National Hill Climb Championship 2002

Sunday 17th November

Promoted by Weaver Valley Cycling Club on the Cat and Fiddle, Cheshire

Jim crossing the line Did I say that the 2001 championship was an unusual course? For 2002 the national hill climb broke the mould completely on the Cat and Fiddle. At 6.2 miles long the course was more than twice as long as any previous National Hill Climb.
The course was controversial, mainly because of the gradient - at 3.2% it was shallower than the railway bridge outside my house - but also because a report was published naming the A537 as England's most dangerous road (due to its popularity with motorcyclists). It looked a popular choice with the riders, as more than 200 entered the event.
Speculation before the day focused on four riders: could I win an unprecedented fifth successive title; could Stuart Dangerfield equal Granville Sydney's six wins; would the rolling course suit local elite roadman Mark Lovatt; and how would Michael Hutchinson, top time-triallist but self-confessed poor climber fare?
The date was set for October 27th but there had been high winds and heavy rain overnight. Although the rain had stopped by the time everyone arrived for the championship, a gale was blowing at the top of the course. In the first mile the course went through woods and the road there was a carpet of fallen branches, and further up a dip in the road was completely filled with water. First the course was cut in length to 3 miles, missing off the more exposed top half, then the start was delayed by an hour and finally when there was still no improvement in conditions it was abandoned altogether. Apparently there was concern that the lighter riders would get blown off the road! One rider did make it to the top, but when he turned round to ride back down the headwind was so strong that he had to get a lift in a car.
The course started on the outskirts of Macclesfield and climbed fairly steadily for three miles (average gradient 4.8%), sheltered by houses and woods for the first mile or so then up onto exposed moorland. The third quarter of the course had a descent of a couple of hundred metres length and lots of tight bends and on average barely climbed at all. The final quarter climbed very steadily up to the finish at 3.5%.
The many changes in gradient meant that a geared bike would be necessary. Pete Matthews lent me his own racing bike, a Pianni with Dedacciai U2 tubing and a Record 10-speed groupset which tipped the scales at a meagre 15lb. Although the speeds were going to be high in places, especially the downhill section, I thought the extra weight of tri-bars would lose more time than their aerodynamic position would gain.
National Hill Climb Course 2002 - The Cat and Fiddle My form for the championship comes from a very intense programme of hill climbs and interval training during the month of October. This gets me into peak condition for the end of the month but it proved very difficult to keep the momentum going for another three weeks. Being the end of the season there were no more races to enter for training, and having a cold for a week didn't help much either. By then the clocks had gone back for the winter, so had to make do by taking a few days off work to train in the light and riding the evening track league at Manchester velodrome.
The day of the rescheduled championship was cool and grey, with a only slight headwind on the top half of the course. All of the contenders returned, with the exception of Stuart Dangerfield, who had already booked a flight to Australia for his winter training. The atmosphere was unusual for a national hill climb. There were long stretches with no spectators at all, and only what you could call a crowd for the final quarter of a mile.
I was preoccupied with things that weren't important and lost plenty of valuable time before the race driving up the course (I knew it perfectly well already) and setting up my turbo trainer near the start (I lost the advantage of this by riding back to the race headquarters to compare times with the early starters), when I should have just got on with warming up. when my time came I rode at what I thought was a steady but consistently hard pace. A time check after a mile said I was up on Ian Stott, which maybe made me a little complacent, as I was surprised that my next split (at four miles) had me 45 seconds behind Mark Lovatt. I managed to lift my pace quite nicely for the last half mile but it was too little, too late.
No amount of plotting profiles of the course or familiarising myself with its twists, turns and changes in gradient could change the fact that the course did not suit me. The gentle gradient nothing like enough for my high power-to-weight ratio to give me much advantage over larger but more powerful riders. Even the distance was a problem - at around 20 minutes long it called for the ability to ride at a very high intensity for much longer than I was accustomed to.
I was devastated when I heard the result. I had always known that I might not win, but it hadn't crossed my mind that I might not even be in the medals. I had a long and lonely ride back to the race headquarters, but it gave me time to reflect that having lost by such a big margin there was no point giving myself a hard time about what might have been. Tri-bars and better preparation might have given me bronze or maybe even silver but Mark Lovatt had done an amazing ride and nothing on earth could have made me win this championship on this course.
I stayed for the presentation because I thought it was important to remember that life goes on. It was horrible watching everyone on the podium being applauded but it made me think about how much the championship meant to me. Nobody has a right to a medal, and if I was to try and win the title back the following year, I was going to have to work very hard for it and take nothing for granted.

The 2002 top ten

Pos. No. Name Team Halfway Finish
1 70 Mark Lovatt Compensation Group R.T. 10-13 19-33.6
2 96 Michael Hutchinson Team M.D.T. - Giant 11-13 20-38.8
3 105 Ian Stott Blackburn & District C.T.C. 11-03 20-58.5
4 120 Jim Henderson Southport C.C. 10-53 20-59.9
5 106 Tim Bayley Timetrial.co.uk R.T. 11-12 21-05.5
6 117 Peter Greenwood Clayton Velo 11-15 21-08.0
7 71 Mark Arnold APIbikes.com 10-58 21-09.1
8 101 Carl Helliwell Blackburn & District C.T.C. 11-11 21-10.8
9 85 Steve Feeney Leigh Premier R.C. 11-11 21-12.6
10 75 Rob English Southport C.C. 11-01 21-15.6
Team: Blackburn & District C.T.C. 12-02.3; Ian Stott, Carl Helliwell, Dave Collinge (21-45.0)
Course: START on the A537 (Buxton Road) at lamppost number 30, approximately 50 yards after Cottage Lane. Proceed along A537 to finish at the Cat and Fiddle Pub.
Length 10.35 kilometres
Height gain 335 metres
Winner average power 390 W

Cat and Fiddle Course Profile

Return to Hill Climbs page