Southend Wheelers’ ace storms round Hainault Hilly course at speeds
exceeding 47 MPH
Twelve months ago, the ‘Beast of the East’ did little to slow Southend Wheelers’ Paul Hart as he raced to victory in one of the national time trial calendar’s earliest and most challenging fixtures, the Hainault Hilly. Last Sunday (3 March) he once again proved that he too is a force to be reckoned with.
As its name suggests, the rolling West Essex course traces its way around 28 miles (50KMs) of country lanes, often in fierce weather conditions and with a series of spiteful inclines for the competitors to overcome.
One year on and the competitors may have been greeted by slightly higher temperatures, but they also had to cope with the strong winds announcing the arrival of Storm Freya.
Hart – who won last year’s corresponding event with a record-breaking time of 1 hour, 6 minutes and 29 seconds – faced stern opposition. Not just from the weather conditions, but also a talented field that included Richardson’s Trek rider and former winner himself, Rhys Howells – who spent the last two seasons with Team Wiggins - plus retired professional road racer Russell Hampton, ex of Team Raleigh.
Howells was on blistering form, clocking 1:06:11 as he crossed the finishing line. However, his time in the ‘hot seat’ was somewhat short-lived as Hart combined his own strength with the power of the wind to break hearts and records with a new record of 1:05:25 at an average speed of 26.9 MPH.
One competitor later tweeted: “Paul came past me like an Exocet missile but faster…”
“That was character building!” Hart said after his latest record-breaking ride. “The heavy rain, strong winds and very dirty roads meant that you had to be both physically and mentally strong to ride well. There was a tailwind along the only main road section on the course. I hit over 47mph and was freewheeling.”
He added: “I’ve raced the Hainault Hilly for the past three years, but this edition was by far the hardest, because of the conditions. To ride (the course) well, you have to have the ability to recover quickly after hard efforts because its very undulating. You also need the confidence to know you can do that for over an hour, which also only comes from training.”
Asked if he felt under a burden of expectation as the reigning champion, Hart said: “I don’t feel pressure to be honest. Every race is an opportunity to achieve a goal, and I was excited that I had an opportunity to beat a very strong field of riders.”
Having opened his 2019 account in such dominant style the 39-year old company director hopes to build on his early form: “I’m very pleased to have improved my course record. The Hainault Hilly gives me a good gauge of how my winter training has gone. It’s also a nice little confidence booster as I now build towards the summer. Hopefully, that will lead to breaking more course records and fulfilling my potential at a National Championship. I’m also going to ride the British Championships in Norfolk in June, so that’s one of my key goals now.”
Southend Wheelers’ first major time trial of the 2019 season takes place on Monday 22nd April with the South Essex club’s annual Easter Egg Cup 10 on the E21 course at Steeple.
Photos courtesy of Davey Jones