Friday 4 October 2013

Three Peaks Cyclocross 2013... the blog returns!!!

Hello, I'm back! It's been a while since my last post, a lot has happened since then, but that doesn't matter. I return to you with a corker: my favourite race, the Three Peaks cyclocross.

For those who don't know, the three peaks cyclocross is said to be the hardest cyclocross race in the world, and is seen by none cyclists as "crazy", "mad" and "dangerous". The race covers the peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent, all located in the heart of god's own country, Yorkshire. It covers 38 miles, with 5500 foot of ascent, which sounds pretty hard, but by most, doable. That is until you realise what those 38 miles include. Although labelled as a cyclocross race, the three peaks includes a road race style start, with lead car included, fell running, with the majority of climbing being nowhere near rideable (in many cases you can reach out and touch the ground in front of you!), and then there is the descending, which could be described similarly to those fairground rodeos, go as fast as you dare, but don't loose your grip! So really, to be the perfect athlete for the race, you need to be fearless, fell-running powerhouse. Believe me when I say, there are no events like the three peaks anywhere in the world, which means no one person is perfectly suited to each trait. The closest anyone has come is, of course, Lord Robert Jebb (i.e. Peaks legend). The man has won the event, as of this year, 10 times and does't look like he can be stopped any time soon! He holds the record for the event, and after the climb up Simon's Fell, he is rarely seen in a worse position than first. Anyway, enough rambling about heroes and what not. My race...

For the past two years, the month of September has been almost solely devoted to three peaks training. It's not the funnest affair; running up and riding the same hill over and over is not only exhausting, but also quite boring. According to strava, I have run up my personal training hill over 100 times in the last two Septembers. I'm thinking of investing in a new one next year. Anyway, the race is normally won or lost on the run up Simon's Fell, the first peak, which makes running training key! Other than the hill reps, I have visited Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside a couple of times for recce runs and rides (where legal). There is no warm up or taster lap for the peaks, so experiencing the peaks before the race is key!

Last year, the training allowed me to finish as first Junior and 48th overall, in some of the worst conditions the race has ever seen. Howling winds and horizontal rain certainly embedded the memory of my first ever three peaks into my brain!

So, with reminiscing over, the training in the bank, the bikes set up 'peaks style' and myself psyched up, on Saturday the 28th of September 2013, I was ready to race. One more sleep and it would be race day: the nerves of the pre race activities, the suffering of man versus bike and then the excitement of swapping stories of woe, success and near misses.

6am. An early get up, not the best thing before such a big race, but being less than one hour from the event, it was obvious others had it worse. My mind was pretty blank; like most early mornings, I was in a semi-concious state and just got on with what I had to do. Porridge- eat. Clothes- put on. Teeth- brush. Van- get in.

7:30am. En route to Helwith Bridge. In the van was me, my dad, who was also racing, and my mum and nan, who would be supporting me during the race. Conversations were short; that regular pre race feeling is for some reason amplified for the peaks. Thoughts were buzzing around my head: "what if..." "should I have..." "how should I...". The feeling wasn't made any better by the previous days antics, which involved me wrecking a tub on my activation ride and having to buy a new one replace it in the evening. However, I know I am not alone in saying that the Peaks is the race that makes my stomach scrunch up most. To calm them, I popped on my headphones and listened Holy Fire by Foals.

8am. The pre race ritual. Riding down past the mile long length of parked cars, I waved hello to acquaintances, some I see often at local races, others who I only see at the Peaks. Down to the sign on tent: dibber attached to wrist, race pack collected and a quick view of the start. Back up the car and onto the bike for a quick pre race spin on the turbo.

Warming up

9am. There's still half an hour until the start, but with 650 riders all fighting for places on one narrow road, it's best to get there nice and early (something learned from the race in 2012). I manage to get a good position, only a couple of rows from the front, and after quickly removing my arm warmers, I am ready to race.

9:30am. The start. We depart from Helwith Bridge and the nerves vanish in an instant; all thoughts are on positioning and minding other people wheels, as everyone is fighting to be as near to the front as possible. Although classified as neutralised, the first 6km of the race was anything but slow. The lead car rockets off and we are all strung out along the road. I glimpse my heart rate monitor and I realise why my legs are already feeling a slight bit of pain. We pass through Horton-in-Ribblesdale, with the final peak, Pen-y-Ghent, looming above us. Although, it's hard to think about it with the extremes of Ingleborough and Whernside to come first!

