British National Hill Climb
Last weekend saw the British National Hill Climb Championship return to the North East of England, tackling the road leading up to the Northumberland Village of Hedley on the Hill.
With the usual big hitters from the hill climb scene lining up against some strong local competition the stage was set for a great days racing.
Amongst these local riders one name stood out on the start list, Brian Johnson, a born and bred North Eastener who had had a string of solid performances back in the 80’s, progressing through the ranks from junior to senior, racing against quality opposition, some of which would go on to represent the country.
The pinnacle of his amateur career being The Peace Race, at the time the premier event for amateur racers, starting in Poland the parkour took in East Germany eventually finishing in Czechoslovakia, where Brian finished a very credible 68th.
> More on the peace race here <
Another of Brians achievements was a 7th place finish at The National Hill Climb in Devon, the overall winner being Chris Boardman. This was back in 1990, twenty seven years ago, having not ridden a National Hill Climb since, could Brian roll back the years and put in a performance? In his own self depreciating style he answered a resounding “no”, when I caught up with him at his home in Northumberland, “I’ll be lucky to make the bottom ten never mind the top ten” he answered, whilst thumbing through a pile of pictures documenting his achievements on the bike, surrounded by a plethora of cycling equipment in his garage.
Race day arrived and I arranged to meet Brian at the HQ, located in the cricket club in Stocksfield, Northumberland, until a day or two before his start was in jeopardy, Brian substituted to the reserves list as the event was over subscribed.
After signing on and picking up his number, 249, we walked back to his van, where he proudly pinned his number onto his club top, Barnesbury CC. Talking me through his second hand bike with twenty year old second hand wheels, Brian is from the old school, “It’s all about the engine” he tells me.
I left him to his final preparation and I headed for the top of the climb.
A bitterly cold Northerly wind blew. Checking my watch with eager anticipation Brians start time approached, 11:40am. Five minutes and thirty six seconds later, resplendent in the red and yellow of his team colours Brian crested the summit, looking strong over the finish. “My legs went halfway up” he gasped, responding to my question of “how did it go”. For a man in his fifties, lining up against the lean and the mean, on a pretty standard road bike, who hadn’t ridden a serious hill climb for almost thirty years this was a pretty impressive performance, finishing a very commendable 133rd overall and 4th in his V50 age group.
Also check out this photo gallery of the 2016 National Hill Climb by Dan Monaghan.