Yesterday I started and finished the Three Peaks Cyclocross for the first time. It was mental.
There are no words to do it justice, you simply have to experience it understand how bonkers it is.
My race did and didn't go to plan. I know this is a contradiction, so let me explain.
By the time I lined up on Sunday morning I'd accepted that I was riding to experience the race. To tick it off of the bucket list and to finally understand what it was like to ride the Three Peaks Cyclocross. To put the '38 miles and 5000 feet of climbing' into context.
In this sense I experienced the Three Peaks and I got a real appreciation of what it's all about. What I didn't plan for was 3 flippin' punctures!
Quite frankly, as I lined up to start I was giggling at the madness of it all. The tension between all of the riders was clear with everyone pushing forward to get a good start. The race was counted down from 10 to 1 and we were off and it was fast! It soon settled with the top dogs towards the front and I used a little of my roadie skills to move forwards through the peloton.
Peak #1 - Ingleborough
When we swung off the tarmac and onto the first peak I'd guess I was in the top 20 riders and rubbing shoulders with my old mates Nick Craig, Tony Fawcett and Giles Drake. My start was good! As the fields steepened we got closer to Simon's Fell which can only be described as ridiculously steep! My bike was on my shoulder and I settled into the walk, trying to hold my position.
The top of peak number one was windy, grey and quite cold. It was much more rocky than I had imagined, and I ran across the hilltop to the first 'dibber' checkpoint to check in at 52:09 - Rob Jebb had reached the top first in 46:33! I was feeling pretty content at this point and ready for the descent. However, riding a rocky downhill on a cyclocross bike is just nuts. I don't usually get scared riding downhills, but I felt really out of my depth riding off of Ingleborough. Thankfully I kept it rubber side down and hit the road section at the bottom in once piece. I did have a soft front tire though...
Peak #2 - Whernside
I settled into a group on the road and made good progress to Whernside, which before the race had been described to me as 'a long walk'. Near the bottom there is a compulsory dismount and I checked my front tyre. It was down at around 25 or 30psi so I took the opportunity to gas it with a Co2 canister back up to 65+psi!
Whernside is another steep climb but this time with rocky steps most of the way. Looking up I could see a line of riders ahead and the same followed me. It's through looking back at this moment that shows the depth of the field. At any point in the race there is someone to race or ride with just seconds ahead or behind.
The last section of Whernside is ride-able and again we all dibbed in at the check point. I hit the summit in 1:55:26 - Defending champion for the previous 3 years, Paul Oldham was alone and leading in 01:40:44.
It's probably a good time to mention that there are no pros and The Three Peaks. The front riders are incredibly fit athletes and dedicated to their racing, but they all hold down full time jobs. Paul has been a friend for a long time and he works for Hope Technology in Barnoldswick. He's probably had a hand in making your beloved hubs or brakes!
Back on track... Almost as soon as I started to descend Whernside I punctured. I was getting too cocky and tried to gap a small section of rocks. As soon as I launched I knew I was going to land on them. It was a rear flat and I set about fixing it.
I was carrying a lot of kit in my skinsuit. I had 3 x Co2 canisters, a pump, 2 x spare inner tubes, allan keys, 4 x gels and my mandatory whistle and survival bag. I'm glad I packed all of the bike spares because I needed them all!
Once I'd fixed my puncture, and been passed by around 50 riders, I got back on and made my way carefully down Whernside. My objective definitely changed at the time and I went from racing for a result to completing the course. However, on the road ride from Ribblehead Viaduct to Horton I set myself the goal of finishing in less than 3 hours 30. It was going to be tight!
Peak #3 - Pen-Y-Ghent
Pen-Y-Ghent is the most ride-able of all three peaks. It starts with Pen-Y-Ghent lane which was also where I'd have the support of Leanne who was handing me bottles. I have to give Leanne a massive thank you as she stepped up to help even though she's never done anything like this before. It's a nerve wracking thing to do, helping someone complete an event. Leanne, you were awesome! So thank you!
I took my bottle at the bottom which gave me the necessary hydration and energy for the final climb. I still felt strong and I was able to pass some riders on the climb.
Another bonkers thing about this race, that I almost forgot to mention, is that on Pen-Y-Ghent you ride up and down the same path... So there are riders hurtling towards the finish while others grind up. Its not the widest path, and it's pretty damn rocky and loose in places! It is totally nuts! What is cool about this is getting to see the leaders flying down to the finish, and also seeing the close battles going on too.
As the climb progresses it steepens and I was wishing I'd fitted some lower gears... The final section is hike-a-bike before climbing the steps to the summit. I dibbed in at 3:13:19 then made my way down the descent. I was going to have to go flat out to make it under 3 hours 30 - I was making good time and passing riders when I had another puncture.
I'd seen Lee Craigie on the climb up who had told me she had spare wheels for me in case I punctured. I rode on with a flat tyre but unfortunately I didn't see her. I stopped and got to work and fitted another tube.
It wasn't pleasant trying to change a puncture with cramping hands from descending 3 rocky paths down massive hills... This certainly killed my enthusiasm for a quick change!
I changed the tube and used my last Co2 to gas it up. Thankfully I made it to the bottom with no more issues and cracked on towards the finish. I crossed the finish line in 3:45:26 to finish my first ever Three Peaks Cyclocross in 107th position! You can check out my ride on Strava.
Will I Be Back!?
Now this is a tricky one... If you'd have asked me yesterday if I would be back to race this I'd have said no. I didn't get into the downhills and there were times when I didn't feel like I was racing - I felt like I was surviving.
However, today I've had the chance for it all to sink in. I've looked at the results, my splits and taken my punctures and effort into account. I do think I've more to give for sure, and I'm definitely not happy with 107th place!
It makes me think that next year I'll return with more helpers, a spare bike and wheels, and I'll do more hiking and running training. Perhaps then I'll have a result I can be satisfied with? Or perhaps I'm the same as the hundreds of other competitors each year and I'm simply hooked on The Three Peaks Cyclocross!? We'll just have to wait and see.
'til next time...
Over and out.