The 3 peaks is a race i've admired from a far having only actually bought a cyclocross bike in 2015, I applied last year, but didn't get in, so was pretty pleased when the email came around confirming my entry into this years event. My first 3 Peaks.
This will be short...as with most big events I didn't really do any specific training, and despite Lucinda telling me to go running more I probably only went for a total of about 4 runs... I did some more focused cx riding up and around Alexandra Palace in North London and some longer rides into Hertfordshire, these were useful, but more just about building up general cx fitness and skills rather than targeting the 3 peaks...
I am fortunate enough to have the support of Wiggle & Eastway bikes for the 2016/17 cyclocross season in the shape of a Eastway Balun C1. Eastway's flagship cyclocross machine. It's a stunning bit of kit, super stiff aluminium frame, Mavic Aksium Wheels, Shimano 105 Group set including hydraulic discs, glittery paint and Ritchey & Fizik finishing kit. One addition or rather change to the bike for 3 peaks was a set of bombproof and bombweight Schwalbe Land Cruiser tyres. These were slow, they were heavy, but they were/are a 3 peaks essential...
As with most endurance type events the weather plays a big part in how much you enjoy it (well it does for me) so making sure your clothing is right is pretty essential. Leading upto race day the forecast was getting slightly better from biblical rain and wind, to a medium to high chance of a soaking. I played it safe and went with my London Phoenix skin suit, a long sleeve dhb merino base layer, another Phoenix SS jersey and finally a new dhb Aeron rain jacket (Jersey over the skinsuit for extra pockets you see)
I'd spent the Saturday staying with my mate Tom, just outside Leeds and was planning on camping Saturday night, however given the forecast opted to not do that (thankfully) and just drive over on the morning of the race.
Arriving with the standard 2 hours to kill, we sat in the car whilst I faffed with my bike and kit, and despite having already decided what to wear, rethinking that, all whilst trying to make coffee in a windy field. Ah the weather? Well it was a bit grim, I mean it looked bright "over there" but persistent and heavy showers meant that everything was getting wetter.
Onto the start line and only 10 minutes to go. When I applied I clearly hadn't looked at previous times or had not felt very confident as I had positioned myself in the 4-4:30 time slot, meaning i was probably a good 250/300 riders back from the start, not ideal... However what was ideal, was that the sun had just come out, the rain jacket came off, stuffed in my pocket.
And we're off. The first 3 miles were all on road, allowing me to move up and gain some valuable places, I passed probably 100 people by the time we hit the climb at Gill Garth and onto Ingleborough. This is the first of three climbs and probably one of the most iconic images of the 3 Peaks as a long snaking line of riders make their way to the summit. It really was quite a sight. It was also pretty tough... We hit the grass and lower slopes and people almost instantly started to shoulder their bike and run, I was perhaps expecting to ride the bike for a little bit longer than this, but it simply wasn't possible as the long slog started. What also wasn't really possible was being able to run at any kind of pace. I mean, i'm sure Oldham, Jebb and Craig all managed this, but it was not easy! The gradient ramped up and the pace dropped even more, this was now basically a walk with my bike, it wasn't that comfortable despite padding on my shoulder, and the weight on my back meant this was painful. At this point I wasn't quite sure how i'd finish, let alone in a competitive time! Reaching what I thought was the summit in thick mist and damp air I was delighted to see riders in front of me going up again, and walking with their bike, again... Finally reaching the summit, and dibbing in at the checkpoint in 100th, taking 58 minutes in total.
Onto the descent and thick mist mean I wasn't really sure where I was going, where the path was, or indeed how difficult this would be. As it happened pretty bloody hard. I followed 2 other riders as we essentially took the most direct route from the summit, and down a near vertical grassy bank, off the bike again upto a much more defined path. I was foolishly thinking maybe i'll be able to rest on the descents, how wrong I was... total concentration, bunny hopping bogs and maneuvering around rocks and other stuff meant it was hard going. The relief when I joined the smooth (ow so smooth) tarmac as we headed to the 2nd peak, Whernside. I rode with Dave Powell of JMC on the road section, and worked well, exchanged a few words, one of which was that this was Dave's least favorite climb. Cheers. I understand why though. It was very rocky, and really steep and just to add to the excitement the weather came in and pelted us with some more rain and wind. Progress was now best described as a slow walk. It leveled off at the top, and as a result this section was ride-able, not quite sure how long this bit was as I kind of blanked out and just focused on getting to the summit. 2:07 to the top, and going well, I think. This descent wasn't fun. Basically a long line of solid flag stone steps. some rode down at what appeared to be a worrying lack of control, others ran through the knee high bogs either side. I did a bit of both, but was worried about a puncture, so in the end opted for the run, on a descent... A few river crossings at Blea Moor and the track opened to a much wider gravel fireroad, progress was much quicker now and as we headed over to Ribblehead Viaduct I could see the next road section.
