Monday, 13 October 2014

Race Report: Catford & Bec Hill Climbs

The day had arrived, the day of the classic Catford and Bec Hill climbs, both located in Surrey, One in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Catford on the infamous 0.4 mile York Hill, averaging 12% with some tasty sections at 25%, with Bec then on White Lane, slightly shorter at 0.3 miles but averaging 13%, and yet again a few sections/ramps/walls at 25%... The Bec this year made even more special by the fact David Millar had chosen this event for his last every professional race, what an honour. What a legend.

First rider was off at 9am for Catford, so myself and Simon from LP got the train down there, didn't fancy another 40 mile ride from North London. We arrived with plenty of time, however not enough time to have a few practice runs. To add to the fun the ground was surprisingly wet, which meant conditions would be interesting. After a standard amount of faffing, deciding what to wear and cheering on fellow competitors it was time to head down to the start line. We had to slowly make our way down Yorks Hill and well, the top section was steep, very narrow and covered in twigs and stones, so perfect eh? I was off quite early (49) and had no real idea what time i'd do, as I was riding down the climb to line up for the off it certainly felt longer than I was expecting, and also not a constant gradient.
Now in line, and riders were setting off, next thing I know i'm up, and one of the marshalls is holding me up, whilst i'm clipped in, and counting down. 30 seconds to go. It's only 2 minutes (ish) I thought, wont be that bad. I was off, starting in the 39T ring and 4th cog from the top (12-28) allowed me a decent level of acceleration, however that also meant wheel spin! No time to sit down and straight out the saddle trying to pick the best line on what was quite a narrow road, I moved into the middle, where the tarmac seemed dryer, but that was a mistake, instant wheel spin as I hit some loose stones. Back to the left just in time for the first 25% section, my cadence was all wrong here and I almost ground to as stop, I really should have shifted down. Over this section and the gradient eases off (around 11%) I stamp on the pedals and gain some speed, on the steepest section now, the crowd going crazy, shouting and screaming in my ears! Legs and chest were burning now, all I could feel was pain, and all I could see was that chequered board and the finish line. I crossed the line, collapsed on my handlebars and gasped for air. I was done, and that hurt. After sitting/standing there for a minute I collected myself and got off, a quick check of the times so far and i'd done aright. 2:15, 3rd fastest, although that wont stay for long, the fast lads were still to come. I stayed around and cheered on friends, club mates and other fellow suffers and gathered for the final unveiling of times. 1:55 was in winning time to James Lowden, well done that man!

After a quick recovery cup of coffee it was a short 10 mile ride to the Bec Hill climb on York Road. The ride was an obviously slow affair which resulted in riding up York Road to sign on. Well this was steep... however it was a good opportunity to scout out the road, areas to avoid and lines to take. Unlike the Catford, York Road was quite steep straight from the off, with a gradual ramp upto the peak of 25% and then easing off for the finish line. Again not a hill I had ridden before, so no real idea of my expected time. Registration and number pinning on done I had a quick bite to eat (scotch pancakes FTW) and it was off for a quick ride to warm up. Again, off quite early thankfully, it was down to the bottom, to yet again stand in a line and ask yourself why do you do this? 30 Seconds to go and i'm feeling good, cold, but good. Power straight from the off, standing and pushing the bike from side to side, really trying to build up some momentum on the bottom half of the course. This seemed to drag, there was very few spectators on the bottom slopes and the finish, all 0.3 miles away, still seemed a long time away. I was however feeling strong, the crowd grew louder and louder, and on the flatter section I took the opportunity to sit down (error?) and build my cadence up before hitting the 25% section. I was on it now, legs burning again, face pulling some obviously interesting expressions and the pain rising. I clicked down though the gears, pushed as hard as I could as the course flattened off to line. I crossed the line, for some reason screaming, mainly in pain, maybe a bit in relief that it was over? Yet more collapsing over the bars and gasping for breath I sat my bike down and went to drink some coke. Finish time of 2:10 and fastest of the day so far, again though, all the fast lads were still to come, including that Millar chap. I was pleased though, I think. Winning time for the Bec was Ex national hill climb champ in a ridiculous time of 1:49. (Millar did a 2:03 btw - 21st)

So overall I came 25th in Catford and 34th in Bec. I did want top 20, but I was a little naive in underestimating the competition, which included ex national hill climb champ and a number of previous years winners, as well as some very very quick climbers. Given the prestigious nature of both events though I should not have been surprised.

So things I learnt. As well as power it's ALL about weight, there were some brilliant purpose built HC bikes, fixed, single speed, single ring, chopped handle bars, carbon wheels. All the works. The top riders as well were all rather small, lower 60kgs i'd have guessed, which certainly would have helped.  Whilst both myself and my bike aren't heavy if I want to target hill climbs I need to work on this a little bit. A 2 minute climb is also not my ideal length, 4 minutes is perhaps better suited to my style and power, and i'll certainly be looking for events around this type of length to target. I don't think I would have done anything different, less pressure in the tyres for both climbs might have helped, but apart from that I just need to get better.

Overall i'm loving (weirdo) hill climbs, the traditional nature of a person with a clipboard and the me against gravity nature really does appeal to me.

Strava links:
Catford -
Bec -

Thanks again for reading, onto the next hill now. Where is that hacksaw...

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