The 3 Peaks Cyclocross: the name says it all. A shade under 40 miles of gruelling steep climbs; rocky petrifying descents; and fast and furious road. The 3 Peaks takes all the constituents of cyclocross and puts them on steroids. It’s a discipline in itself, and calling it a cross race seems a bit like an insult. Overall, it is a challenge; for man, bike and mind. And that’s why I love it.
2015 is the third time I’ve competed in the 3 Peaks CX. It would have been my fourth, but a broken knee last year ruled me out. This year, the race fell right at the end of my freshers week at university. For those of you that don’t know, fresher’s week is strongly associated with drinking, late nights and lots of noise; not the best race prep it has to be said. However, I stuck to my goals and made it through most of the week without any alcohol inside me. I woke up for the race, early Sunday morning, feeling pretty fresh.
|Pre-race prep (www.russellis.co.uk)|
My start was good. I kept with the main group all along the neutralised road section, famous for being fast, tight and full of many nervous bodies. Much of the time I stuck close to Rob Jebb’s wheel, knowing that he’d almost certainly be in prime position for the off road section.
As expected, when the lead car pulled off, the race intensified. Within seconds, the race was strung out and there was no group to hide in. I maintained a reasonably high position along most of the rideable section; but, when we emerged at the wall of Simon’s Fell, the men were separated from the boys. The section is so steep that when ‘climbing’ it, bike mounted on shoulder, your front wheel touches the ground in front of you.
I lost a couple of positions on the ascent of Simon’s Fell/Ingleborough; my fitness levels seemed to be lacking ever so slightly, possibly due to a small bout of “Fresher’s flu”. Anyway, I made it onto the lunar summit of Ingleborough with the confidence that I would make up positions on the steep grassy descent down to Cold Cotes.
My descent started well, navigating the rock gardens with precision and ease, making up a few positions in the process. However, the second and longer section of the descent did throw a few things at me. The ground was much wetter than anticipated, this created many hidden bogs, which lurked, undetectable, ready to grab your front wheel and send you flying over the bars. As you might have guessed, I was victim to one of these traps, which caused me to heavily face plant, leaving me dazed and with a slightly cracked helmet. But, as you do in a race, I got on my bike and cracked on with the job in hand. Although, as I found out after the race, I did appear zombie-like at the first feed point at Cold Cotes.
|Support crews waiting at Cold Cotes (www.russellis.co.uk)|
I managed to get myself into a small group on the road section to the base of Whernside; riding it solo would just have been a waste of energy, with two peaks still to go, even if it did mean waiting for a couple of riders to work with. Nearing the start of the ascent, the pace eased, as we all prepared ourselves for the ordeal ahead.
It was a hot and strenuous climb up the steps of Whernside. Many, including myself, unzipped jerseys to try and cool off and reduce dehydration, made more important with such a little supply of water on board our bikes. Calves burning, it felt as though the pain would never end; as the steps continued high above. But, I made it to the top having maintained my position and in control. It was a huge relief to see the marshals standing at the top, ready to take our numbers and dib our SI chips.
|On top of the world (www.racingsnakes.com)|
Bar one small crash, my descent of Whernside was largely uneventful. After my crash coming down Ingleborough, I descended down to Ribblehead much more tentatively than I usually would; running sections that I would normally ride. It was a little frustrating at the time, but the faceplant had most certainly knocked a bit of confidence out of me. So, again, instead of making up positions on the descent, I merely maintained my position. It didn’t look like it was turning out to be my best three peaks. But, on the plus side, I hit the road section to Pen-y-ghent feeling relatively fresh and unscathed.
The first two times I rode the Three peaks Cyclocross, the ride from Ribblehead to Horton-in-Ribblesdale, at the base of Pen-y-Ghent, was daunting. With your legs alreading burning, the last thing that you want to do would be ride/run up another 700 meter fell. It’s serious ‘pain cave’ stuff! However, this time, I had a little sparkle of freshness and led the group of riders, that I’d been with on the road, onto Pen-y-Ghent Lane. I set a fast tempo and, not only dropped the riders in the group, but also made up about half a dozen places.I kept a strong pace all the way up the peak, I flagged mid-way, but was aided by a gulp of Lucozade provided by Rick Crabtree (life-saver).
|The final 'trudge' up Pen-y-Ghent (Patrick Frost)|
One of my goals, before the race, was to break 3 hours and 30 minutes and achieve an Elite class time. In order for me to do this, I needed to be at the summit of Pen-y-Ghent by 3 hours and 10 minutes at the very latest. A sub 20 minute descent would be doable, but wouldn’t leave any room for error, mechanicals or cramping up. The race was on.
At the start of the descent, you feel on top of the world; there is very little below you and you feel vulnerable and exposed. Hurtling downwards, on rough terrain and on pretty narrow tyres, does not help the matter. But you have to block it out; your brain can only focus on one thing, the ground in front of you. One slight lapse of concentration and you could find yourself headfirst in a bog, splayed out on a field of rocks or, even worse, tumbling down a sheer hillside. Focusing on that Elite class time, I managed to put in my best descent of the day, picking off another clump of riders. Not only that, I managed to ride the entire descent, successfully navigating the sharp rocks on the exposed mid section of the mountain. I emerged at the bottom, puncture free and full of adrenalin. 5 minutes on the road later, I reached the finish line.
3 hours 28 minutes 55 seconds
I’d broken the three and a half hour mark. I was ecstatic. I had somehow managed to salvage a mediocre ride and achieve one of my goals. Not only that, but I had bagged third place in the Men’s Under 23 category, only realising while browsing the results. Another goal achieved. However, I must congratulate Sam Roper, who would have taken third spot on the podium if he had not punctured on his descent of Pen-y-Ghent.
|Under 23 Podium: 1st Jo Moses, 2nd Ben Cooper, 3rd Edwyn Oliver-Evans (www.russellis.co.uk)|
Also, after the finalised results had been released, it became clear that my dad and I had won the father and son category, beating the race winner, Paul Oldham, and his father. So, all in all, a pretty successful race.
I couldn’t however, have achieved my goals without my support crew, they were there at all the crucial moments to hand me energy gels and hydration to keep me going, and to carry a spare bike that thankfully, wasn’t needed. So thank you to my Mum and my Nan. Also, a huge thankyou to Raleigh Bikes, American Classic and Vittoria Tyres for supplying the equipment that helped me successfully navigate around the Three Peaks Cyclocross. And finally, thank you to my team cxmagazine.com for the added support for the event and cross season.