What can be said that hasn’t been said before about the three peaks? It is the ultimate test of man and machine. I had done a few long distance enduro style events in the past but nothing prepared me for the 38 miles that north Yorkshires highest peaks had to offer.
The day started with low fog and mist covering all three peaks and intermittent showers making the visibility poor – this hadn’t stopped 350 people lining up for the 44th edition of the worlds toughest cyclo cross race, held at Helwith Bridge village just outside Settle.
The masters, vets, juniors and women went off first at 9.30am with the senior men following close on their heels at 10am. I had been warned in advance that the first 3.5 miles were escorted. However this did not mean a gentle warm up behind a lead car – more a flat out sprint to the base of the first bridleway, then up onto Ingleborough, the first of the three peaks.
As I turned onto the bridleway I caught a glimpse in the mist of the leading riders running up what has to be the steepest wall of earth in the Dales. I knew from the outset that running was never going to be an option, consequently I settled into a steady slog carrying the bike for what seemed like an eternity. Towards the top of Ingleborough the ground levelled off and riding became possible again. This was not before time as my shoulder was beginning to moan under the weight of the bike. At the summit a friendly welcoming party were there to take one of the three tags that you’re given so the organisers can verify your completion of each climb.
The descent from Ingleborough started really well, with me catching a group of riders on the fast grassy slopes, but this was short lived. The peat bogs that break up the long fast descent had only one good ridable line through them. As I tried to over take another rider I landed front wheel into a big ditch full of wet peat; One dented ego and one dented top tube later I was scrapping the peat out of my crash helmet and rolling towards the second road section and Whernside, the second peak.
I could see Whernside all the way along the road from Ingleton. It served as a reminder that more pain was on the way. The ascent was made via a well-trodden path that had been strewn with large bolders, which made it impossible to ride. Luckily the mist hid the full extent of the path and upon reaching the top I was looking forward to another grassy descent.
Wrong! Somebody in their wisdom had decided that the footpath down to Ribble Head viaduct at the bottom of Whernside should be restored with large slabs of stone, polished smooth by a million walkers. This does not make for a good riding surface when covered in rain and mud. It was at this point that puncture number one happened – along with about twenty other people who had also been caught out by the drainage ditches left in between the slabs.
Puncture repaired, it was off towards the finish, but not before taking on the last of the peaks – Pen-Y-Ghent.
As I turned off the road to start the climb I was greeted by the crowd clapping and cheering – but this wasn’t for me it was for the eventual winner, Rob Jebb coming towards me at break neck speed and looking quite relaxed.
The climb up to the top of Pen-Y-Ghent was ridable for the first couple of miles and then it turned into a rock-strewn path. The hardest part of this section was dodging the lead riders as they plummeted past on their way to the finish. After reaching the summit it felt great to be heading downhill to the finish – until you puncture, that is. I was very kindly lent a rear wheel at the bottom of Pen-Y-Ghent and this saved me the trouble of changing another inner tube.
The road back to Helwith Bridge was not quite as flat as I had remembered on the way out and every little bump seemed to bring cramp ever closer. However, all that was soon forgotten as I could hear the loud speaker booming in the distance. The relief of flying over the bridge and through the finish line was overwhelming as I realised I had achieved my four hour goal in a time of 3h.59m 29 seconds, only an hour behind Rob Jebb and 62 other riders.
This race is hard in the extreme, but you’ll find yourself reaching the end and wondering just how your going to explain to your loved ones that you plan to do it again next year.
Full results here: www.ukresults.net