The traditional end to the domestic racing season takes place in the Last of the Summer Wine country this weekend, with the RTTC National Hill-Climb Championships.
240 riders from 10.30am to 2.30pm will ride up the 0.9-mile Jackson Bridge course, near Holmforth in Yorkshire, dealing with an average gradient of 11 per cent.
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The last time the course was used in the Nationals was in 1994, when Jeff Wright posted a blistering time of 3-49.9, setting a course record that has remained unbeatable.
The V9912 course, however, has been lengthened by 80 yards at the bottom and 10 yards at the top for logistical reasons, meaning the winner on Sunday will set a new course record – circa. 4-10 if conditions are stable – and Wright’s will remain indefinitely.
The reigning champion has been in devastating form this autumn, winning every sub-6 minute event he has entered, and performing way above expectations on longer courses. The Welshman has recorded personal best power numbers on a weekly basis and he has another weapon to unleash on Sunday – his Cannondale bike has been stripped back to weigh in at below 5kg.
“I’m lighter than ever, my numbers are better than ever and my bike’s lighter than ever. I’m pretty confident. I did a recce last Saturday and picked up a few really important things that could save me time,” the 34-year-old said.
2015 wins: 8
Kenway’s third-place in last year’s Nationals established himself in the leading group of hill climb specialists, after three years of promising local results. The 28-year-old has improved markedly this year and, tellingly, finished second to Dan Evans at the Huddersfield Star Wheelers event on Jackson Bridge a fortnight ago. A mechanical problem scuppered his chances of victory at the Monsal Hill-Climb.
“I’m one of the heaviest guys (69kg) so I’m hoping for a headwind because I’ll be able to cope best with it,” he said. “A podium is the minimum of what I want.” Kenway is coached by two-time winner Dan Fleeman, who coached Evans to victory last year.
2015 wins: 7
Clinton excels at tapering: starting the season late, struggling for form but hitting his best at the Nationals. To underestimate him is the work of naivety. Should the 2008 champion hit his peak performance on Sunday and secure a top-three finish, it will be his ninth successive podium place – a new record.
“I went 17 hill-climbs unbeaten in 2008 and 2009,” Clinton said. “But though it’s nice to do well in other events, the focus is all on the Nationals. The win is what I want and I know I am capable.”
2015 wins: 1
Clark has been on the periphery of clutch of best climbers for the past 12 months and he has beaten former champion Matt Clinton and friend Adam Kenway on a number of occasions in the past month, including the latter at the Monsal Hill-Climb.
“I didn’t think I was good on short climbs but then I won Monsal,” the 23-year-old said. “I’ve improved since last year but so have others. It’s a good course but I wish the steep section was at the end.”
2015 wins: 5
Tejvan Pettinger, Sri Chinmoy. Start time: 2:24pm
Very few can claim to be as passionate about negating gradients as Pettinger, whose website cyclinguphill.com is an encyclopaedic of hill-climb facts. The regular meditator climbed 140,000m from January to September and the benefits of that have been clear in his autumn results, where he has frequently swapped the top-two spots with Dan Evans.
The 2013 winner said: “Jackson Bridge is a classic. It’s a fair hill for the Nationals with 150m of climbing. There’s no perfect hill but I prefer the longer ones. Nonetheless I’ve adapted my training and a podium would be a very good result.”
The surprise winner of the National 10-mile time-trial would achieve a first if he was to surpass his own expectations and win on Sunday: since the 10’s first edition in 1994, no one has gone onto win the Hill-Climb Championships in the same year. The postman won the Catford CC climb earlier this month and came second at the Bec CC sequel.
“I was training for the 10 by doing three-minute efforts and that’s stood me in good stead for hill-climbs,” the 26-year-old said. “I’ve lost five to six kilograms since the 10 and hope to lose another kilo to weigh 70kg on Sunday. If everything goes right on the day, I could sneak into the top three.”
2015 wins: 2
Ones to watch:
Five-time champion Jim Henderson (Southport CC. Start time: 2:04pm) is back racing hill-climbs this year and he is a shoo-in to win the veteran’s category, and capable of a top-five overall. Lee Baldwin (Champion System/VCUK. Start time: 2:18pm) beat Dan Evans to win on the Rake earlier this month, and James Lowden (Neon Velo. Start time: 2:16pm) won a similar-length climb at the Bec. Edmund Bradbury (NFTO. Start time: 2:14pm) came sixth in last year’s Nationals and many of the aforementioned have tipped him as an outside bet for a podium spot.
The 2013 and 2014 champion can count six wins to her name in the last few weeks and goes into the Championships as the favourite. The London-based rider, however, has seen a seismic shift in the discipline’s interest from women, both in terms of participating and bike adjustments. A treble crown is not guaranteed.
“I’ll need a good day to win because it will be closer than last year,” she said. “I can’t overcook or undercook the steep section at the bottom. The hill is technical so it will force people to play tactically rather than just slog up a wall.”
2015 wins: 6
Second last year, Bates has been in equally strong form going into Sunday, notably being the fastest woman at the Monsal Hill-Climb. A time of 5-29 at Jackson Bridge two weeks ago set the standard for her to better, but she is mindful of the fact that there is an array of riders who, like her, are desperate to take top spot.
“I’ll perform as well as I can do but because of the strength of the field that could mean I finish first or tenth,” she said. “There are lots of girls who could win it. I’ve been to the hill a few times and I know it fairly well. I’ve got to finish knowing I couldn’t do anymore.”
2015 wins: 4
Lynn Hamel, Trainsharp RT. Start time: 1:26pm
Hamel was the undisputed climbing champion between 2008 and 2012, winning four of the five editions. Her crown now belongs to Sennema but if she can master her approach to Jackson Bridge, a fifth title is not against the realms of possibility.
Hamel commented: “I know the hill well but it’s quite hard and it’s not the most straight forward climb. It’s a road racer’s hill because it’s so up and down and not just going up a wall. It’s a difficult hill to get right but I’ll be in the mix.”
2015 wins: 0
Ones to watch:
Hayley Simmonds (Velosport. Start time: 1:24pm) has opted to end her sensational season at Jackson Bridge, and the course’s profile, coupled with her form, could see her claim a podium spot. Gaby Leveridge (Velosure Starley Primal Pro Cycling. Start time: 1:27pm) came second to Sennema at the Bec CC Hill-Climb and Claire Munton (Malteni RT. Start time: 1:29pm) won at the Rake. Becky Lewis (Fibrax-Wrexham RC. Start time: 1:18pm) targeted a podium at the Championships at the season’s outset and finished 5.2 seconds ahead of Lou Bates on a similar length course a fortnight ago.