Hill climb season near’s its conclusion: Francis and James do Hill Climbs

With the ‘peak’ and final event for local riders coming this weekend, the Ditchling Beacon Hill Climb, we present the 3rd instalment of ‘Francis and James do Hill Climbs’

Week 3 of 4

For our next weekend of hill climbs, James and I rode the ESCA Firle Bostal and Velopace Butts Lane hill climbs on Saturday. We had both ridden these hill climbs in 2016 and 2017 and were back again for two of our annual favourites.

The ESCA Firle hill climb was set on the road up to Firle Bostal, which is one of the toughest along the South Downs way. The climb has an average gradient of 9% (about 1:10) but the road is quite inconsistent, with numerous ramps of varying gradients on the first half of the climb but a steady ramp up to a (typically) headwind finish. The climb is one of my personal favourites and I’d set some good times up it in preparation for the season, and is also quite close to where James lives.

On the day, I did a good warmup on the windy ridge at the top of the climb and then headed down to the start line.

I saw James set off up the climb and then ‘nature called’ just before my start time. Unfortunately, I found that some mud got in my right cleat as a result of this (damn you speedplay pedals) so missed my start time by a bit, but cleaned them out in a panic and sped off up the climb. Frustrated at this occurence, I started off a bit too hard and just lost my mental strength as the junior behind (Theo Tadros) caught me. I kept up with him for a bit, staring directly at him to be a bit intimidating and then I rolled over the finish line slowly to finish in a time of 5:33, which I felt was  still ok albeit no way near my best (I have gotten around 4:40 in training, so was annoyed at this result). However, James set a respectable time of 4:49, coming 18/46th overall.

For the next climb of Butts Lane in the afternoon, I calmed myself down a bit and my family and I drove over to the start. I ate some lunch (James and I both agreed that fast food and processed food works surprisingly well for racing) and then got warming up. The afternoon was hot and sunny for October and the road conditions were excellent (the climb is paved really well and the road was closed for the event). The climb averages about 11% (1:10) with some sections of around 20% (1:5), especially towards the end with the final part becoming a ramp of agony.

James set off just before me and personally thought that he might have set off a bit too fast, yet he still set a great time of 4:31 (30 seconds faster than in 2017) and I set a time of 4:16 which I really wasn’t expecting, coming 8th overall. It’s hard enough to set a time below 5 minutes for a regular cyclist on the climb, yet the winner, Rowan Brackston (who also won on Firle) managed to finish in a bonkers time of 3:38, with the junior rider Theo Tadros coming 3rd overall in a time of 3:51, also coming 4th overall on Firle. I left the climb feeling happier than in the morning and overall I had a good day. James and I both won prizes for our age categories (so I strangely thank Theo for coming 3rd as he couldn’t win both) and we both agreed that we would like to keep on doing these hill climbs in the years to come.

There’s only one more hill climb for us this season- Ditchling Beacon on the 28th (and the PPYCC cyclocross race afterwards). How will we do on the day?

Many thanks to the ESCA and Velopace for organising such great events!