National Hill Climb Championship 2003

Sunday 26th October

Promoted by Halifax Racing Club on Halifax Lane, Luddenden, West Yorkshire

At long last! After a few years of tame hills that your granny would have no problems with, the Yorkshire District showed us what a proper hill looked like with this monster of a climb. Halifax Lane
Halifax Lane had only been raced on once before, as the second stage of the Halifax Racing Team double bill the previous year. Those of us who were lucky enough to have tried it then were under no illusions as to how tough the championship would be. The only consolation was the knowledge that the other course, Stocks Lane, was even steeper!
Jim at the second hairpin With an average gradient of 12.0%, Halifax Lane was the steepest national hill climb I had ridden. It was steep right from the start, climbing out of Luddenden village at 16% for the first 300 metres. After a short section where the gradient eased, the riders made a left turn into Birch Lane. This was the start of a kilometre at 12% with two hairpin bends that touched 20% just after half distance. The finishing straight was in contrast to the twists and turns of the rest of the course - an agonising, straight couple of hundred metres of false flat.
Unquestionably a hill to be ridden with a fixed wheel, my task before the event was to put together the lightest bike I could get my hands on. Pete Matthews had come up with the goods in 2002, and this year he really rose to the challenge and came up with the remarkable Antigra. Apart from the aluminium frame, almost anything that could be made from carbon fibre was used - cranks, handlebars, seatpin and saddle. Pete's speciality is wheel-building, and for this bike he made another pair of the wheels he had made for Michael Hutchinson's hour record attempt in the summer. These were a perfect compromise between light weight but incredible stiffness, especially when paired with featherweight Tufo tubeless tyres.
I had been up the climb perhaps a dozen times before the championship, visiting on three separate occasions, to work out how to ride it and what size of gear I would need. I had to borrow a 21 sprocket to get a gear low enough, 42x21, and decided I would have to ride quite hard all the way up the hill. The gradient only really eased in the last quarter of the course so if I went easy lower down I ran the risk of losing time that I would not be able to get back near the finish where everyone was going faster. My training was my usual blend of interval training in the week and hill climbs at weekends, although there were more late-season road races than in the last few years so the national championship was only my seventh hill climb of the year.
National Hill Climb Course 2003 - Halifax Lane The day of the championship started cold and damp, and people off in the first half of the field had a slippery road to contend with. Things had warmed up by the time I was warming up near the start, which is where I was when I heard from the race commentary that David Clarke had a new course record to take the lead. David had finished in second place behind me in almost every hill climb I had ridden in 2003 so his time gave me a good idea of what I would have to do. Winning the championship suddenly looked like a realistic goal, as my time from the year before in my second ride of the day was only seven seconds slower than David's time. The crowd was good, and enjoyed panoramic views down the course, particularly near the hairpins on Birch Lane.
When I started my ride I was sure to get going quickly so I could keep my gear turning up the first steep 300 metres. I had been expecting it to feel easier leading up to the turn into Birch Lane but all it meant was that I was able to sit in the saddle for a few seconds. My gear felt very heavy in the middle of the course and it wasn't until that long finishing straight that I felt I was getting any speed up at all. The whole thing seemed like a long hard slog - I felt that I ought to be going faster than I was, but I couldn't even focus my eyes by the finish so I definitely couldn't have put any more into my ride.
I lay down against a car at the side of the road to recover, which made a good picture in Cycling Weekly, but I didn't have long to wait for defending champion Mark Lovatt to cross the line, just ahead of David Clarke but I was astonished to learn he was a full 19 seconds slower than me. Pete Matthews had come to cheer me on and check that his wheels and bike were OK and he came running up the hill hugging people and saying, "he's won it on my toy!" even before Mark had finished!
After my mediocre ride the year before, victory was especially sweet, a feeling that was heightened by having the prize presentation in the splendid surroundings of the Mount Tabor Methodist Chapel. The only disappointment was that the team challenge proved too much for us. Rob English once more gave his all - he was given oxygen in the ambulance at the finish - and finished 15th. We had strengthened the squad with the addition of hill climb specialist Chris Myhill, bronze medallist in 2001, but Matt Sewell could not be convinced to enter after a long road season so we had no margin for error. A knee injury had played havoc with Chris's season and in the circumstances 32nd on the day was a good ride, but it meant that we were no match for the impressively consistent trio of Arctic Shorter RT. Credit is due to our fourth team member, Junior rider Sean Dean, who was one of the very first starters and got up the hill in a very respectable 9-24. Perhaps our best team performance came from somebody who wasn't even riding - I was lucky to have Colin Baldwin acting as my personal soigneur. From following me on the drive to Luddenden carrying the things I couldn't get into my car to giving me a massage in the car park and carrying my bike to the start line, Colin played a vital role by ensuring that I stayed completely calm and focused at all times.

The 2003 top ten

Pos. No. Name Team Halfway Finish
1 140 Jim Henderson Southport C.C. 3-12.8 5-19.2
2 145 Mark Lovatt Life Repair C.R.T. 3-26.7 5-38.2
3 75 David Clarke Team Endurasport 3-18.3 5-38.9
4 90 Dave Coulson J.E. James R.T. 3-21.8 5-39.7
5 130 Ian Stott Blackburn & District C.T.C. 3-24.9 5-41.9
6 141 Danny Axford Oxford University C.C. 3-30.1 5-44.6
7 131 James Dobbin Arctic Shorter R.T. 3-30.3 5-46.6
8 65 Tim Bayley Arctic Shorter R.T. 3-36.7 5-48.1
9 55 Ben Greenwood Life Repair C.R.T. 3-29.8 5-50.1
10 121 Adrian Bird Arctic Shorter R.T. 3-35.5 5-55.4
Team: Arctic Shorter R.T. 17-30.1; James Dobbin, Tim Bayley, Adrian Bird
Course: START in Luddenden village on unclassified road Halifax Lane opposite lamp-post No. 1. Proceed to junction of Birch Lane, turn left and proceed up Birch Lane, which runs into Raw End Road, to FINISH at telegraph pole No. 2.
Length 1777 yards
Height gain 196 metres
Winner average power 449 W

Halifax Lane Course Profile

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