Back to the hills

Back among the stick insects. Hill climb racing. Competitors so thin they almost disappear when viewed in profile. So sleek and minimal, it’s hard to believe a human is crammed inside. Widths and waists measured in millimetres in the pursuit of milliseconds.

Hill climb racing. An exercise in pain, in stupidity. Ride as hard as you can for a few minutes to reach the top of a short, sharp hill. Why, why is this a thing? There’s no thrill in hurting yourself. Pride perhaps, machismo, sadism. Yet here I am again. 

Bison Hill climb race

A significant birthday relegates me to veteran status. So old. I should be wearing slippers not cleats. Sat in the HQ car park watching others warm-up and listening to the hum of a dozen turbo trainers, a swarm of hummingbirds. I wonder how I ended up here again.

Surrounded by tinfoil bikes reduced to bare essentials. Light enough to deny gravity. Who needs brakes on a hill climb eh? Seat? Nah.

A moment of calm as I sip coffee and prepare for the ordeal ahead, coffee strong enough to power space rockets. Butterflies, stomach all a flutter as the start time nears. I wonder where the nearest defibrillator might be.

The start line is not here but one month earlier. Climbing back on the turbo trainer for vomit intervals. All out, never quite recovering, all out. And repeat, and repeat, and repeat. To exhaustion and beyond.

The initial shock of zone 5+ intervals kick started a year without aims or goals, a year of cycling for the fun of it. I’m free no longer. Yet the incarceration is redeeming. Legs stronger. Body 1kg lighter. Brain tougher.

I’m becoming a different creature. Calves tightening, cheeks hollowing. I decline beer, cake, defeat.

Hill climb race

The race

Time to warm up. I feel sluggish. Caught in the no man’s land of wanting to loosen the legs without burning precious energy. Timing the warm-up to arrive at the start line moments before the big G.O. Less time to cool down, to question my sanity. 10 seconds to go.


The not quite sprint start, hard but not all out, the faintest whisper of restraint. A three minute sprint. Blood vessels close to bursting. Heart cracking. And yet. Push on you must. Evil.

Legs dull with pain, spinning squares already. I quickly understand why others resort to car park warm ups on their turbos. Spinning at 95 rpm feels slow, I’m a drowsy slug, a trail of saliva in my wake.

Here comes the steep bit. Clattering through the gears. Heart in mouth, lungs burning. Two minutes to go. I’ve clearly overcooked the start, borrowing energy I can’t pay back.

Lovello Bison HIll Climb

The strange phenomenon of time slowing, heart racing. Every pedal stroke a colossal ask, physically and mentally. Must not quit. The gradient slackens but not the effort.

A small group of spectators cheer and holler. Hup, hup, hup. Almost there. Out of the saddle now, every muscle thrown into battle for the last stand. The finish line so far away, and only moving further away. One last push. Hup!


Legs on fire. Post race gasps. Climbers cough. Words few and far between. Chest burning. Sickness overwhelming. Everything left on the road. Including my lungs.

Pacing, never ability, is the hill climbers lament.

“I could have given it more”
“I went out too hard”

Not me. It was almost perfect but for a slightly quick start. I’m content. My time is a long way from the leaders but I’m the third placed veteran. Better yet I’m 3 seconds quicker than 2017 me. Encouraging.

I watch the young ‘uns dance up the hill. None seem to be suffering like I did. Not yet. They fly past me. I can but dream. Yet come next week I’ll be back on that turbo. Dreaming between the gasps.

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