An autumn of hill-climbing comes to a climax this weekend, with the National Championships taking place on Bank Road, in Matlock.
240 riders will take to the startline in the centre of the Derbyshire town, with the first rider – Ewan Mackie – off at 12pm, and reigning men’s champion Richard Bussell beginning the defence of his title at 2.30pm.
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Riders have taken exception to the startlist’s timings and groupings (see Oct 27 edition of Cycling Weekly magazine) and one of the favourites Adam Kenway was hit by a car last weekend, causing the build-up to the final time trial championships of the year to be somewhat overshadowed.
But that will all be forgotten when racing gets underway on the AHC/6 course, that is 0.6 miles in length and averages 11 per cent in gradient.
Joe Clark, EnvelopeMaster. Start time: 2.10pm
Third at last year’s Nationals, Clark has been in superb form this autumn. Better suited to the shorter climbs that require explosive power, Bank Road is tailor made for him, even if he has tried to play down his chances.
The Belper-based rider, 24, lives only a few miles from Matlock and has the advantage of being able to ride the climb on his usual training rides. He has five wins to his name this season, including taking victory on the Rake which coincided with Paddy Power eventually reducing his odds from 16/1; he has since been named as the favourite by his rivals and the bookmakers.
He was beaten to victory on the Monsal Head climb by 0.2 seconds from his friend Adam Kenway, but took victories on Riber and a shortened version of Bank Road last Sunday.
“Bank Road doesn’t really suit myself: I prefer courses that change in gradient whereas Bank Road has a consistent gradient,” Clark says. “It’s good for the time-trialists, not the roadies like me. I think a time of 2.15 will win it.”
2016 wins: 5
Richard Bussell, AeroCoach. Start time: 2.3opm.
The reigning champion has followed a near-identical approach to the one he did in the build-up to last year’s Nationals when he shocked the field to take victory: that is, race a few hill-climbs only and don’t race against your rivals.
He has ridden five climbs this autumn but, crucially, has won three events, including Catford CC’s event. His victory on Jackson Bridge last October meant he became the first rider to win the National 10 and Hill-Climb Championships in the same year and he has already defended his 10 title.
“I’m feeling pretty good about my form,” he said. “A lot of the guys race a lot of hill-climbs and they’re probably naturally better climbs than I am. I have to work really hard to target a few races and then put everything into the Nationals. A sub-three minute climb I should be OK on.”
2016 wins: 3
Dan Evans, Cannondale-UK-Team Elite. Start time: 2.20pm
Only Adam Kenway can count more wins than Evans this year, with the Welshman having won seven hill-climbs. The 2014 champion has taken victories on Horseshoe Pass, Jackson Bridge, Stoke Hill and even set a new course record on Holme Moss.
Climbs between four and six minutes suit the Cannondale-UK rider better, but he is lighter than ever and it would be naive to count against him. A third successive podium place should be the least he achieves.
Evans said: “I feel really good. Joe’s going really well but I have as good a chance as anyone. When I look at my training, I’m riding climbs faster than I have ever done. I’m pretty confident.”
2016 wins: 7
Adam Kenway, Metaltek-Kouta. Start time: 1:31pm
Had Kenway not been in a collision with a car last Friday and spent the night in hospital, he would have been joint favourite and awarded five stars the same as Clark.
But even though he could take to the startline, it is doubtful he will be in the same condition that has seen him obliterate hill-climbs in the last two months.
He was won nine events, including Monsal Head, Cat and Fiddle and the short, steep ascent of Blackstone Edge.
The length and steepness of Bank Road suits his style, but he has guarded against his own chances: “I’m the lightest I have been since I was 12, I’m 66kg, and whatever happens, I am pleased with my results, especially Monsal.
“But I think it’s going to be between Dan, Richard and Joe. I don’t think I’ll be that much of a contender.”
2016 wins: 9
James Lowden, Team ASL360. Start time: 2.00pm.
