Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beware the Ides of October

According to the Roman calendar it's not actually the Ides of October. That was last Saturday, in fact. Luckily we're not using the Roman calendar any more because then we'd be late. Speaking of late, the good thing is that daylight savings finishes next week so I get to lie in for an extra hour and the curtains stop fading. Or something.

Brain addling is a function of how hard you go in a hill climb. And by what I've written above and done today, I'm more than halfway there. Probably three quarters, going off the Roman calendar. That's three out of four hill climbs clumbed and one to go: the national Cheddar eating championships next week.

Today's fixture was the Burrington Combe hill climb. It's one I've been looking forward to - as much as it's possible to look forward to a hill climb - because I'm more suited to longer climbs than shorter ones. Well, that's what I keep telling myself and no-one's put up a decent argument yet.

The climb is 3.2km long and averages just under 5.7%. It goes up in steps, with the flatter bits never quite long enough to recover before the next step. Just after halfway, there's a steeper section after a cattle grid, then it sort of flattens out towards the top which just never seems to come.

I've done it quite a few times in training: when Will took me up it for the first time in January, we did it in about 10'40. Two weeks ago I did it with Robin in 8'33 with a slight tailwind. I was going pretty hard but had about 5kg of extra kit + heavy wheels on, so I figured I could get under eight minutes. The course record is 7'02, held by Danny Axford and as he was down to race I knew it was pointless even thinking about winning.

Ben S wot lives in Corsham gave me a lift out and we signed on at the Burrington Inn in the freezing cold. It was set to be a beautiful morning but the sun hadn't quite made it over the Combe, so we spent the next three quarters of an hour shivering and getting changed. We rode up the hill steadily as a warm-up and noticed that when it opened out at halfway there was a bit of a headwind. This picked up even more before we started and I could feel it on my face as the starter held me up at 10:55am, Julian calendar time. Plus a bit.

I started harder than I have been doing for the last couple of races, but only for 10 seconds or so. From what I've read you use a different energy system at the start and don't have to repay the oxygen debt later. It's like a free lunch. Or maybe a free cup of tea with lite soy milk and a small biscuit. But hey, every second counts, innit?

I settled down and kept a steady cadence - 39x15/16/17/19/21 all got used on the stair-steps. I wasn't going flat out because bits of music and other random thoughts kept popping into my mind. But when I got to the cattle grid I was very much concentrating on everything that was propelling me up the climb: breathing, pedaling, heart rate, how hard to go on the next bit. No spare brain oxygen for fripperies now.

It wasn't worth getting out of the saddle much because the wind was too strong, so I ended up doing most of it on the drops. I went a little harder on the steep bit, saving just enough for the long drag to the top. I kept changing up and finished in the 39x13, fairly hammered but not quite to the seeing spots phase. My lungs were hurting so I suppose it was a good ride.

As I descended to the start I saw Danny Axford motoring up. He'd already passed his minute man and was just about to catch his two minute man. Best time, once again.

The results were posted and Axford had done it in 7'26, junior Luke Dunbar was second in 8'06.36 and me third in 8'07.03 out of about 45 starters. I was delighted at finishing in the top three, even though I just missed out on second. I'd beaten a couple of riders who'd been beating me in the other climbs so that was OK.

Afterwards, I figured out a kilo is worth four seconds on that climb so doing stuff like taking off the big chainring, rear brake and bar tape would have actually made the difference between second and third. But I'm not quite that obsessive, especially when not racing for a win.

Robin, on the other hand, was off sick for most of the week so he used the down time to fiddle around and take bits off his bike. He finished with 8'42, which leads me to believe it's more beneficial to stay healthy.

One more of these to go and I'm very much looking forward to the end of the season. Physically I'm still going alright but mentally I'm knackered. Or maybe just mental.

I wonder what Plutarch would say about all this bilge?

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