pic: Oskar Scarsbrook
My 21st 3 Peaks Cyclocross race and lining up, feeling quite good but a tad wary that my training didn’t include half as much ‘leg-work’ as i wanted. When you live down south, riding hills isn’t a problem, but walking for 20 minutes up a 40%+ slope, carrying a bicycle, is somewhat hard to replicate. A holiday in Snowdonia helped, but I was a little apprehensive, as ever.
Looking back, a day or two after, the race appears as a series of snap-shots, short edits linked together by the warmth and friendliness of everyone around as you travel through this amazing landscape. It’s a big race, but it remains local, there is nothing like it.
Chatting on the start line to riders who are obviously quite nervous
The sound of 500 odd cross tyres hurtling through Horton (that white painted bit of wall on the corner that always jumps out)
Mumbled voices on Simon Fell, and suppressing the urge to shout “rider coming through!” on the steep bit (surely that joke won’t work ‘every’ year?)
The French guy I seemed to be with near every summit, asking me in broken English “how far to the top?” (unluckily seen late on mending a flat)
Picking some good lines down Ingleborough then whizzing through the Ingleton turn (thank you Marshalls!)
I missed 2 recent editions through injury, and after a lot of rehab running, came back last year almost 5 kilo’s lighter, I found that I was climbing on the bike well, but missing a bit of ‘oomph’ on the road sections, the road to Whernside ending in a hill though meant i could stay ‘in touch’.
Riding bits I remember only being able to run before, Running bits that i’m pretty sure I once rode! (Walking bits I am certain I once ran)
I always feel walking up Whernside is peculiar, any gains going up, usually minimal, can be wiped out in seconds on the descent
Thanking friendly walkers who unprompted move off the line and shout encouragement
Far too many discarded gel wrappers
A line of riders, bikes to the side, feverishly pumping up tyres just below the slabs
A guy by the gate, leg in the air, joking to medics as they treat his knee
Running the slope down from the drain cover – probably the best bet
A group of mtb’ers trying not to get their feet wet as we stomp past them through the stream
A shimmy to the right at the Ribblehead steps & down the grass slope, my brother & nephew were waiting with my spare bike.
This is the first year for a while that I haven’t used Landcruisers (the eponymous 3 Peaks tyres, as used by every German postman, probably).
Opting for WTB Cross Boss, i was going to ride as tubeless, but after a mare of a wet training ride (split, latex everywhere, trundle home) I stuck a tube in & pumped to 55psi, which probably defeated the object as they rode like a lighter, slightly more fragile, version of a Landcruiser.
But my Landcruiser’d spare was there, which I didn’t take, opting just to throw my arm warmers to my brother & mumble some gibberish.
Cattle grid rumble
leading a group through the Selside swoop & getting the perfect line past the cottages
Catching cars at Horton but managing to overtake before the bridge, phew!
Seeing friends descending, shouting at one another as starting the long climb up Pen Y Ghent Lane
A guy half my age saying ‘well done lad’ to me
I love this climb, it’s a slog but never as long as I think and the crowd are great here. My son Oskar came straight over after a week working on the Tour of Britain. “I’ve had enough of cyclists” he joked, but here he was, and I stopped briefly to swig some water as he stuffed a gel into my back pocket.
Everyone he knew got a gel off him I think. Then off again, glad of my low gear.
That guy with the bike horn and his mate with jelly babies at the junction with the ridge
Being buzzed by a drone on the narrow stone steps
The rideable bits near the top
The checkpoint (thank you)
Riding off to the new ‘loop’ at the summit I had half forgotten the steep grassy descent approaching. Steep, rutted, tufts of grass, half hidden rocks, the promise of bog. It’s only short, but when you’re pretty fatigued by the time you get there!
The best option seemed to be let the brakes go & hold steady. I think I may have shut my eyes.
I returned to descend the ridge & headed back toward the guy still hooting! Trying to cut the corner I felt a pang of cramp which coincided with a tricky maneuver down through some rocks. I fell off down the slope, shouting as of the cramp and landing on the rocks.
A couple of spectators helped me up & I straightened my brake lever and carried on, bruised knee, elbow, hip etc.
Friends now coming up as I descend
My eyes shaking so much on the rough descent that I had to keep closing them periodically to refocus!
Bunny-hopping, whistling Marshals (thank you)
Then, smoothness. Calm, comparative silence
I pedaled smoothly, as fast as my battered body could manage, the couple of kilometers or so to the finish, not quite catching the 2 guys ahead, but staying away from the 2 guys behind.
I sensed a guy sitting on my wheel for a while & did that twitchy elbow thing. He laughed & gave me a big shove forward “I’m here to watch, not racing this year”
I almost made contact on the ‘Cote du Helwith’ (someone should put a sign up there), but the fast run in to the corner & over the bridge negated it.
Finish line smiles
Beer & chips
The Great John Rawnsley
There’s a photo of my brother Andrew, high up on Whernside during his last 3 Peaks cyclocross in 2014. He finished in 5:20.
After, he told me he was an hour behind his schedule, and a bit chesty (he’d never smoked, had a lifetime of asthma). Three months later he was diagnosed with lung cancer.
Five years later, after some pretty aggressive treatments, in remission, he was back for a third year of carting my spare bike around from peak to peak, having walked up Whernside the day before “there’s a nice line to the left….”
I know of regular ‘3 Peakers’ who have also beaten the illness, and some, whom have unfortunately not. He is my biggest inspiration in returning to this great race each year.