The bikes had been stripped; bottle cages removed, handlebar tape gone, batteries only half charged, and we’d been surviving off sparkling water and lettuce for the last three days. The universal sign of an upcoming hill climb.
The BUCS Hill Climb, held this year on the infamous Mam Tor in the Peak District, marked the end of the road season for the cycling club. People often question whether it is worth driving 4 hours each way for a 6-minute race and, to be honest, so we were as we set off at 7am. A journey made worse by the fact we couldn’t eat (some dubious physics from Marcus suggested 100g in weight cost 1s on the climb).
Morale was low and the signs for Woburn Safari Park were tempting but it only opened at 10am so we pressed on. Finally the climb crept into view and the mood was summed up by Jack who said, “That looks quite big”. We thought this would be a good time to start getting the excuses in and moaned about how Sheffield University had an unfair advantage having this on their doorstep while we have Exhibition Road.
We went for a quick recce of the climb which didn’t tell us much we didn’t already know from some extensive streetview-based research the night before. There was a 18% ramp straight out of the start gate, with the gradient easing off (by easing off we’re talking single-figure gradient) with the gradient kicking to 12% again for a brutal mid-section before a couple of hairpins into the finish. Overall stats were 2.2km at 10% (think Box Hill but twice as steep) – in essence it starts hard and gets harder.
We headed back to the minibus and talked very loudly about tactics and power numbers to give off a vibe that we knew what we were doing.
Roy Miles was the first rider off for Imperial setting a very quick early time of 7:51, next was Julian who clocked 10:35, then Zach at 10:02. Alex was next off stopping the clock at 8:32; at 6’3 Alex was always fighting a losing battle against gravity but averaged a huge 380W up the climb – definitely one to watch in the time trials. Jack Hagger, who had an incredibly detailed power-based pacing strategy, was understandably gutted to see his power meter decide to re-calibrate itself on the start line though he still managed to clock an incredibly impressive 7:26.
There had been a huge amount of competition between Imperial’s final three riders (Alan Slatter, John Shroff and Marcus Halson) - beginning on the recent training camp to Girona. With one win apiece in their previous three hill climbs this was very much the decider as the last race of the season, and their last hill climb for ICCC. Form was looking good with all three clocking Box Hill PB’s (the universally accepted form indicator) in the week leading up to the event.
Marcus was first off and, despite making it abundantly clear to anyone he spoke to that this “wasn’t his sort of hill”, clocked a 7:31. Alan Slatter was next and on the legendary pink bike could be spotted a long way off. Worryingly for Marcus he seemed to be going quite well and he crossed the line in 7:13 – a standout performance. John was last off for Imperial and, after a solid ride in the hill climb last year, was amongst the big-hitters at the business end of the event. Aided by some huge cheers from the rest of the team he also stopped the clock in 7:31 (later confirmed to be an all-important 0.3s behind Marcus).
The standard of the event is always very high, and this year was no exception. The winning time of 6:12 at an astonishing average speed on 18.7km/h was a new course record on a climb that has previously been used for the national championships.
Post-race comprised a lot of calories and excuses and in the manner of Liverpool fans we all agreed that next year would be our year. Morale was buoyed slightly by seeing that a UCL rider had come last. We went over to offer our condolences and ended up getting roped into taking one of their riders back after they’d forgotten to book transport for the return leg. The invoice is on the way to UCL as we speak.
It’s been an incredibly successful year for the club. There have been ups, such as Matt Langworthy winning the BUCS 10 mile TT, and downs such as missing out on the glory, and more importantly the £160 each, of winning the Catford and Bec Team prize by the merest of margins but we’ll be heading into the off season with morale high ready to push on for next year.