The Three Peaks cyclo-cross
Well I’m back from the Three Peaks, ecstatic, enthused, knackered and with a bruised and infected eyeball (which may or may not be down to Yorkshire grit). Every year I make the pilgrimage to the Yorkshire Dales. Every year I try to break 4 hours. Every year, it’s close, but no cigar. This year however, I’m quite pleased with my time. At 4.08, it was 2 minutes quicker than last year, but 9 minutes slower than I wanted to be. Given the boggy and slow conditions, a year of trying to combine a full time job, a family, part-time lecturing for the Open University and studying for an MBA, it’s a wonder I made the start line at all. But I love the 3 Peaks pure and simple, and in the next 546 words, I’ll try and articulate why.
To my mind, the Yorkshire Dales is the perfect blend of rural landscape (sorry Lancastrians). The hills are steep and demanding. The countryside rolls in peaks and troughs that emulate a seascape of green grass and dry stone walls. It’s wild, yet manageable, tough, but forgiving. Small villages pepper the landscape with pretty-as-a-picture cottages and inviting country inns. My bike is at home there.
The Dales are also home to the best race on the planet, the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross, arguably the most demanding 3 -5 hours that a competitive rider is likely to face. 38 miles of racing with 5000ft of climbing and around 6 miles of yomping with your cross bike on your shoulder. The conditions can make or break a good ride. Dry and bright is good, wet and wild less so. The race starts with the incredible slog up Ingleborough, near vertical at times and energy sapping in the extreme. To push too hard is folly, whilst holding back will result in inevitable delays and lost time. Descending Ingleborough is a white knuckle ride over moorland. Hold the handle-bars suspend your knees and let fly, hoping not to find a hole that will inevitably fling you over the bars. Next-up, Whernside, a long grind up, riding for a bit, followed by bike on the shoulder. It’s worth it though, the descent is a technicians dream, weaving in, out and around rocks, debris and slabs before whizzing past the iconic viaduct at Ribblehead. After a whistle stop road trip, the race culminates in Pen-Y-Ghent. Another hard slog, followed by a super fast descent. One moment you’re on top of PYG surveying the moody majesty of the Dales and 20 odd minutes later you’re crossing the line at Helwith Bridge. For something that hurts so much, the race always seems to end so quickly.
As you’ve guessed, I like this race. Quite a lot in fact. It’s the highlight of my year and has now brought me back to Helwith Bridge six times. The trip is made all the better by the company. Five of us made the trip this year – myself, Donald Gray, Craig Standage and Paul Bennett of Cardiff JIF, accompanied by Julian Carter of fell running club MDC (riding gears this year after single speeding it last). The drive was a nightmare. Two accidents on the M6 forced road closures and an 8.5 hour journey (normally 4.45) but we got there.I get to catch up with friends and family; my inlaws live in nearby Giggleswick and members of my second claim club ‘Here Come the Belgians’ seek to make good those Flanders claims, by riding nimbly over the mud and the muck (Rich Allen leading home the Belgians in a fine 3.55 with Alan Dorrington just ahead of me in 4.06.). I tried to combine my dual loyalties with a JIF top and A lion of Flanders emblazoned on my socks (always the diplomat). We spend the aftermath of the race supping ales outside the Helwith Bridge Pub and spend the aftermath of the supping, by supping yet more, this time in the Harts Head in Giggleswick (we’re true athletes after all). It’s a fine social trip.
It goes without saying that I’ll be spending the next 3 months working out how I can go quicker, followed by a further 6 months of waiting for the entry form to open, followed by 3 months of devotion to race day. Please don’t tell me it’s just a race. It’s the 3 Peaks cyclo-cross (see you next year).
Footnote – thanks to Donald for sorting out the team accommodation, Jules for the driving odyssey and Paul and Craig for catering (and Jo for fine post race cake). HUGE thanks to all the people who make this race happen. Your efforts are hugely appreciated by all. All photos are from the 2010 race and here’s a bit of video that captured some pre-2011 race JIF tension.