An event record turnout got the newly renamed Little Sweetpea Gardens/BBR Opticians Hill Climb Series off to a flying start on a glorious evening; although one thing stayed the same in Wrekinsport CC’s Willomoor Bank climb – the winner. Fishface Cycles Jonny Morris just missed out on his own course record of 3:24.48 by just over three seconds thanks to a slight cross-wind that drifted across the lower part of the final ramp, heading up a quality field of 44 riders. Morris stopped the watch on 3 minutes, 27.99 seconds, roared on by a noisy, exuberant but socially distanced crowd lining the final bend, which offers an unequalled view of the race; and which gave the finish timekeeper big clues of when a rider was about to make an appearance from some distance away.
Morris was over six seconds clear of former professional Liam Holohan, who took the honours amongst the County riders and showed the strength of that winning effort, and enjoyed his evening out – although with an eye on some greatly improved youngsters, stating: “The Wrekin course is become a firm favourite of mine, and I have worked out a way of riding it that suits me. So pleased I have managed to keep my run going another year. Some of the youngsters have improved loads over the last two years, so we shall have to see what happens next year. Thanks as always to everyone that took the time to make the event happen”.
Holohan started the 2020 hill climb season exactly as he started the 2019 version – with the maximum 20 points available for affiliated riders with a great effort of 3:34.71, pushing out Wrexham-based Christopher Mann by nearly two seconds. Holohan’s wiry frame is made for climbing, but a stop-start season and busy personal life meant he was by no means confident: “I had no expectations coming in to the event, training has been sporadic to say the least - with two very young children, no child care and a business to run it’s been a case of squeezing in a ride when I can. I feel privileged just to be able to pin a number on this year. After I finished my ride I stood with the crowd to cheer on the rest of the competitors, it was a fantastic atmosphere and was great to be around so many other enthusiastic cyclists”.
County runner-up spot went to CC Bridgnorth’s Will Lewis, who threw himself across the line in 3:45.56 – and clearly pushed himself into the red zone with his effort to haul himself up the evil final ramp, which can catch out many riders if they have taken the approach a little over-zealously. He stated: “Thank you for another good mid week event, it made my lungs burn and some black stars appear in my eyes at the end! All in all it was good to get out and see people I haven’t seen for a while”.
Former Course Record holder Dan Watts acknowledged that he wasn’t at peak form, missing out on his 2018 effort, the last time he attempted the climb by 17 seconds. Despite this 3:49.77 is still a mightily respectable effort, with Watts commenting: “The first hill climb is always a shock to the system, but it’s always a pleasure to start the Wrekinsport hill climb as that’s where hill climbing started for me aged 17. It wasn’t my best ride up the climb, but the form is certainly enough to be carrying forward”.
A huge feature of this format is the sheer number of Juniors it attracts, with a teenager’s typical light weight being a huge advantage up inclines. Heading up eight youngsters was Halesowen A&CC’s Tomos Pattinson, who posted an excellent 3:45.69 for 6th spot Overall just fractions behind Lewis, and he was more than pleased with his attempt: “I really enjoyed the climb; there was fantastic support and a tremendous atmosphere. Thank you to all involved in the organisation”.
Taking the Junior honours for the County was Mid Shropshire Wheelers’ James Satoor, who took the maximum 20 points to head up the Junior Series and expressed satisfaction with his climb: “It was good to start the hill climb season at The Wrekin, it's a tough climb and the legs were a bit dead, but it’s good to be leading the Junior Series. Thanks to Wrekinsport for putting on a well organised event”!
With a number of photographers taking the opportunity to capture action shots on the climb Morris’ partner Hannah Pearson made it a happy journey home after recovering from the pain fest by taking the Women’s victory in 4:55.49 – although she knew all about it for a while. Her comments capture the reactions of many who start off strongly and suffer for it: “I think my face in the photos says it all – I went off to hard in the bottom section, lesson learnt. I’m looking forward to next year and hopefully pacing it better”.
Wrekinsport’s 2019 Silver medallist Beth Till took the maximum 20 points in the Women’s category with a fine effort of 5:29.52, winning Women’s Gold in Wrekinsport’s club championship taking place within this event, with Tomos Hales taking Overall Gold in 3:59.14. He stated: “I’m very happy with that, I had some tough competition this year. Great to have the hill climbs on, and even better to get in the three minutes – just”!
After a year off 2018 Veteran’s Champion Mark Hammond was immediately back to his winning ways, taking victory in the Veteran’s Championship in 4:00.81, over 17 seconds ahead of Veteran’s runner-up Scott Palmer, making his Series debut: Hammond has clearly seen the benefits of lock down training with a huge personal best which sounds an ominous signal to other competitors in the Over-40 category. He stated: “One of my favourite climbs, I felt I paced the climb well and knocked 13 seconds off my PB. A great turn out - and well organised by Wrekinsport”.
Palmer meanwhile lost some time clipping in, a temporary requirement under Covid regulations meaning no pusher-off, and one many riders would do well to practice for race situations. He posted a fine 4:18.30 to beat off a challenge from CC Bridgnorth club mate Paul Bailey, stating: “I’m new to the hill climb scene, other than some hill attempts on Strava, The Wrekin climb being the only the second time I’ve ridden up it. I struggled to clip in at the start and panicked; so I went off way too hard, I just blew at the steep climb, nothing left. But I enjoyed it”!