At ELV we have a handful of hill-climb specialists. These strange individuals take great pleasure in travelling long distances to fling themselves up steep ramps for anything from 60 seconds to 5+ minutes, frequently flooding their legs with lactic acid in the eternal quest for a PB, a piece of cake and a cup of tea.

Of our specialists, arguably none is more committed to the sadistic sub-culture of biscuit-dodging and oxygen debt than Tom Haines. Tom has had a string of great results this season, with strong rides (and PBs) at the prestigious Catford and Bec hill climb events, among others. The highlight of his season, however, has to be his performance in the RTTC National Hill Climb Championship on 29 October.

In this post, Tom tells the story of his Nationals. Well done Tom!

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“An excellent end to two months of not eating enough and hard interval sessions. It was quite an experience riding in a national level event. I’m sure I’ll be playing back little mental snapshots from the race for a while. My aim this year was just to get in and ride it, largely to poke fun at the version of myself ten years ago sat in the pub, who would have bet his life that there was no chance his future self would be competing in the national hill climb championships.

I didn’t ride the course until the morning of the event, and was relieved to find that, despite having the appearance of a very gentle climb on Google street view, the championship hill was a brute. Long, technical and rather steep in several sections. Including the first two sections out of the gate. A level head on the first half of the climb was certainly needed. My plan was to ride just below 3 minute power on the steeper sections, and then hang on for the last 500m where the course eventually levels out a bit… 

HQ was 1.5 miles from the start, and it was 7 degrees C, so I left it right to the last minute before dismounting the rollers and riding up to the start. I arrived on the line already breathing deep and nice and warm. There was a nice big lump of local stone being used as the back wheel stop. 15 seconds to go… calm… breathing… GO!! 

Now, I can’t remember much about the first half of the course. I’d been thorough it countless times in my head; I just made sure not to surge too much on the steep sections (although I probably did). After 30 seconds the legs started to burn, but not like on the shorter climbs I’ve been doing this year – this was a bit more serene.

At the halfway point, my breathing had become raspy due to the cold. The course kicks up here twice, and this is where the hurt really started. I could hear my wife yelling my name as I turned a sharp corner and looked up the steep slither of tarmac. There were suddenly a LOT of people at the side of the road making a LOT of noise. Because I’d ridden up in the pre-race quiet earlier in the day, this took me totally by surprise. No easing off in front of this lot – I could hear my name being yelled down the PA at the side of the road: “GO ON LAD!” – hundreds of cowbells, then all of a sudden round another corner, into a headwind stretch and almost total silence again, just trying to keep the legs turning over.

I’ll be honest, the last couple of hundred meters were VERY PAINFUL. I nearly rode into the hedge at one point. I crawled across the line in my second to lowest gear, rolled down the road and collapsed against a stone wall, where I lay for at least 10 minutes gasping for air and trying to massage some life back into my lactic-filled legs. 

Now came the best bit: I’d ridden fairly early, so I had plenty of time to change and walk back up the hill to meet up with the missus, and David Ross (who won the ELV hill climb and eventually came in 34th) and see the fast boys come up the hill. The atmosphere was utterly electric. It was quite surreal, so many people (thousands?) in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere yelling at the top of their lungs as the riders came through, noticeably faster and faster. The pace of the last few riders was jaw dropping. A proper spread of riding styles too: Mike Morris (NFTO) who won the Cat and Bec, high cadence, out of the saddle, very compact, fast and supple; Joe Norledge, a classic climber’s gait, lower cadence, smooth, focussed; Dan Evans, big ring, power, concentration and composure, a man with a plan; and Adam Kenway, a rangey rider, lungs and legs. Really inspiring seeing this level of riding so close up.

Overall, a great day out and a fantastic experience. Humbling to see the top guys, but really pleased to have done a strong ride and my reward was 89th in the Nationals.”

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