Overlooked a little in the build-up to Sunday’s race, it is worth remembering that Lowden has won the Bec CC hill-climb the last two years, beating Richard Bussell this October.
He has been around the hill-climb scene without competing as much as others for the last four years, and raced to a surprise fourth place in 2015. Bank Road is the type of short climb that he excels on and a podium place is by no means out of question.
2015 wins: 1
Ones to watch:
Lee Baldwin (Champion System/VCUK; start time: 12.28pm; odds 18/1) is many people’s tip as an outsider. He has won two climbs this year and has podiumed in several others. 2008 national champion on Bank Road Matt Clinton (Mike Vaughan Cycles; start time: 1.40pm; odds 14/1) doesn’t believe he will replicate his win from eight years ago and his results thus far echo that, but few time trialists taper as well as he does so he could claim his ninth podium.
Reigning junior champion Kieran Savage (Team B38; start time 2:25pm; odds 25/1) has finished second on Holme Moss, Jackson Bridge and at the Otley two-stage race; he is rated as a future senior national champion, but this year might be too soon.
The short course will probably preclude Chris Dyke (Manchester BC; start time 1.35pm; no odds) from threatening, but he has enjoyed a stellar autumn, winning two races and coming second on Nelson Wheelers’ Annals Cross, a climb not too dissimilar in duration to Bank Road.
Elsewhere, Isaac Mundy (Oxford University CC; start time 12:32pm; odds 18/1) has form for short climbs, as does Kieran Wynne-Cattanach (Rhos-on-Sea CC; start time: 12.17:30pm; odds 40/1) who was second on the Riber.
The battle for the women’s title is just as, if not more, intriguing than the men’s race, with up to 10 riders having a realistic chance of taking the red, white and blue national stripes.
Lou Bates, Velo Schils Interbike RT, start time: 1.25pm.
The fastest female on Monsal Head and setting a new course record in the process, Bates’ attributes are perfectly attuned to the challenge thrown up by Bank Road.
Bates, who was third at the 2015 Nationals, has been in superb form on short climbs throughout the autumn, evidenced by her win at the Stocksbridge CC two-stage event, which included setting a new women’s course record on the 860-yard Pea Royd Lane. On paper, it is Bates’ race to lose on Sunday.
2016 wins: 3
Maryka Sennema, Paceline RT, start time: 1.30pm.
She’s the bookies favourite, the winner for the past three years and a champion of women’s hill-climbs. Never discount Maryka Sennema.
Sennema won the lengthy Porlock hill-climb and also the short Catford CC event, showcasing her ability to perform on a variety of climbs. She was fourth on Bank Road last weekend but took victory on the Riber.
“I’m feeling good,” she said. “I think there’ll be a handful of people who will be up there, a handful there to beat or to lose to. It’s a longer climb [than last Sunday’s] so that works in my favour.”
2016 wins: 3
Jocelyn Lowden, Lewes Wanderers CC, start time: 1.21pm.
The winner of the Bec CC race and East Sussex’s hill-climb on Butts Lane, Lowden’s two victories this autumn have both been on climbs that are uncanny similar to Bank Road, making her one of the favourites for the Nationals.
2016 wins: 2
Ones to watch:
Fiona Burnie (Bishop Auckland CC; start time: 1:19.30pm; no odds) was the fastest woman up Bank Road last weekend, more than three seconds ahead of nearest challenger Joanne Clay (TORQ Performance). Becky Lewis (Wrexham RC; start time 13:23.30pm; 9/1 odds) was fourth in last year’s Nationals and has similar form this season, winning on Ripponden and Dover’s Hill, but Bank Road might just be too short for her.
Emilie Verroken (Langsett Cycles RT; 1:22.30pm; 33/1 odds) was the 15th quickest woman in the Nationals last year but she has improved enormously this autumn, finishing second on Monsal, third on Bank Road and being the first woman on Tickhill Velo’s hill-climb on Bib Lane.