Defending champ wins back-to-back
Southend Wheelers hill climb titles
Autumn marks the briefest of seasons in the British cycling calendar, hill climbing. Throughout the UK, local clubs scour the landscape for the most brutalising inclines and then invite others to pedal up them.
Often the course is so short that each individual effort takes no more than a handful of minutes, but the pain from the lung-bursting effort lasts far longer…
North Hill in Danbury has long been Southend Wheelers’ favoured location for its annual hill climb championship. The course is just 0.7 kilometres long, but rises up 82 metres with an average gradient of 11.7%.
With the remnants of storm Brian adding to the challenge, Carole Cartwright gamely got the event underway. Sadly her challenge was over almost as soon as it had begun as her bike suffered a mechanical problem forcing her to retire immediately.
Martin Harris grimly powered up the hill to set the best time of 2 minutes 47 seconds, pipping fellow Veteran class competitor Andy Merchant by thirteen seconds. Moments later, the laboured breathing of John Gretton could be heard before the man himself could be seen. Despite sounding like a rutting badger, his pace was certainly effective and he topped the time sheet with 2.22.
With times ranging between three and four minutes to beat in the Women’s category, Paglesham teenager Katie-Ann Elliston looked like the one to beat. However, rather than use a ‘normal’ road bike, the talented track rider opted for a fixed gear machine. The tactic worked as Katie-Ann ground the pedals round with grim determination and set a time that put several of her male counterparts in the shade. Her time of 2.19 emphatically crowned Elliston as the female champion.
Meanwhile, defending champion Ben Willy was still inside Danbury Village Hall warming up, while his rivals shivered at the bottom of North Hill, waiting to start.
Asked what his game plan was beforehand, Dan Pugh replied with a big smile, “I’m going to smash it!” He was good to his word and grimaced as he crossed the finishing line, having laid everything out on the road to set a time of 1.55. As Pugh slumped over his bike’s handlebars gasping for breath, newcomer Matt Jones posted an astonishing 1.51.
With his young family and fellow club mates lining the pavements to cheer him on, Westcliff’s Willy put on an impressive display as he turned a big gear over right from the start. He stayed in the big ring all the way and it was Ben’s powerful effort of 1.48 that put him on the top step of the podium.
Joking afterwards with Pugh and Jones, Willy patted one of his thighs and said: “It’s all well and good being skinny and lightweight, but on a course like this you need power!”