Last Sunday saw the annual running of what is dubbed as the ‘toughest cyclo cross race in the world”. Over three hundred competitors lined up in some of the worst conditions seen at the race for a number of years, the three highest peaks in Yorkshire were shrouded in mist and a strong wind was blowing.
This was my 8th time riding the race, for some strange reason I have been back every year since 1997. My first time was on a similar day to Sunday with constant drizzle and low temperatures.
The Three Peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen Y Ghent are tackled in one circuit of 38 miles linked by three stretches of tarmac. Over 5 miles of the off road element of the course are deemed unrideable, in fact the steepest parts of Ingleborough call on the competitors to use their hands in order to aid progress!
The race starts and finishes at the Helwith Bridge Hotel near Horton in Ribblesdale, the competitors in this years event huddled at the start in rain jackets, leg and arm warmers. After a short delay while the commentator sorted out the PA system we were off on the leisurely start, crowds cheering us along the neutralised road start. The nerves of the racers are always evident as the squeals of brakes are heard as the pack narrows for the bridge through Horton.
I played it cool chatting to fellow competitors, then made a move to the front so as to be in the top twenty when we turned off on to the farm track leading to Ingleborough. Paul Oldham lead the pack closely followed by the rest of the favourites such as Rob Jebb and Nick Craig.
The lower slopes of Ingleborough were particularly boggy after the recent rain and the bike soon became covered in sheep poo and peat. The field quickly spread out as it became too steep to ride and the trudge up the steepest of the three hills started with no end in site, as the mist was so low. Ingleborough has a horrendously steep first section which is climbed with the aid of a farmers fence used as a hand rail to heave yourself up on! Then its back on the bike through more boggy ground where keeping on the bike is tricky, over a couple of stiles then a further run up to the summit over loose rocks.
The first descent begins with another rocky section and then turns onto grassy moorland, control is extremely difficult as great speed is built up on the track down to Cold Cotes. I very nearly got it horribly wrong at this point as I found myself sliding sideways towards a dry stone wall, somehow I managed to pull it back together in time to guide the bike onto the first road section.
The road sections are either seen as a nice bit of recovery or a chance to catch those who put time into you on the climbs. I was lucky enough to catch up with Dan Booth and we worked well and caught the rider in front before turning off the road again towards Whernside.
Whernside is less steep than Ingleborough, but its rocky nature means that your off the bike and carrying it on your shoulder almost straight away. The wind also came into play at this point, as soon as you got to the crest of the climb a gale force wind blew you all over with your bike acting as a sail. The wind was trying its best to blow you down the sheer drop to the right of the Whernside track. (it’s a bloody long way down too)…
The Whernside descent is often the most crucial in the race, punctures and crashes are frequent. Firstly you must ride down the slabs of granite that have been used to form a path through the bog, tricky in the dry but terrible in the slippery damp conditions, one wrong move at this point puts you into the boggy ground either side and straight over the handlebars!
The rest of the descent is very rocky with numerous drainage channels created from tyre slicing slates which must be hopped. Having picked some beefy tyres and pumped them up hard I managed to get down to the Viaduct without a hitch apart from another near crash when my hand decided to jump off the bars!
Again I hooked up with Dan Booth along the road and we motored towards Pen Y Ghent with the cramps starting in my legs. The final climb is the most rideable with only a short section of running compared to the previous peaks. Here I managed to gain a couple of places by carrying on riding where others where walking. At this point I once again saw the leading riders as they descended in the opposite direction on the same track, Rob Jebb had nearly caught the leading Veteran Chris Young (and previous ‘peaks winner) who had half an hours head start!
After summoning up the energy to run the last part of the climb I began the final descent through the mist, however after following another rider who didn’t know where he was going I found myself horribly off course. Luckily my fellow competitors following me had also made the same mistake!, we eventually regained the proper path and began dodging other riders climbing up. This is where the body starts to really hurt, hands ache through constant braking and the rest of you is jarred by the rocks.
The final road section was the usual attempt to go as fast as possible whilst every muscle in your legs cramps at the same time, I turned into the finish in 11th place overall in a time of 3 hrs 36 minutes my best finish yet!
Rob Jebb won for the fourth consecutive year using his fell running talents in a time of 03:04:52, with a good lead over Nick Craig. Louise Robinson won the womens event while Chris Young won the Veterans category.
the Three peaks starts from Helwith Bridge Hotel, 2 miles south of Horton-in Ribblesdale.
Race distance is 38 miles, of which 34 is rideable (20 cross and 18 road) and 5000 feet of climbing. Neutralised start for 5.5km (led by the safety car) for safety reasons because of the nature of the local roads. For full course information go here. You will be able to enter for 2005 very soon!
Results and stuff are at www.ukresults.net