | Bank Road Continue Reading →