Cwmheulog Hill-Climb

‘Cheering on a Competitor’ – My daughter Megan takes on the climb – Image ©David James

When I wrote my first blog for Cycling Shorts I was quite worried when I would be able to write a follow up. Well here I am one day after my “Ponderings from the Velodrome” went online and I find myself with about five hours to kill as I’m on a rapid return journey to Manchester by train.
As I get on the train in Abergavenny I am quite excited to be able to wear my new adidas Sennheiser headphones which were a present from Becky, so my first job is to select some appropriate music on my iPod and make a choice; either continue reading Rough Ride by Paul Kimmage, someone who I am really pleased to say I share a birthday with, or get my note pad and pen out and start scribbling. The fact that you’re reading this gives away the winner!

I did suggest last time that I would write about organising my first ever hill-climb and the thrills of cyclocross, but as the hill-climb was such a success and as I have been hassled ever since to make it an annual event, I am going to stick to just the one subject.

When as a family we first joined Abergavenny Road Club nearly ten years ago I remember one of the first ever road events we went to watch was the club’s Hill-Climb Championship. Living in Abergavenny we are fortunate to have many fantastic road climbs in close proximity to the town, the most famous of which is ‘The Tumble’. This climb has been used on many major events over the years; I can remember watching the Milk Race going up there many years ago and more recently, watching at the toughest part of the climb the last time the National Road Championships were held in the town in 2009.

‘Marking Up the Road’ my son Gareth on the right and my daughter Rachel’s boyfriend Luke on his hands and knees – ©Image David James

The club’s hill-climb used to start just as the road up The Tumble comes out of the trees about half way up the climb and was about one mile in length. In those early years I can recall about twenty riders taking part. I remember the winner the first time I watched, Nick Kenwright, someone who I believe had represented GB. Last year only two riders took part! Whether this drop in competitor numbers is because of the toughness of the climb, because there has been an increase in traffic, or for some other reason, the club’s committee decided we had to do something to rejuvenate the competition.

As we are good friends with Wiggle rider Ben Simmons who has been winning a few Red Bull Hill-Climbs around the country I thought it would be good to try something similar. I suggested to the club committee “Why not use the hill up to our house? We can get a road closure and all the kids can take part as well.” And so the inaugural ‘Cwmheulog Hill-Climb’ was born.

As we live up a dead-end lane, first thing was to get all the neighbours on board: job done! Next up was to speak to Monmouthshire County Council about the road closure. As a local authority Monmouthshire are a pleasure to work with and do everything they can to help with cycling in the county: job done!

Now the question was should I widely advertise the event or just keep it local and see how it goes? Keep it small scale was the consensus of opinion, so I sent out a leaflet with all the details and asked people to email or ring me to let me know if they were coming in order that we could provide free food for all competitors and spectators. With one day to go only one email had been received and I was starting to think it was going to be a big flop. That was until the night before the event when I was made aware that the email address I had put on the leaflet had been misspelt! How could I be so stupid?

A disturbed night’s sleep deliberating what to do, so first thing Saturday morning I’m in Tesco Abergavenny with my youngest Megan buying 120 sausages (half fat!), 120 fingers rolls and 25 garlic baguettes thinking I can always put the surplus in the freezer.

‘Hoping For A Top Quality Competition’ – Image ©David James

5.00pm comes around and the barriers and road closure signs are in place and there’s already a steady stream of cyclists and spectators making their way up the hill to signing on at our house.

51 competitors, 39 youth riders and 12 adults signed on to compete and there was a great deal more than that ready to provide vocal support. It wasn’t a case of putting surplus in the freezer, but raiding it for more supplies!

What can I say about the racing other than I know all too well what it’s like to ride up our hill, so every single person who gave it a go deserves a shout out. The spectators made for a brilliant atmosphere, ringing cowbells, cheering and shouting encouragement to every single rider.

