“I first did the Catford CC Hill Climb last year, and finished 18th with a time of 2.14.7. I didn’t think I had a hope of getting close to that this year. As September came round, I was feeling sluggish, and a few pounds heavier. I had to prove to myself that I could still get up hills quickly. So I did some training. Just going to the Surrey Hills, and finding every steep climb I could to go up and down. Then up again.
Even on the day I was thinking I’d be 10 seconds slower, and worried it could even be worse. I might set off too slow, or too fast, not get into my stride. There’s so little time for everything to go right, any small mistake could be critical. But then I found myself at the start line, being counted down from five… and I was off.
The climb itself starts relatively shallow but pitches up after about 40 seconds to the first 25% section. Here it became apparent that my tyres had no traction at all, as they repeatedly slipped on the damp road surface as I pushed down on the pedals. Somehow I managed to maintain some forward motion, and the slope eased off slightly as I reached the first of the spectators shouting words of encouragement. And then suddenly everything exploded.
The slope ramped up to over 25%; the road narrowed and all I could see was a mass of bodies ahead, screaming for me to keep going. It was genuinely difficult to do so at the steepest section – at least with the gearing I was on – but the crowd drew out every last drop of my resolve. Then I was through them and past the finish line, gasping and slumped over my bike, barely able to stay upright.
I beat my time from last year. By 0.5 of a second, but who’s counting? The training, the anxious days before, even the time spent travelling out to Yorks Hill, all seemed at the time hard to justify for a race lasting just two minutes. But when you’ve done it, the elation and pride, and no small measure of relief, make it all indisputably worth it.” Ed Francis, Kingston Wheelers, 17th, 2mins 14.2secs
THE CATFORD CC
HILL CLIMB CLASSIC
Climb: Yorks Hill, Kent
Average Gradient: 12.5%
Max Gradient: 25%
Record: Phil Mason, 1min 47.6sec (1986)
2012 Winner: Robert Gough, 1min 54.8sec