Thursday 11 September 2008

Hog Hill - What a Beast !!

So after all the discussions, steering groups and debates, as well as the bull-dozing and temporary hitches in order to rescue a colony of newts, we've now got a replacement to the beloved Eastway cycle circuit.

Eastway may have been tucked away in a run-down part of East London, in proximity to a traveller's colony, but it was the place where lots of cyclists including Jenny Copnall and Bradley Wiggins would've cut their teeth in cycle racing. When it was closed in 2006 to make way for construction of the 2012 Olympics stadium, the London Cycling Community was saddened by this loss and worried about how cycle sport could develop when such a key facility was missing.

So when the Redbridge Cycle Centre (aka known as Hog Hill) was officially opened for regular racing in mid August people were pleased to know that we finally had a replacement cycle circuit. The brand new facility complete with shower and changing area, cafe, meeting rooms and bike hire met everyone's approval.

The actual circuit, however might not have brought about the same reaction from the riders.

I finally got to try out the circuit last weekend for the London Criterium Champs. I suppose I should have had an idea of what the course would be like, if nothing else by the name. Hog Hill surely can't mean it's gonna be pan flat !

The warm up alone, sent my heart rate through the roof. The circuit twists and turns and goes up and down. The exposed area made for some strong cross winds which really put your cornering skills to the test. Note, this is particularly challenging if you ride with deep section wheel rims.

After around 800m of twists and turns you reach a section where you can go quite fast in a straight line. However, over to your left you can see the road rising up sharply to reach the start/finish line. "Oh my God do I really have to go up there ??!!" you ask yourself. And the Man above, he say "Yes"! So alas, up you grind. The gradient is around 7% - not too bad, but there's an ugly head wind to contend with.

As you get used to the slog the road curves to the right and becomes a sharp 10%, then up to 12% - just as your quads are burning, and the density of the crowds is at it's thickest ! You then heave yourself over the start/finish line to begin the next lap.

When we did the London Criterium Champs our women's race had to complete the circuit 15 times. That was tough. within a couple of laps alot of us just wanted to pack up and go home. The steady rain definitely dampened our spirits.

With a small but quality field of 19 riders I knew my work would be cut out for me, and I would not be getting much shelter for the next hour !

Within the first lap the field had shattered. It was a really demoralising moment, and after 2 laps I wanted to ride off the circuit and back to the car. Instead of a peloton there were just fragments of twos, threes and fours - even a couple of lone riders. Thankfully I wasn't alone. I found company in the shape of Lisa from TriSportNews. Having someone to ride with made a difference, but going up the hill was a real struggle. I could definitely feel the superfluous adipose tissue as I struggled to keep up with Lisa on the climbs. With my extra pounds of flesh and her super light bike I think I deduced I was having to shift twice as much weight as her !

Somehow on the last couple of laps I managed to find some energy from deep within - either somewhere that I hadn't already dug into, or some place where nothing had previously existed.

To my surprise, I managed to haul myself up the hill and across the finish line ahead of Lisa. Considering how tough it had been for us, we were both glad to have finished the race in points scoring positions, and at least we had stayed in, where a many people had packed in.

Susan, from Maldon and District Cycling Club had been pleased with her race and tried to sound reassuring by saying "Give it 3 races here and you'll find it's not bad at all." At the time, my first thought was - "You must be bloody joking if you think I'll be back here again." But now, with a bit of distance and after some recovery time I don't think it's such a bad idea to return to the Hog Hill Circuit. It'll harden the London riders and make us tough enough to cope with any circuit that gets thrown at us in future.

So yes, I'll be back - I'm not sure you'll catch me saying it's not a beast though !

Top 2 photos by Julene and Kevin Knox
Other photos by Sylvain Garde, aka Patron Choufflard

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