BUCS Hill Climb 2023 race report by Oscar Smith
On Saturday 4 November, an intrepid group of OUCCians made the journey up to Leicestershire to compete in the BUCS hill climb. Unperturbed by the biblical weather conditions, this hardy bunch of non-fair-weather cyclists trekked up to the Vale of Belvoir to tackle the fiercesome slopes of Terrace Hill. Terrace Hill is to the East Midlands what Mont Ventoux is to Provence, a towering beacon whose savage gradients serve as a magnet attracting mountain goats from far and wide. Heavy expectation weighed upon the shoulders of these courageous OUCC riders, as the success of last year was still fresh in everyone’s minds. Amongst the OUCC contingent was defending champion Matthew Coulson, who was looking to add another BUCS title to his palmarès. Would Coulson (otherwise known as Mathieu van der Coul) triumph again? Only time would tell.
The torrential rain and near-freezing temperatures made for challenging conditions on the day. Some riders chose to wrap up in thermals and rain capes to head out and scout out the climb, whilst others headed out in the car, preferring to do their reconnaissance on four-wheels. Either way, the feedback from this ‘recce’ was clear, this was going to be a hard climb requiring not just raw power, but also tactical knowhow. Just before the race, OUCC legends Matthew Coulson and Max ‘Maximum’ Bolton, could be heard talking over the critical topics of gearing and pacing strategy. Reigning champion Coulson’s advice was sage: ‘Save something on the lower slopes, then really put the hammer down on the steep section, then go all-out on the final plateau’.
The early part of the race saw several OUCC racers laying down some strong performances. Seasoned racer Bolton tore up the forested slopes, setting a fast early time of 2 minutes 46 seconds. Carl Jolly another experienced racer and great asset to OUCC also set a blistering time of 2:47, coming within one second of the time of Bolton. A little time passed, and James Driver then shot off like a rocket up the challenging gradients, devouring the climb with consummate ease and finishing with an outrageous time of 2:45, which was to place him eighteenth overall on the day.
Another special mention must go out to Henrik Austad, OUCC’s Scandinavian superstar was the fastest Norwegian on the road and took the unofficial title of NUCS champion. Rumour has it that Henrik’s roars of joy as he discovered that he had dipped under the famous 3-minute mark could be heard from as far away as Nottingham. Oscar Eddis, Windsor and Maidenhead’s answer to Nairo Quintana, also deserves a shout-out, at just 18 years of age, his time of 2:58 indicates a bright future ahead for this rising OUCC star.
However, despite all of these noteworthy performances, the best was yet to come. Matthew Coulson, seemingly immune to pre-race nerves and in need of no proper warm-up, turned up with only one intention: defend his title. Coulson, aboard his modified ultra-lightweight hill climb steed, set off like a rocket up Terrace Hill. As he devoured the double-digit gradients of the Mont Ventoux of Belvoir, supporters could only look on with stunned faces, simply in awe of the unearthly watts being pushed by this OUCC monster. King Coulson would finish in a time of 2:21, enough to retain his BUCS crown by an incredible margin of 9 seconds, against some stiff competition. As news of Coulson’s majestic performance made their way to OUCC basecamp, shrieks of joy reverberated around the car park, notably from an ecstatic Max Bolton. The champion soon returned to his adoring fans and celebrated his glorious title defence with a hot sausage roll from the local café.
The early afternoon saw the start of the women’s racing. Despite a slight improvement in the weather, conditions remained far from ideal for what promised to be an exciting afternoon of racing. The first of OUCC’s women to head out was Georgia Acton, who powered up the challenging slopes of Terrace Hill to finish in a time of 3:31, which placed her in an impressive position of fourteenth. Much like the pairing of Bolton and Jolly earlier, Katrina Tse was to finish within milliseconds of Acton, placing her in fifteenth, and comfortably inside the top 20. Izzy Leitch, roared on by the sounds of cowbells and supporters, also put in an excellent performance, rounding off what was a fantastic day of racing.
Ultimately, the day was a resounding success for OUCC, coming away with the men’sindividual prize courtesy of Matthew Coulson, the men’s team prize thanks to the combined efforts of King Coulson, James Driver and Max Bolton, and placing two riders in the top-20 of the women’s competition, with Georgia Acton and Katrina Tse.
With King Coulson having only just begun his PhD at Oxford, there is one question on everyone’s lips: just how many more BUCS titles will Mathieu van der Coul come away with? Yet one thing is certain: the future of cycling at Oxford is looking bright!