Gill Garth. We swiftly turn off road and onto a farm track. The bunch becomes even more strung out, but I manage to keep up in the top 25. The terrain becomes rougher and speeds drop dramatically. My legs are already hurting at this stage and I wonder how on earth I am going to be able to conquer two and a half more peaks!

Simons Fell: the steepest of them all! The rough ground increases in gradient, and the riding of my bike is gradually phased out; it's either faster to run or impossible to ride. This is where all the running training comes in. The ground ramps up to an impossible gradient, and I could have touched the ground in front of me with ease. I lose a few positions; big efforts riding on the lower slopes had obviously taken their toll. I plod up along side the guide rail fence keeping in rhythm with the riders around me. My calves are killing, but I know the gradient must subside soon. As it does so, I attempt to remount my bike. My body feels weak and useless, but I try to retain the grasp of the riders around me.

Climbing Simon's Fell
Ingleborough: when I thought the pain was over. I came over the summit of Simon's Fell thinking to see a helpful marshal to take my dibber, but no. I was faced with Simon Fell's big brother, Ingleborough.  How did I forget that from last year?! There a brief respite from the running/walking, as you transition between the two peaks. Here you feel exposed, as the wind roars around you. Then, after a few fun technical bits of riding, I was hit again, hard, with Ingleborough. A lot rockier than the ascent up Simon's Fell, Ingleborough is not as steep, but the strong winds and pain already present in my legs made it just as testing. I had to hold my bike firm to me to stop it blowing away! Anyway, to my relief, the gradient soon subsided and I appeared onto a lunar landscape, which is the top of Ingleborough. In the distant a gathering of luminescent clad marshals. If my legs could cheer, they would have.

Descending to Cold Cotes. Sadly, there is never an easy point during the three peaks. You are either killing yourself on the uphill or the roads, or you are risking your life going downhill, being shaken to bits at the same time. The start of the descent of Ingleborough was not easy. The strong winds caused me to have a strong attraction to one side of the path, which meant making your bike go where you wanted was nearly impossible. Turning off the main path on Ingleborough, I hit the main descent down to Cold Cotes. Here all I had to do was hold on as tight as possible, let the bike roll and generally hope for the best! Although pretty brutal, I loved the descent. I managed to gain a good few places by the time I reached the bottom, and also moved up to 2nd place under 23. There may have also been an incident involving me going over the bars, but I'll let you discover the video for yourself!

Dropping down to Cold Cotes
The road to Chapel le Dale. After a quick bottle swap and gel reload, it was onward to Whernside, the second peak. After a burst of speed, I managed to latch onto a group of riders, who I worked with for the entirety of the road section. Completing the road section alone is very energy consuming and doesn't set you up well for the following ascent. Getting into a group, even if it means dropping back a little, is a great option.

Whernside. Unlike Simon's Fell/Ingleborough, there is not really a run up to Whernside. As soon as you are off the road, there is very little riding. Before you know it, you are confronted with a set of steps that seem to climb into the sky. I felt reasonable here, I didn't loose any places on the steps and I got into a good rhythm. That wasn't to say it was easy. Plodding up such a large and steep set of steps made my legs feel like they were on fire. Thankfully, my head was right into the race at this point, and it was just a case of getting on with the job. The steps climb all the way to the ridge, which then leads to the top of Whernside. The section would normally have been rideable, but, again, the wind came into play and staying on the bike became a nightmare! I ended up making stupid errors and I ran more of the section then I'd have wanted. But to be fair, everyone was having the same issue. Again, the god like marshals came into view and my legs took a sigh of relief.

Descending to Ribblehead. The remaining ridge line on Whernside was meant to have been pretty easy, but Mr. Wind had other ideas and applied his force in biblical proportions. This section, I later found out, had to be crawled by one of the leading women, Isla Rowntree, to prevent being blown over. It was testing to say the least. A few parts that would have been traversable by bike became rideable for the few who also possessed a death wish. As the descent progressed, it became more sheltered and I began spending more time on the bike again. With the wind in less of an abundance, I began to really enjoy the decent. It was fast but technical, and I made up some good time here. After the last section of bridleway, which goes parallel to the railway line, I dropped down alongside Ribblehead viaduct. A quick bottle swap, gel reload and dib and away I went.

