Words by BMMF
Another hillclimb out the way. This year was a strange one for me. A totally different approach to previous efforts.
The problems start, however, when I get the itch to race. Without a well-honed set of racing legs and lungs, I’ve thrown myself into 4 to 6 week periods of painful specificity, obtaining a fragile patch of form that burns brightly, but oh so briefly. My mental state always suffers, the physiological and psychological fragility occurring in tandem. This was something I wanted to avoid at all costs this year, partly because I’m in a new customer-facing role at work that requires calmness in the face of conflict, and also because I want to be a happy daddy on my son’s 5th birthday on October 15th.
So in mid-August I decided that I’d enter, but I also decided that I basically wouldn’t train. I’d got more miles than usual done during the summer, so there was a base, and I’d been doing a weekly session of front squats and barbell hack squats which meant my core was sound, I had decent full body strength, and reasonable grip strength. With those things in mind, I thought my best bet would be to ride a big fixed gear out of the saddle. Not so much power-to-weight, as strength-to-weight. During my weekend rides, and the fortnightly Tuesday Night Ride Club outings, I started making sure I rode every hill overgeared and out of the saddle, culminating in a fantastic recce of the Ride Of The Falling Leaves route which I big ringed, even managing Sundridge Hill in 53/21 at about midnight, floating away from everyone present. And then the Sunday before the event, I hit Swains Lane in 79″ fixed, just to make sure I had the strength to cope with a steep ramp in a pre-fatigued state. The results were promising…
There was no escaping the visualisations and palpitations the night before the race. There never is. I chewed over a few cold hard realities in my mind. I’d have to stand up all the way – the gear was a little too tall to sit and spin (and I’d not trained to do that) – but I knew that a comfortable standing cadence would see me travelling up the first half of the course too slowly. I wondered how much I’d be able to lift it out of my comfort zone without blowing up. I didn’t want to blow up. More than anything, I just wanted to smash that fucking 45×20 up the 25% section where the crowds would be. That was the thrill I was seeking; the real challenge I’d set myself. But then again, I wanted to dip under 2 minutes as well. 2m02 was my result in 2007 on 46×22, and I’d nearly ground to a halt near the top as my lungs had started to melt. I’d been under 2 minutes chasing someone up the hill in training before. I just wanted to do it on the day. And it’s a young man’s game. And…and…and…
…and nothing. Who cares? Not me. I wasn’t going to fret about shit. It’s just another day out on the bike.
I checked the train info before leaving the house. It was ambiguous. Engineering works. Possibly. Maybe. I didn’t need uncertainties. The weather was nice. I rode out. A nice 21 mile warm-up, spinning along in 45×20. I signed on and said hello to Garry Beckett. Considering the logistics of organising a hillclimb, he was very relaxed. Maybe that’s what the second ‘r’ in his first name stands for. Dommy came up the hill and I shouted him towards the line. Then I set off for the line at the other end of the course. They had an electronic starting device with beeps and everything.
Half way up the course, it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to get anywhere near 2 minutes. I didn’t have to look at my bike computer. I knew how slowly I was going. It even crossed my mind to sit down for a bit, but just after thinking this, I felt the road rear up in earnest.
Suddenly everything felt right. I’m seldom happier on a bike than when I’m out of the saddle and my whole body engages in a tussle with gravity, sinews popping, my arms, core, and legs forming another set of stiff tubes that feel brazed to the double diamond beneath me. I feel like I can really get stuck in with every ounce of strength secreted about my person.
I lifted the tempo. Where I’d started to wilt at the end of the shallower section, now I fucking accelerated against the steeper gradient. The front wheel skipped to the left as the power was put down, and I shifted my weight to compensate. Everything felt planted again. I saw the perfidious patches of reflected light on the road ahead where I knew people had been wheel-spinning, but with a smooth application of power and a quick shove of my hips towards the rear wheel I kept traction. But I was waiting for the stall: the awful moment when something snaps inside you and invisible hands grasp at the rear of your saddle, screaming sirens of panic inside your brain as you slow, slow, slow to less than a crawl…
But it never happened. What did happen was pretty fucking magical. The 500+ watts I was putting through the pedals was suddenly absorbed by the crowd, processed, amplified a hundredfold, and spat back out at me. A great mass of black, blue, and white forms stepped forward from the tunnel walls, syncronised like some sort of awesomely powerful single entity, almost militaristic (and most definitely from the future), and made a mystical connection. They doped my bike. They flicked a small switch on my dummy brake lever, just as my spine was about to rupture, and set the motor running in my bottom bracket shell; with just enough battery to get me past the coned off section and across the line.
I sat on a verge and dribbled into my lap for a bit. I can’t really tell you what goes on in those first 5 minutes after a hillclimb. Amnesia rules. The time is lost, and that’s probably a good thing. I won’t kick up a fuss about it. Next thing I knew, the benevolent black, blue, and white forms surrounded me once more.
It was my slowest Bec. But not by much. There were a few people I should’ve beaten in front of me. But there were quite a few who should’ve beaten me behind me. That’s how it goes for the 2nd tier of hilllclimbers. There’s an ebb and flow from year to year, but we all have to watch the 1st tier show off their superior genes with jaw-dropping consistency.
In the grand scheme of things, however, I’d say it was my best Bec. I was there to fucking own a 25% gradient on a ~60″ gear, and I think I did it. But a feat of strength in itself is not enough to warrant the label of ‘best Bec’. What really did it was the incredible surge of energy at the top as the club members united in support. From where I was sitting (standing), it was verging on spiritual. You see that word come up quite a bit when people talk about the congregations who line those fabled mountain stages on the continent; and I think we created that kind of atmosphere today.
Grupetto didn’t win the Bec 2011. Grupetto was the Bec 2011.