The Little Sweetpea Gardens/BBR Opticians Hill Climb Series got off to a flying start on Willomoor Bank despite course record holder Jonny Morris missing out on equalling his own course by 2.56 seconds but taking a familiar winning spot as the season for the shortest but toughest discipline got underway with Wrekinsport CC’s promotion. A still evening saw a fine field of 33 riders tackle the 15% ramp, capable of turning legs to jelly under the watchful eye of boisterous supporters, with Morris taking a clear win by 7.2 seconds to post a great ride of 3 minutes, 27.04 seconds, 0.95 seconds faster than his winning time the previous year. Morris was pleased with his climb, stating: “The Wrekin is always a great way to start the hill climb season. I've learnt how to wrestle my bike over the last ramp, and the tactic seems to work for me! It was great to see both new and old faces enjoying turning themselves inside out! As ever, thanks to all the volunteers”.
Kirk Vickers reigned as Shropshire Hill Climb Champion between 2016 and 2018 and appears to have that title firmly in his sights again as he took the maximum 20 points on offer to affiliated riders to take County honours and Overall runner-up spot with 3:34.24. Visibly straining for the finish line, always a task on the almost flat final 100 metres after the effort of wrangling the body up the most fearsome part of the climb, Vickers’ comments showed the pain of the full out effort required, and echoed Morris’ sentiments about new faces having a go: “My first hill climb, a shock to the system! I paced it well and had a good finish up the steep bit. A good turn out and great to see new riders taking on hill climbs”.
Tomos Hales retained Wrekinsport club hill climb championship, but the improvement in his form was clear to see over 2020 as he elevated himself into third spot overall after slicing 11.3 seconds off last year with a fine effort of 3:47.84. Hales has been on great form on flatter territory this season but showed that he can mix it uphill too. He stated: “I was very happy with my time and to finish just behind such high calibre riders was a confidence boost. I tend to do well on the steep bit of the climb, and do like the Wrekinsport hill climb course. It was made even better by the support on the steep corner - thanks for Wrekinsport for organising and the precise time keeping, it was a lung buster”.
One welcome trend was the presence of six women amongst the field – with the familiar name of multiple Women’s course record holder Rebecca Richardson, a ferociously talented climber with ‘Welsh Hill Climb Champion’ in her palmarès taking the win. Richardson has a soft spot for the Series having begun her glittering hill climb career in 2016 in a County event and showed a clean set of heels to many with a 9th place Overall finish in 4:07.70. She stated: “I was delighted with the win, a difficult climb to pace and I saved it for the last steep ramp! A brilliant turn-out and great to see so many women competing - thank you Wrekinsport CC for organising”.
Taking maximum points amongst the County women was Market Drayton CC’s Alison Dockney, one of the new faces to hill climbing – and on the evidence here she appears to have taken the discipline in her stride. Dockney stopped the watch on 4:43.74 and clearly enjoyed the support from the roadside: “A lovely evening for it, and the atmosphere was amazing, no chance of easing off with all the support on the final ramp. It hurt a lot! Great rides all round; I was really inspired - thanks Wrekinsport”!
In a discipline where weight saving is all Juniors have a natural advantage, with a close battle for Overall honours. Llangollen-based Louis Lermite made the journey worthwhile with a win in 3:49.70, taking 4th spot Overall in the process, He stated: “I really enjoyed the event, it was a fun course with that steep rise at the end. Pacing was hard, and I went too hard at the beginning then just tried to hold on to the end - thanks to all the organisers”. Lermite’s comments show the trouble judging this climb, with the gradient changing frequently making getting into a rhythm tricky. This was echoed in the post-race comments of County Junior winner Jack Young, with the Oswestry Paragon rider taking a strong 5th Overall in 3:53.45. He commented: “It’s quite a nice climb; I liked the steep bit at the end! It’s quite undulating at the start which was quite hard to pace, but it wasn’t too bad”.