For the second year in a row grey misty skies greeted us at the 45th running of the hardest cyclo-cross race in the British Isles – The Three Peaks. 61 kilometres (and about a million feet of ascent) up and over Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, where taking a bike is actually more of a hindrance than a help. The usual crowd of professional riders lined up, including the now legendary Rob Jebb, and also teams from Scott, Magura, Hope Factory Racing…and of course Crosstrax! The weather stayed murky on the tops but warm, and towards the end of the race the skies cleared and we were baked in glorious sunshine.
Heather Dawe, Steve Bottomley, Jason Hemsley, Neil Harrison, Dale Foster, Gareth Patchett and Graham Pearce all took to the start for Crosstrax. With the women and vets set off half an hour before the seniors, Heather and Gareth were up and over Ingleborough by the time our race started. Led through the neutral zone by the commissaire with the usual argy-bargy for position at the front of the pack (the race isn’t won and lost on the road through Horton fellas – there’s three blooming great mountains to go over first!) and then we were off and away up Simon Fell.
It is absolutely awesome to watch Rob Jebb, head and shoulders above even the professional cyclists like Nick Craig (GB Mountain Bike champ), fling his bike over his shoulder like it’s nothing and then jog briskly up and over the skyline. The rest of us mere mortals had to resort to dragging our machines behind us, using the fence to pull ourselves up the gradient, panting and gasping for air in the sweltering, windless heat. Then we went into the clouds and that was it. Could see nothing…where’s the route?...Who’s that over there?...Is that a better line?... Whoa…not ready for that drop off…brakes not working properly…
Coming off Ingleborough is a treat for all thrill-seeking cyclists, and a great way to come off such a long, arduous climb. Then it’s the long road section from Cold Coates to Hill Inn where, if you’re lucky, you can get in a little group of riders and share the work. If unlucky, you are left to burn. Fortunately I found a group.
Whernside is a “get off and carry the bike all the way” kind of a hill. And, as the tallest of the 3 Peaks, really saps the energy so the welcome sight of the solitary official water station is a great relief. Up and into the clouds once again, and then the decision whether you’re feeling confident enough to take on the Yorkshire Stone steps on the bike, or resort to fell-running tactics. This year, as a fresh shower had dampened the surface nicely I opted (chickened out) for the latter and then it’s off to Pen-y-Ghent from Ribblehead into Horton.
The route comes down Pen-y-Ghent the same way as it goes up, and boy those leading fellas really fly down there! The Pen-y-Ghent climb seems to go on forever, and it seems to be just a little too flat to carry the bike but a little too steep to ride. So you end up switching between the two and never really making any progress. However I got there in the end and turned round to face the last, arguably toughest of the 3, descent. You see it’s not whether you fall off – as that is a given in this race – it’s how well you land. Fortunately my “off” was an over-the-handlebars double pike flip with twist which I landed very gracefully (well, flat on my arse) in front of not just a camera…but a TV camera! But I say fortunately because although I lost my pump and inner tube (and some pride) during the manoeuvre, I suffered no injury, and was able to finish my descent and the race. In one piece. Pen-y-Ghent always gets me as by that point I no longer have any sensation in my lower arms and using the brakes has become a laughable farce of an effort to slow down.
Thankfully, none of the Crosstrax team had major mechanicals or any punctures; results are below. Notable performances from Heather Dawe (second lady) and Neil Harrison (25 at his first attempt). I managed to knock 17 minutes off my time from last year and also finish in the prizes:
1 1 Rob Jebb M (1/166) Wheelbase/Ron Hill 03:00:56 17 41 Stephen Bottomley M (16/166) Crosstrax 03:27:33 25 43 Neil Harrison M * (22/166) Crosstrax 03:33:56 29 45 Graham Pearce M (24/166) Crosstrax 03:37:09 60 44 Jason Hemsley M (41/166) Crosstrax 03:56:21 82 393 Heather Dawe F (2/7) Crosstrax 04:05:22 (team non-counter) 258 42 Dale Foster M (146/166) Crosstrax 05:00:10 259 218 Gareth Patchett M40 * (89/111) Batley CC/ 05:02:13 Hargreaves Cycles
Big thanks must go to Matt McCardle for use of the bike, Dad for lugging spare wheels and drinks round and also taking me to and from the race, Andrew Robertshaw for water atop Ingleborough, and Stef Macina for a drink at Ribblehead. And of course, Directeur Sportif Ed Battye. Thanks (kind of) to Emma Payne for an attempt to give me a drink at Cold Coates, although this ended in me losing one bottle and failing to get another one. But it’s the thought that counts…
Here’s to next year!