And so an era ended last Sunday. This time last year I entered the West Lothian Clarion Hill Climb competition. I really entered on a last minute whim, because a) I wanted to give support to the local cycling club who had the nous to close off a road for an event and b) because I fancy myself as a bit of a hill climber. To put things into perspective, I love climbing hills, I can outride a lot of men and women up a long climb but I have never been good at short bursts. At school I was always last or second to last in sprints. In fact I was always last or second to last in most athletic events. Don’t get me wrong, I was a half decent cross country runner, tennis player and could out walk most people on a long day’s hike, I am just not a born sprinter.
So imagine my delight when I won the women’s prize last year. This really was a novelty to me. Most events I enter I look for my result by immediately going to last place and working my way back up. I was the only woman entered but that didn’t really matter to me. I was the women’s champion for a year and, as it was the inaugural event, I was also the women’s record holder too. Since then I joined West Lothian Clarion and have taken on the role of Treasurer. With some of the other girls in the club I have also been involved in promoting women’s cycling. Another mad cap idea was to offer up a bottle of champagne and write an invitation out to the local clubs. This went out with combined email to the cycling clubs in the region. It must have worked because we had 11 women entered, including two youth riders.
10:17 on Sunday 17 October I rolled up to the start line. Clipped in, gears at the ready, I am held in place by the pusher offer and the countdown begins. 10, 9, 8, 7 (nerves start now) 6, 5, 4, 3! (realise I am still holding on to the brakes – such a novice!) 2! 1! GO! Steve lets go as I sprint to the start of the climb. The gradient steadily increases while I click the gears down and drop into the granny ring for the first steep section. When I hit the bottom I am already breathing hard and can feel the lactic acid building. S*@t I think, I haven’t left enough to get up this bit. I’m going to come off. Banishing the demons I put all my effort into getting up this bit as I know the gradient eases over the brow. My sight goes blurry and my calf muscles are screaming. People are shouting my name so I have to keep hammering away – partly because their cheers give me a boost, partly because I don’t have anonymity like last year, and partly because I am wearing team colours this year and can’t let the side down.
The gradient eases so I try to get my breathing a bit under control, as the next steep section is coming up. I see Mark and hear him shouting at me. Allez! Allez!. I get out of the saddle, too painful, can’t breath – I WANT TO GET OFF!!!! Back down on to the seat. I know this is the crux and I have to give it all I have got. Digging deeper I get back out and change up a gear. My legs and lungs are screaming – NO MORE! But I change up another gear and focus on getting up the last steep bit. Finally over the brow I change back into the middle cog and push as hard as I can to the finish line. I hear the piper, can see the chequered flag. A few more seconds of pain and I know it will be over. At last the finish line. Unclip, see grass, collapse, can’t breathe, can’t get up. I know I have given my best, but I also know that I was almost caught at the end. And so my reign as Women’s champion is over.
I had succeeded in attracting a good field into the women’s competition. So much so I bought about my own downfall. Not even a podium finish this year. 7th fastest woman but I did knock off 10 seconds off last year’s time. Another 10 seconds and I would have equalled third place, 5 seconds quicker and I could have got fourth. So I guess that consigns me obsessing about knocking seconds off my time next year.