After spending six weeks in the USA, as part of my PhD, I returned to England at the start of July without any real purpose on the bicycle. Having reached 2nd cat I figured it was time for a break from the bunch – I guess that and not having any transport to races – I did originally plan to start racing the E/1/2/3s but it’s hard without a car. Anyway, I decided I’d target the hill climb season, which traditionally in the UK runs from mid-September to the end of October. Little did I know what I was getting myself into!
Admittedly there wasn’t much of a plan – I simply rode uphill quite a lot. Some times hard, some times easy. I’d feel good, or I’d feel bad. Not a bad part of the year actually because summer in the UK was good, for once. I entered a hill climb at the end of July, turned up, came 2nd. At first, I was pretty destroyed mentally as I’d lost by 6 seconds…now I know that 6 seconds in a hill climb is an absolute eternity. Once I’d put my toys back in the pram, I thought, happy days, I’m going to crush these hill climbs come September. A couple weeks down the line I won a local TLI with quite a dominant show of force, I attacked a bit, and still had enough left in the pistons to win the uphill sprint by quite some margin. The legs felt superb, like I hadn’t spent 6 weeks in the USA dining on Five Guy’s hamburgers 4 times a week….
Then came a lull in terms of competition. If I could go back I’d have done more, I think it’s important to validate the legs, the mind, whatever it is with me (yet to understand it). I guess, you also keep some of the top-end – given I’d last raced properly in mid-May I was now going to lose some anaerobic fitness. Come September tho I moved up the gears, I got out and did pretty focused 2 minute hill reps. Something was wrong tho, I felt tired all the time, grumpy, finding the cycling un-enjoyable. Why? Simply because results were hard to come by – I’d thought of myself as a whippet up hill and quickly found myself to not be. Before was big fish, small pond. Now I was one krill in an ocean of talent. Sunk. Without a trace. Repeatedly.
13th up Hartside Pass – given I’d spent a week in Belgium, and 2 days prior to the event hammering some hours in I let myself off that result. Mentally I was still fresh. 9th in the GS Metro hill climb – I rode it to a pace of 5 minutes, it took 5 minutes, arsed it up, I felt like more was in the tank. The next weekend was more like it, two 4ths, behind Pullar and Gullen, two proven hitters. I wasn’t recovering well from the efforts tho, each Monday I was laying in, some times the DOMS lasted until Tuesday. I’d do a hard ride and the next day my legs wouldn’t be fresh. I recover well usually, something was up. All this lackluster training was having a mental effect.
The thing is, I love racing a bicycle. That’s man to man, dropping someone up a climb, watching riders in agony…that sort of hellish side to me. Well, really, if I want to get better at that I want to be training a lot, banging some serious mileage in. And I like that. I love riding a lot. Hill climbing takes away from those hours, and if you do it properly you should drop your volume a lot but I wasn’t, I was in a half-way state between low volume and high volume. This only added to my fatigue.
9th in the Otley 2-stage was a decent result, I got ahead of Ben Lane (hero, mentor, transporter, headband wearer, etc) for the first time. He’ll be pleased to know that was a sweet moment. The next day I got mullered by all and sundry up Clay Bank (10th). Damn it hurt, and damn I wasn’t going anywhere fast. When the edge isn’t there it’s a horrible experience – Marco Pantani used to ride away on climbs because he wanted to get the suffering done with. Well, I was doing that but I wasn’t going anywhere that day, the suffering was drawn out. The sunshine on my face was the only silver lining from a thoroughly cloudy performance.
Next weekend. Again mid-week was lackluster. Tired, grumpy. Legs nowhere. It rained for Saturday and I dug deep for 10th. 10th! I don’t get out of bed for 10th, well, actually, it appears I do. I am 10th every weekend. 10th one weekend is fine if it is followed by 3rd the next – you kinda get motivated off that. I had to continue. 7th up The Rake – not a bad effort, I’ve got a lot in the tank for that climb in the future. The following weekend I was 7th in a local hill climb, alright I supposed, maybe now 7th is my every week placing…
60th. 6. 0. th. Sobering. Your everyday attitude man would say top third is good. 60th best hill climber in the UK is good. 60th in the National Hill Climb championships. I got out of bed for that. I went down with a wimper in the season ender. I guess I’ll look back one day and either say “Wow I was 60th that was good”…or “60th was shite but next year was better”. So, that’s where I’m at. We fall, so we can pick ourselves up again. I’ll get the bicycle out tomorrow, one spin of the pedals and I’ll be smiling. Back to what comes first, me and the bicycle a lot. Hopefully some half-wheeling antics where I get the upper hand. No race of truth, alone, with just the dreaded thought that you are pedaling in agony to 10th. Hill climbing can wait for awhile. I’ve got better shit to do…