I’m practically horizontal. If I closed my eyes – and managed to stop shivering – I could probably just nod off right here. I doubt the older gentleman buried somewhere under my left arm would be too impressed if I started snoring and dribbling on him though.
He’s pretty much bent double, and in what seems like a bit of discomfort, reaching out as far as his arms will allow to grasp the bike underneath me as I hang, both feet clipped in immediately behind a small white line pained on the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere.
I think I’ve done this wrong. I think I’m meant to be right over by the kerb so he can hold me perfectly upright, offering me the opportunity to sprint off into the distance as soon as another bloke sat on a small wall finishes counting down from “1 minute”. I’m about 2 foot out in the road, leant over towards the poor guy doing his best to support me wobble-free for up on the pavement. If we were a pair of cards we’d stand upright, in a geometrically stable position, which is great but, in “30 seconds” he’s going to let go and, with me ratcheted into the bike and stationary I’m really starting to think that I’ll do what that one lone card would do without it’s support and just gently topple over. Into the gutter.
If the course for tonight’s event – a hill climb race, based near Horwich, heading from outside a pub (clever) to the top of the local Col d’Winter Hill – started on a sharp left hand bend I’d be set up for the perfect start, I consider, as a glance downward shows me I’m perched on the sidewall of my tyres. It doesn’t though and I begin to wonder if I should unclip, apologise for making it hard for everyone and just set off with one foot on the ground.
Damn it! No time! I’ll just have to hope I don’t make a complete tit of myself in front of all the other riders…who are probably already wondering why I’ve decided to start from the wrong side of the road, leaving the ‘hold you up’ guy in need of traction afterwards.
I wish I’d warmed up instead of standing around chatting until I started shivering. That wasn’t very ‘pro’, was it
Which way does the course go again?
Wait hang on, I think I’m in too big a…
Naaaaarrgrggrrgg. aaarrrrnggng, huuuhhuhhhu, pedal aarga go get going move it aaaaarg
Like a 1 litre overloaded nissan micra setting off up a hill in top gear I cough and splutter into a super gradual acceleration away from the line.
Are my brakes stuck on? Have i inadvertently dragged ‘hold you up’ guy along for the ride? Will I have to do the whole thing with him hanging on my back? Christ why am I not going anywhere and what is that weird feeling in my chest?
Oh, that’s my lungs gong into complete shock. Fair enough. Oh look my thighs appear to have joined them. Well, this is going well isn’t it, my body’s revolting against me and I must have ridden all of about 500 metres from the line. Hmm. How long is the course again? 3 miles? Ahh. Right.
Oww actually, this really hurts.
A glance down (well, more accurately an attempt to focus on where I was already staring – I’d not looked up since wobbling away from the start line) at the computer tells me I’ve hit the heady speed of 18mph. which seems odd, as the feedback from every part of my body suggests I should have just heard a sonic boom as I went past the speed of sound. The pain -> speed ratio here is all to cock. On the plus side, I have ridden half a mile and seem to be settling into a bit of a rhythm on the flatter section of the course. If extreme discomfort can be classed as a rhythm.
I should probably stop thinking and just get on with it. Turn my head off for a while. Why can you never turn your head off when you want to?
Is my right shoe a bit loose?
Ooh wait, I think i’m really getting into this now, yes, here we go I’m accelerati…oh wait no, it was just a dip in the road, back to massive thigh pain
(I do feel like my thighs are massive at this point. In fact it seems like a miracle that they’ve not burst, Hulk stylee, out of my shorts)
A waving flag of a marshal bravely stood in the middle of the road tells me I’m at the sharp left hand turn halfway along the route. Momentary joy as I briefly regain the lean angle I had on the start line is wiped away as I remember that the left turn means I’m on the steeper part of the course.
It’s a hill I hate when I ride it normally. It just doesn’t seem to suit me, not steep enough to really fight your way up, but still too steep and with too many changes in gradient to pick a gear and ‘work it’ to the top. I’m never quick up it at the best of times and tonight, with a couple of miles of intense effort already weighing me down tag-teaming with a gusting headwind, there’s a strong possibility I may come to a complete halt and start rolling backwards.
Pic by martin holden photography
As the road kicks up in front of me I give up any plans about pacing, optimum riding position, efficiency or even thinking full words, in favour of just getting up the bloody hill.
There are spectators (a few of them) alongside the road giving encouragement as I flail about on the pedals, grinding the chain against the front mech as the bike protests at my awful riding style. I stop looking towards them when I realise my eyes must suggest I’m pleading for an end to the suffering and aim what little attention I can hold at the road just in front of my wheel.
That patch road becomes, to my surprise, full of someone else’s back wheel. The guy who set off 1 minute before me (who didn’t seem to be leant over as far as I was) was riding quite a retro bike, leaving me with startline aspirations of catching him before we reached the summit. For the first few miles I’d not really seen him, even though the road was fairly straight, so I’d put any thought about it to the back of my mind, coming to the conclusion that he might well have been riding it to slow himself down a bit as, without the handicap, he’d be illegally fast, or something.
Do I put on some sort of extra spurt of power as I pass? What’s the done thing here? Say hello?
An attempt to form words fails spectacularly as the gasping for breath turns them in to vague, slightly unnatural sounding, gargling noises. I realise that, not only have I probably just creeped the guy out, but he’ll be in as much discomfort as me and perhaps not too appreciative of someone attempting conversation at this point.
I attempt the ‘spurt of power’ option, which doesn’t yield much in the way of results, but does seem to hurt quite a lot. As I do so, a cyclist stood at the side of the road watching the event cheers me on, recognising and rewarding the effort, even with it’s fairly pitiful effect.
PIc by martin holden photography
The rest of the route becomes a repeat of this, each time the gradient changes I attempt to push a little harder, usually to a ripple of applause from those stood at the roadside, until I see the finish line flag wafting in front of me.
Well, at first I don’t realise just how BIG a finish line flag it is, thinking I must be a few feet from the line until a second glance shows me it’s still a ‘mini sprint’ away and isn’t being held aloft my a midget.
Great. What I’d really like at this point is to have to bloody sprint. That’s right at the top of my list of thing I could do with right now that is. Bloody marvelous.
Leaden legs are called on for one last time as I thrash about towards the finish and roll, wheezing, over it. By complete chance, the finish line is situated just a couple of feet away from one of the comfiest looking patches of uneven, overgrown, litter strewn, rock covered grass I’ve ever seen. I make it my mission to discover just how delightful this geological miracle actually is and flop down into it.
It doesn’t disappoint.
Edit: I finished 7th out of 49. Not bad. Not as good as it could have been, but not awful.
Thanks to all the guys at Horwich Cycling Club who organised and helped out with the event. Good effort all round