Talbot Hill

If you are a road cyclist in Melbourne, you have probably ridden the Kew Boulevard before. At the northern end, it starts at Chandler Highway, beginning with a climb that averages about 3% over 700m. There are multiple segments on Strava for the same chunk of road, but on the one entitled “Talbot Hill”, of 17000 odd entrances, I currently hold the equal fastest time. And it is up there with the hardest short efforts I have put in.

Another KAB Wednesday ride in January 2016 had me out in the late afternoon trying to snipe a few segments. I’d managed to knock one over, but was disappointed to miss out on a couple of others that had been on the radar for a while. Riding back from the Pony Club in Viewbank, my legs were feeling heavy and the clouds were rolling in thick. But a strong northerly was favourable for some more efforts.

I’d started another attempt on the Ivanhoe Boulevard, but with rain starting to fall, I gave up and quickly found myself sitting undercover on Heidelberg Road, staring at the radar on my phone and looking at other possible segments on Strava. Some of the crew had already been out riding as well, and we’d agreed to still meet up at the Clifton Hill Brew Pub at 6:30 or so, with the rain looking like it wouldn’t last forever.

When the rain¬†abated, I rolled off and out to far Kew, looking to tick off another segment or two. Wet roads and sketchy intersections were not ideal, but I equaled another, and headed back towards the Boulevard. Heading over the Chandler Highway bridge, the northerly was clearly blowing hard, but with heavy legs, I didn’t like the idea of taking on Talbot Hill. About 100m before the left turn, I decided I’d get on the gas at the start of the segment, see how I’m going, and just treat it as training if I blew up quickly. I’d smashed myself time and time over on this segment before, so had no grand ambitions, despite the wind direction.

Coming into the left turn, traffic on the road didn’t allow me to swing wide with speed. And slippery conditions made me more cautious than I might otherwise have been. So with a pretty slow approach, I started the attempt.

Onto the Boulevard, out of the traffic, and with no more fear of a wet slide, I immediately got over a big gear and pushed up to around the 700 watt mark. I weigh in at 55kg – so throwing around power like that means I go pretty damn fast if I’m going up a hill. The very start of the segment is slightly downhill, but as it pitched up, I was flying along at just over 40km/h. Still prepared to bail, my confidence was not where it needed to be to take a hill so commonly ridden.

After that initial rush of speed, I looked down to see how I was travelling with the live segment loaded onto the Garmin. I was doing well. Very well! So despite the lactic still burning in my legs, I pushed on. With my heart pounding like a jack hammer, and the hill steadily continuing up, I did my best to push the bike upwards with 600W of power. And I was still just ahead. I knew from experience that I needed to hold just a little in reserve to jump at the very end as the hill bends around to the left at the top. With my lungs burning at me and screaming to stop, and my head feeling dizzy, I could barely make out the data on my screen. Regardless, I was surprised I was able to hold the intensity for that long, and I threw the bike around the corner, no longer holding power, but maintaining the momentum accumulated by riding uphill at 40km/h.

Gasping for air and barely squeezing out some expletives, I coasted down to the freeway bridge, my chest heaving up to my chin. I didn’t see how I went for time – I couldn’t make out the screen. I just knew it would be close. As I made it to the bridge, I saw Paris Pollock getting a bike shot against the rails. He’d been out playing KAB too, and laughed as he saw my face. Turns out he’d just burnt himself attempting the same segment (Paris is exceptionally strong and well suited to power efforts like this one), and was probably sure that I’d just hit it very hard by my body language.

With roads still sodden, we rolled to the pub together and recounted our efforts. Neither of us were particularly confident of Talbot Hill, although we were certain and happy with top 10s. The bluetooth engaged, I scrolled through Strava to the segment I most wanted to see… I’d claimed the first boule hill! Fair to say it was a satisfying ale.

Time: 1:01

Average Speed: 41.3km/h (that’s right – uphill, in the wet, no drafting)

Average Heart Rate: 176bpm

Max Heart Rate: 184bpm

Average Power: 517 Watts

Max Power: 803 Watts

KAB Wednesday