It would be amiss of me not to mention that a youth rider, Evan Davies from Maindy Flyers who completed the climb in 1min 10secs, set the fastest time. Fastest adult was Abergavenny Road Club member James Woodier with a 1min 14secs ride and is the 2012 Abergavenny Road Club Hill-Climb Champion

Other notable facts from the night – all the food went! My wife Christine and Stephanie Best, one of the club coaches and a great volunteer, didn’t leave the kitchen as they slaved over the cooker!

It seems pretty certain with all the feedback I’ve received the hill-climb will become an annual event. Even Ben Simmons and Amy Roberts who were both there as spectators seem eager to get their best wheels out next year! I’ve also tapped up Magnus Backstedt to compete and he said he might as long as it is no more than a minute long!

So watch this space for an event next year that should be a lot bigger and even better. Before I get the go ahead though, Christine said she wants guarantees we are getting caterers in as she is not going to be missing out on all the fun.

Thanks again for reading, now back to Rough Ride.

David James

 

 

What a difference 30psi makes…

Bike Tyre - Image ©Copyright Paul * (Flickr)

I’m a very happy man today – when I got the bike out of the back of the car this morning in preparation for the cycle leg of my commute, I spotted my trusty footpump nestled cosily amongst the pasty wrappers and empty milk cartons.  Whilst I wasn’t exactly early, I wasn’t late, either, so I thought… You know… What the heck – let’s check the pressure in the soft rear tyre. Crazy, I know.

It’s been awhile since I cycled regularly, and I never cycled that regularly even back then – if I had to guess how many miles I’d ridden in, say, the last five or seven years, I think it would barely average a couple or three hundred miles a year on my old slick-shod Orange mountain bike, if that. In the last couple of years, commuting from Birmingham to Banbury, the average had fallen further still – to all intents and purposes, I was an ex-wannbe-keen cyclist. That, let me tell you, doesn’t count for a lot.

We went crazy last year – my lovely Lucy and I took the plunge and opted for the cycle to work scheme, ordering bikes and even booking our summer holiday in the bike-friendly Ile de Re. Her Giant turned up, as it were, whilst I had to press-gang the sixteen-year-old mountain bike back into two more weeks of servitude. Come October, and a mere four months after I committed to the scheme, our company took the plunge and released the funds, and my new Kona hybrid was released from captivity.

It was a revelation. No serious off-road tool, it was happy enough dabbling with minor dirt track adventures, canal tow paths and little more serious than that, but the road ability was something else. I’d always fancied my rigid Orange, with slicks at bursting point, as a compromised but reasonable road tool – the 29” hoops on the Kona changed all that. It flew – the road miles that Orange nibbled at with unskilled enthusiasm, Kona bit great chunks out like a hungry orca. Makes me wonder what a real road bike would be like…

So in the spirit of fair play – after all, the Cycle To Work scheme is intended to be used for purchasing bicycles to cycle to work – come November I took the plunge and decided to take a crack at using the to ride to work, at least part of the 40 miles. It was, however, not a success -putting a hand in my pocket for a big wedge of cash for a train ticket from my nearest railway station to Banbury was a painful  way to start, and the amount of time it added onto the working day was just intolerable. Sorry – for me, at this time and with this commute, the train isn’t going to take the strain, it’s just going to add to the stress. For me, it seemed, the cycle commute was over.

But I had a brain wave about six weeks ago, and I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before – on investigation, the recent purchase of a new and slightly larger car means that I can just about bend the Kona’s gangly tubes into the back with the front wheel out without too much hassle, and a new concept was born; drive part of the way, cycle part of the way, it couldn’t be much simpler.

So this brings us back to where we started – day one, having barely spun a wheel since the end of the train experiment in November was agony, the miles that slipped effortlessly under the Kendas in November were a chore, it felt like I had to fight for every inch. The site of my trusty footpump peeping out at me from the boot litter on day two sparked a revival that blew a breath of fresh air into my whole cycling world – having your boots blown up to bursting point might make the ride a little lively, let’s say, but the pain in the backside that you get from rock-hard tyres is considerably less of a pain in the backside than the extra effort required to rotate flabby rubber.
 
 

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