25 climbs in 2 days - still on schedule!
63. The Rake, Ramsbottom
64. Nick O'Pendle, Sabden
65. Jubilee Tower, Quernmore
66. Trough Of Bowland, Forest Of Bowland
67. Cross Of Greet, Slaidburn
68. Langliffe Scar, Langliffe
69. Malham Cove, Malham
70. Park Rash, Kettlewell
71. Fleet Moss, Hawes
72. Buttertubs Pass, Swaledale
73. Oxnop Scar, Askrigg
74. Lamps Moss, Nateby
75. Tan Hill, Langthwaite
Update: Big day. Needing to keep the momentum going, 12 was the minimum target with 14 being an ambitious maximum, so 13 was a happy completed medium - especially with the long, grinding Tan Hill out of the way.
It was an early start with two climbs I'd ridden in previous National Hill Climb Championships so there were no surprises in store apart from the start of the rain which we'd been expecting the day before. Tired body and stiff legs meant it took a while to get going and it wasn't until Cross Of Greet that I felt I had any reasonable power in the legs. Not long after the start I spotted another rider up the road by about 3-400 meters and decided to try and reel them in or at least try and close the gap - more for the mental refresh than any great competitive streak re-emerging. I didn't quite make it but enjoyed the change of rhythm and didn't seem too affected after the finish.
That was a mistake.
Langliffe Scar and Malham Cove were damp and heavy legged and by the time we reached the village of Kettlewell I knew the 9/10 graded Park Rash was going to be a struggle. This was compounded by some confusion over the exact starting point and I had to ride an extra kilometre or two before I was absolutely certain we were at the right spot. Now that extra distance is no big deal but the uncertainty (albeit temporary) became a recurrent, stressful theme throughout many of the days and my already shaky morale was dented before I'd even started. Whatever Steve, 'just MTFU and get on with it' I could hear more than a few of my riders saying...
Anyway, Park Rash felt like a '15 rounder', the last 13 mins being a 3-way battle between me, the hill and the bike. I adopted the same 'count every pedal stroke' pace that had got me up Bwlch-Y-Groes in Wales, Porlock in Somerset and Bealach-Na-Ba in Scotland but this time the limiting factor was every muscle in my body had gone on strike - except for my heart which was happily cruising at 140-147 bpm, 30 below my maximum, such was the fatigue.
I slumped in the car and - other than the obvious forced stop on Day 4 - probably hit the lowest point of the challenge, seriously doubting my ability to get past the day anywhere near on schedule.
We decided to take a break and empty the contents of the cool box into my stomach. This, along with some self massage on elevated legs seemed to help physically and mentally and 45 mins later we set off again.
Reaching Hawes for the start of Fleet Moss, the heavens opened. After waiting 10 mins and seeing the nearby river flowing wildly, I decided to crack on. At which point, it got worse.
Fleet Moss is the highest road in Yorkshire and over the next 29 mins I battled through torrential rain, thunder and lightning, low cloud visibility (!) and 5345 metres of climbing. It was almost comic at one point - just me with Ian in the support car grinding our way through the elements. Not only that but with all the rushing water coming down the road it was a also miracle I didn't puncture!
Despite all that, I felt re-invigorated (that'll be the lightning, then) and we headed over to Buttertubs Pass. Buttertubs is a particularly exposed climb and with a driving side and head wind was technically as well physically hard. This was to be repeated across the remainder of the evening which finished on the aforementioned Tan Hill at the Tan Hill Inn - the highest pub in UK.
They had, however, stopped serving food for the night...
Trough Of Bowland