In 1997 the championship was held in the Central District, which covers much
of the Peak District so is spoilt for choice of good courses. The last time the
national was in the area was 1986 when Matlock Cycling Club ran it on the Riber course
on the outskirts of Matlock and Darryl Webster won his fourth title. This time Matlock
CC was again the organising club, but the venue was a few miles up the A6 at Rowsley.
Rowsley Bar was an established hill climb course, but at only three
minutes long was not reckoned hard enough for a national championship. It was
therefore doubled in length by continuing on up the hill beyond the usual finish line,
which became the half-way time check. The new course started quite steadily, then went
into some woods and around a couple of vicious hairpin bends, rumoured to be 1:4 at the
apex. The half-way point marked the end of the hardest section and was followed by a
long section of false flat, before a tricky sting in the tail where the road kicked up
again for the final 400 metres or so. All was on a minor road which was closed to
The day of the race dawned cold and misty. Sitting in the village hall at
the bottom of the climb I couldn't see up the hill, but I could hear the cheering from
the large crowd that had already gathered around the hairpins. Defending champion
Stuart Dangerfield had returned for more, and while the previous year's silver
medallist Steve Hulme did not return, the 1994 champion Jeff Wright was back after a
year's absence. I began to wonder whether riding the British Universities hill climb
championship the previous afternoon at nearby Curbar was a good idea. I had tried to
ride conservatively but was keen to win so it was inevitable that my legs weren't
completely fresh the following morning.
This was all forgotten once I had had a decent warm-up under an umbrella on a
turbo trainer near the start under an umbrella. After a steady start, the crowd around
the hairpins was good and encouraged me to dig quite deep. I was very pleased that my
acceleration out of each bend drew a gasp from the spectators but immediately afterwards
I had to back off a little. I found the flatter section surprisingly difficult - I had
left some stumpy little drops on my handlebars (normally I would use a pair sawn-off at
the brake levers to save weight) so I could get into a tuck position but it didn't feel
nearly fast enough to warrant changing position. I tried to make a final big push for
the line from 400 metres out but just like the year before I went too early and
struggled a bit over the last hundred. Just like most hill climbs, the end couldn't
come soon enough!
I couldn't face a ten-minute wait to see Jeff Wright and Stuart Dangerfield
finishing so I went for a quick spin up the lane after the finish. I got back just as
Stuart was finishing, and someone who really should have known better (he was an RTTC
timekeeper, although not in this event) told me I had won. I didn't really believe I
could have done, and so the official times proved a minute or so later with
confirmation of my silver medal. I was very happy with this result as I had cut my
deficit on Stuart to only six and a half seconds and had put three seconds into Jeff.
It was very encouraging that I had been fastest to half-way and I was clearly still
improving. This championship gave me a lot to think about and I decided that with a
little more specific training and a lighter bike there was no reason why I couldn't be
the next national hill climb champion.
I was ready for a break after another long season, again pleased with my
progress. In road races I had ridden several Premier Calendar races including the
Tour of Lancashire stage race and the 120-mile Tour of the Cotswolds. I had
represented British Universities and my division, and ridden as a guest rider in a
French stage race with John Herety's Adidas team, whilst I had my first win on the
road on a hot day in May in the Tour of the Chilterns. As well as the hill climb I
won the British Universities 50- and 100-mile time trial championships (the 50 with
a 1-47) and was on the winning team in the 50km 4-up team time trial. Actually I
didn't have much of a break because I went on to ride the student track
championships at Manchester in November but by then my head wasn't really in it.
Looking back the extra training probably helped my form for 1998 but when the
off-season finally came, I was very ready for it!