Right now I shouldn’t be writing this, sitting here with the sun streaming through the windows. A beautiful early autumn morning. Where I should be, naturally, is on my bike, waiting at the bottom of a hill ready for my start time. “10 seconds… and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
The hill climb season traditionally comes tagged onto the end of the main racing season, just as the mornings get cooler and leaves start falling onto the country roads and lanes that we ride on. For anyone who began their season many months ago when spring was still struggling to emerge from the shadow of winter, holding any sort of form so late in the year is a struggle. It requires planning, probably some period of rest taken mid-season. It means avoiding injuries and crashes – which is no mean feat when a season is peppered with dozens of near-misses.
And even then, if you’ve ridden your luck all this way, planned the best you can, a tiny hitch can derail you at the very last minute. Today was to be my last race of the season, and yet my luck ran short a week too soon. It started last Sunday with that familiar soreness in the throat, a little forewarning of what’s to come. But it’s just a cold, and I have a week to get rid of it. But as the days tick down so does my once robust immune system; Tuesday I go to bed early expecting ten hours sleep will be enough to get a grip on things. Wednesday I struggle through work, shivering at my desk, coughing into tissues. By Thursday I’m coughing up phlegm, my airways feel raw.
I admit defeat. Or at least most of me does. There’s a continual niggle that makes me think I could still give it a go, that a four minute effort racing up a hill is still possible. Admittedly these are usually in the moments between coughing or blowing my nose.
But still, coming to terms with missing out on my season’s finale is hard. I’d eked out my form just long enough, done the specific training sessions to prepare me for such a short intense effort. But now instead of being out there pursuing one last taste of glory (or at least some cheers of encouragement as I labour up Leith Hill, then the taste of a well earned cup of tea and slice of cake in the village hall afterwards) I’m contemplating dismantling my race bike ready for storage over winter.
Having had such an enjoyable season it’s a shame it’s fizzled out in such unspectacular fashion. It feels as if the full circle of the year hasn’t quite joined up, that the end of this won’t join up with the start of the next. But like most things in cycling and racing, there’s always something new around the corner, and Leith Hill will still be there next year.