It would be fair to say that Lou Bates has had quite the season.
The Veloschils-Interbike rider from West Bridgford, Nottingham reached the peak of the discipline in November when she became the 2016 National Hill-Climb Champion at the Bank Road climb in Matlock. She clocked a time of 2.57.1 to claim the title by 4.4 seconds, in turn breaking the dominance of defending champion Maryka Sennema.
Bates has been involved in competitive sport for 20 years, but only made the transition to hill climbing in 2013, emphasising the magnitude of her rise to the top. The result in Matlock should really have come as no surprise however, going into the event in phenomenal form.
She won numerous events in the months prior to the nationals, breaking course records along the way at the Hardwick Hall floodlit course in September, the prestigious Monsal Hill Climb in October as well as taking a whopping 26 seconds off the record on the Pea Royd Lane course in the Stocksbridge two-stage event. But Bates was in no doubt about her biggest achievement of the year.
“It has to be the national hill climb, in the respect that I have been trying to win it for the last two or three years,” she revealed.
“In 2014 when I came second that was probably a little bit unexpected, and that made me think that one day I could actually win it.”
“I certainly felt that I could win it this year if I had a really good race on the day. In 2015 I made a couple of mistakes on the climb, and the margins are so close any mistake can cost you the win.”
Bates also paid tribute to the efforts of the former champion, and what she has done for the discipline. Sennema finished seventh this year, but Bates had to settle for second and third behind the three-time champion in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
“Only people within hill-climbing circles really appreciate what Maryka has done for the discipline over the last few years being able to win and retain the title,” Bates said.
Upon claiming the title, Bates decided the time was right to retire, but was it was not necessarily the plan to go out on top.
“I’ve been racing in other sports for a log time now, in fact I calculated that my first national medal in rowing was 20 years ago.
“I had retirement on my mind for a couple of years but I thought giving it one more go at Matlock on a local hill before hanging it all up.
“Competing has been an extremely important part of my existence, but nowadays I have a job with unfortunately quite long hours, a family, a husband.
“At time being an athlete can actually be quite selfish. You’re very focused and sometimes putting training ahead of what your family needs are, and it gets harder and harder for me to motivate myself and sacrifice things,” Bates added.
So what next? Bates said that since her retirement, people have commented that she does not actually seem to be doing that much less.
However, she does plan to undertake her yoga teacher training in February, an activity that has been a part of her training schedule in the last year, and that will still provide her a break from the hectic work lifestyle.