Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Three Peaks Cyclocross 2011

On the final descent off Pen y Ghent... yee hah!
The (almost) annual trip 'upp north for the Three Peaks Cyclocross race. This was the 49th edition of this classic cycle race. Whilst a mere 40 miles in length, around 22 miles of the course is off road and of this you can expect to carry the bike for around 5 miles. Plus you can only use a cyclocross bike - no fat tires or suspension here!

Last year I completed using my singlespeed, but this year went for a return to gears. A few reasons - one to see how much faster gears would be, but mainly because the singlespeed is my commuting machine and to convert over to 'cross racing would be a faff!

Once again this years trip was driven by my illustrious good mate Simon Nurse of Cardiff's JIF cycle club for whom 'cross and Belgian culture (mainly its beer...) have become somewhat obsessive. Our drive to Yorkshire became the usual M5/M6 torture. We wisely observe the gantry signs warning of problems around J13 and detour through Wolverhampton only to run into another jam as soon as we rejoin the motorway - caught by another and recent crash which had just closed the M6 ahead..... A couple hours of crawling and we are off the junction but wisely ignore the detour signs. Instead we go the opposite way and use some old fashioned map navigation to get back onto the open road. Close to 9 hours from leaving Cardiff we arrive at Settle..... so fish and chips and a couple of bottles of 'Black Sheep' and I'm race prepared!

Sunday morning is grey and drizzly, and the tops are in the cloud. Not a good start. Some 30 minutes before the race start and heavy drizzle closes in. Huddled in the start crowd the drizzle starts to seep into you and create that chilled dank feeling. Countdown and we're off - a frantic flying start in which I spin my wheels but loads fly past - I'm not a roady and cant hold my start position. soon though we are in my comfort zone - open muddy fell and I do my best to dash around the snaking trail of bike carrying souls whenever I can.

Dashing up Ingleborough. Andy Holden images
The top of  Ingleborough is damp and grey, and I'm hampered further by my spectacles which I remove and stash in a back pocket. The descent off proves slower than last year as I try to avoid deep bits of bog and fellow cyclists! Back onto road - and chain gangs cruise past. I try to hang on some tails but my roadie skills just ain't there, but its soon back to fell and the slog up Whernside where I quietly pull some places back trying to push through the wandering line. Whernsides descent is rocky and quite technical - a good ride - with the final few miles of helter skelter along a gravel track. Past the iconic viaduct and back to road.

Frantic dash off Pen y Ghent. Andy Holden Images
Energy feels low so time to feed - futile attempts to clean the mud and cowshite off the gel packets before slurping the mix of sweet slime and gritty bits. Grind on along the road. Soon its on the track to Pen y Ghent. As I start the grind up the lead men come racing down. The fabulous chaos now ensues of riders grinding their way up, while other riders are coming slinging down at a rate of knots. Meanwhile spectators, walkers, supporters, dogs, mountain bikers, runners add to the mix of potential carnage.. but it all works. No Mr Angry from Slough shouting 'this isn't right', more akin to a 'tour de france' Alle' alle' alle'..........

I chase what turns out to be third lady off Pen y Ghent. We both get held back by some slower riders but she takes some necky lines and gets past - I have to wait a bit longer before getting a good passing slot. Its then eyeballs out down the track, gaining a few more places before a great crash on a lose corner trying to miss a fellow cyclist coming up! Fortunately its quickly back on bike and to the finish.........

The finish line - 4 hours 12 minutes - a good time. Simon is a few minutes ahead. We scrub the worst of the mud and get changed. The sun is now out and its a fine Yorkshire day, so its to the Helwith Bridge for a pint or two! Another fab event - Well done Three Peaks people!

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