Tongue out, flat out. Descending Whernside
The road to Horton in Ribblesdale. Unlike the previous road section to Chapel le Dale, there was no group dangling in front of me to catch up to and work with. Instead, there was a single guy barely visible up the road. I changed to time trial mode, and set to work in catching him up. I was finally able to latch onto his wheel on one of the sharp climbs, that litter the section. We worked bit and bit, and we managed to catch a couple more lone riders. Then before we knew it we were in Horton. I did not realise how well I had done on the section at the time; the huge lump that laid before me was all that I could think about. It is torture knowing that the finish is only 4km down the road. But the feeling is short-lived, and before you know it, you are going sharply uphill.

The lower slopes of Pen-y-Ghent
Pen-y-Ghent. The most rideable of the three peaks, but by no means any easier. The lower slopes are completely rideable; I managed to drop all but one of the riders I was in a group with on the road and I was, again, progressing up the field. The route turns 90 degrees to the right, just before half way up, and then the real suffering begins. Although completely rideable, the middle section is a horrible grind; it is where you realise if you have put on the right gear ratios or not. On the day, it was a headwind, which meant less was rideable than normal. But for as much as possible, I gritted my teeth and dug as hard as I possibly could. Thankfully, my efforts were rewarded. It was on this section that I caught and past Rob Watson, who was leading the under 23 race. I managed to grind out a small gap on him, that remained past the following rocky, up the high peaty slopes and to the summit. I dibbed the top, apart from empty of energy, 13 seconds ahead of Rob and 17th overall. Unfortunately, I knew about Rob's experience of the race and his ability to descend like an absolute maniac!

Nearing the summit of Pen-y-Ghent
Descending to Horton. As suspected, it was not long into the descent that Mr. Watson came flying past. There was no way I could have kept up with him and the subsequent puncture secured the fact. My heart dropped, but my head remained in downhill mode. I did not pay for my bike or the majority of the equipment I was using in the race, therefore I can not thank my parents enough for supplying me with this kit. But, what happened next goes completely against this gratitude. I rode the remainder of the descent, which was the majority of the distance from the summit to Horton, on my flat tubular. As well as being extremely uncomfortable and resulting in very little control, the puncture also resulted in me loosing at least 6 places. As shown by photos, the discomfort also resulted in some very interesting faces. Thankfully, waiting for me in Horton was my helper for the day, my mum. In Horton, I swapped bikes and began chipping away at the final few kilometres to the finish.

I said there were some great faces...
The Finish. I crossed the line in 3 hours 32 minutes and 5 seconds, half an hour faster than 2012, but narrowly missing out on an elite class time. However, I also finished as 2nd under 23 and 23rd overall, which I have to say looking back it is bloody amazing! I really am very happy with how the race went overall! After a refuel, change of clothes and sit down, I returned to the finish area to begin the ritual of swapping stories, meeting old acquaintances and watching and participating in the podium. The atmosphere really was joyous!

Sat down at last!
But then that was it, the three peaks over for another year. there would be a week or two of flicking through photos from the event, reading fellow riders blogs, but then the hype of the race would subside for another year. And boy am I looking forward to it!

Under 23 podium
I really would like to give a huge thanks to my mum and nan for supporting me during the event; supporting a rider is a very stressful affair and I am sure all of the riders appreciate it. I would also like to thank all of the en route cheers and whoops, even though I won't have registered who you were, they really helped. Finally, a huge thanks go to the organisers, who have done amazing in taking over from John Rawnsley. Without them, the peaks would have died aged 50.

This was, however, my final race with I would like to thank them for the help and support they have given over the past two years, it has been a pleasure wearing your colours.

From this week, I will be riding be riding for the newly formed Race Team, who are supporting a few British under 23 riders this season. I look forward to racing in your black and orange kit! Please do check out cyclo cross magazine, it's a great read and contains everything you can think of about the sport. From tips for beginners to commenting on the world's best, it's got it. Check it out here And if you fancy subscribing, drop me a message and I can send you a discount code for 20% off your purchase. I'll also be at most Yorkshire points cyclocross races where you can talk to me.

Happy riding!

No comments:

Post a Comment