Tuesday, August 26, 2008

2008 National Hill Climb Championships

Last weekend was a pretty big weekend of racing for me as there were two National Championship events being held. On Saturday, the National Hill Climb Championships were being held in Linsfort, Donegal over the Mamore Gap, while on Sunday the National Cross Country Marathon Championships were being held in the Wicklow Mountains.

In this post, I'll just focus on the National Hill Climb Championships. Preparation began for it (outside of training!) in the leading week when I started to try and shed a little weight from my road bike. A super light set of wheels and full carbon saddle brought my bike weight down to 6.9kg (including pedals and the Garmin Edge bike computer).

My 'pimped' 2008 Specialized Tarmac Expert

Next hurdle was actually getting there. The race was about 5 hours drive from my home in Dublin so I staged it in two sections with my Dad kindly offering to cover most of the driving. (Driving takes a lot out of me and with the marathon on the Sunday, I was trying to conserve as much as possible). Due to the distance, I was not going to be able to have a look at the climb before the race so this is all I knew.

  • A very tough climb – maybe the toughest in the British Isles
  • 1.9km long with 250 meters of climb
  • 10 bends and 4 switchbacks

After a very friendly signon we all headed over to the bottom of the Gap – it was at this point that the rain and wind really picked up. The climb was going to be wet into a strong headwind – as if the elevation gain was not enough to contend with!

I got on the Turbo Trainer to warm up (something I don't use very often but found it perfect in this case) and got to the start line ready to go. To save weight, I didn't use my power meter for the climb but I had practiced pacing on a climb this length a few times recently so my basic plan was go a little easier (from a perceived effort point of view) then I think I should for the first two minutes and then pick it up – hopefully my power output would be pretty well averaged out over the climb.

5,4,3,2,1 and I was off up the hill. The next few minutes were mostly a blur with the odd self questioning - “why am I doing this?” - usually, this is a good sign – it means I'm pushing hard. The climb was very very steep – the hardest I've seen in Ireland by a long way and my 39x25 was two high a gearing for me to ride the hill the way I wanted. In general, especially more recently, I like to spin while climbing. About 80-90 RPM while seated and around 80 while standing. I basically had to stand almost all the climb, using all my mountain biking smooth pedalling skills to not spin out the rear wheel on the slippery tarmac while only pedaling at about 50rpm. After a lot of pain, I looked down at the Garmin to see I covered 1.55km – only 350 meters to go, but those 350 meters were like a wall. Already far into oxygen dept and a huge headwind I hit the final section which averaged out at a 19% gradient – I wish I had lower gears. I kept pushing and the crowd cheered me on as I made the final push. I crossed the line, placed my bike carefully at the side of the road (making sure not to damage the super expensive borrowed wheels) and promptly collapsed. I had no thoughts in my mind that I could have pushed harder – better gearing would have helped a lot, but I really did give it everything.

Looking down the climb

I don't even remember this bit!

The prize giving was held back in the Laurentic Bar in Linsfort where the supporting club (North Pole CC) put on a huge spread of food - the race was super well run by North Pole CC. The poor bar staff looked on at is as if we were a pack of locusts :) and it was not even a long race!

Suffer suffer suffer - picture from here by Marian Lamb

In the end, my time up the climb of 8:50 which was enough to secure second place – missing out on winning the Championship by a mere 7 seconds! (If only I was a kilo lighter...) Ronan Mc Laughlin who rides for the Pro outfit AnPost/Sean Kelly won the event – he looked smooth as I watched him pass as I returned down the hill.

There was only 14 seconds in the top 3 places

Results and a report are available here.

After all this excitement, it was a return drive to Monaghan with my Dad and then I drove back up to Dublin to start preparation for the following days marathon. It was a busy weekend.

I have to say a couple of big “thank yous” from this weekend. I really appreciate the support from Shane Connaughton from Cycleways, Eoghan (sorry – I need to get your second name) and Ross McClure. They helped me out with seriously lightening up my bike, Eoghan and Ross giving me the use of their mega light Lightweight wheel-set. Those things are ridiculous! I would be getting a pair if I did more road racing to warrant such an expense! Also, a big thanks to Dad for driving me to and from the race and supporting me around it - it was a huge huge help!

So next year – 7 more seconds... I'm getting closer :)


Unknown said...

Excellent report Ryan. The Mamore Gap is one of those hidden gems which few cyclists visit. Let's hope that the National Hill Climb Championships is promoted by North Pole CC again. It's a true championship course.

Tommy Lamb
Cycling Ulster

Davep said...

Nice report, I've just had a go at the national championships in Matlock, England. Nice bike by the way, I went for a lower tech approach, a fixed gear Specialized Langster with my lightest wheels. I too could have done with some lower gears!

Ryan Sherlock said...

I read the report about the English champs - sounds really tough. If I was able to recce the course a fixed would drop another kilo or two off the bike weight for the climb - a few seconds here, few seconds there :)

If the climb went up Mamore Gap again, I would have to find a compact and a 27 though...

djconnel said...

Fantastic report, Ryan! It makes me want to bring my bike to Ireland and give it a shot. Good luck @ Diablo tomorrow!