I made up time and places on the road section, I felt good, had a few gels and focused on what was the final climb upto Pen-y-Ghent. The only hill i'd been up before, albeit not for many years, and not on a bike. I knew that most of this climb was rideable, so was hoping to make up some time and places, which I did. About 10 minutes into the climb and Rob Jebb & Paul Oldham come flying down, closely followed by Nick Craig. That'll be the leaders then, awesome! I concentrated on my climb and managed to drop most of the riders I was with or reached, until I heard one spectator say "nice beard" obviously referring to Neil Philips, who passed me. I was thankful for this, it spured me on, and made me climb quicker, cheers mate! Although on fresh legs the upper section was rideable, it wasn't now, and we entered into possibly the slowest ever overtake as I passed Neil, both walking, both looking tired. I knew the summit was close as we turned the hairpin, and the terrain got rougher, I also knew that Tom & Lydia were there to give me a fresh bottle and some friendly encouragement... One final walk/push to the top, and I could see the dibber's flag! I ran (actually, more a quick walk) and reached the summit, all downhill from here! 3:25 at the summit. Excited at the prospect of a Sub 4 I began the descent, it was pretty good fun, all rideable, and pretty quick. Neil managed to pass me, and I couldn't live with him, and whilst the top section was fun, the lower section was torture on my hands. The ground was so rough, with no smooth line you just kind of hand to hold on for dear life and pray for no punctures. I got through, reached the bottom, and reached the road. Just 3 miles from here! Again, managing to make up some time thanks to the fairly uncomfortable 80psi I headed to the finish and crossed the line in 3:47:43 and 85th. I was chuffed.
So that's it, done. What did I learn, and what will I do different or the same next year?
- Well, first of all it was epic. Proper crazy, stupid kind of fun, and although hard, one of the best races I have ever done
- Disc brakes probably saved me quite a few times from some nasty crashes. These were superb, and especially given the conditions and weather. My old cantis simply would not have worked.
- Schwalbe Landcruisers were heavy, slow and didn't offer that much grip in the mud. I'd still run them again though because I do not want to change a puncture at the top on Ingleborough.
- 80psi might have been too much. 70psi seemed to be the average. 80psi was just so bumpy!
- Shoulder padding was very useful. I cut up a foam camping seat and jammed it into my skinsuit & jersey. Didn't move and offered a bit of extra support. Extra bike padding might have helped again
- I wore more clothes than I thought i'd need. I would do the same again. If you fall off or get a mechanical on the tops it's bloody cold.
- Lucinda will no doubt laugh, but i'd do more running before. 1 or 2 times a week. I'll listen next time.
- Core strength and back strength were things that I suffered from. To be really competitive i'd need to build on this (sounds boring)
- Actually walking up hills. I don't mean Ally Pally, I mean go on a 30 mile ride around Peak District, Scotland with the cross bike and carry it for 30 minutes. Then you'll know what it's like...
- I fitted metal studs into my shoes. They worked well on loose and muddy stuff, not that well on rocks. That said, I think i'd still use them again. I bought rugby ones as they're massive!
- Final thing is i'll try and start near the front next time, If I get in of course...
Huge huge thanks to all the marshals, mountain rescue, ambulance staff, organisers, BC Comms, motorbike NEG riders and anybody that made the 54th 3 peaks happen. It was my first, but it wont be my last. Hope to make it into that V80 cat one year...
Thanks to Wiggle & Eastway for continued support, Joozle Dymond for the Ribblehead Viaduct photo (that's going on the wall!) and Tom & Lydia for supporting and getting me a chocolate orange at the finish.
Thanks for reading.