My two previous attempts at the 3 Peaks had been ok, however there was more than a few ‘ifs and buts’ – ‘if only that hadn’t happened I’d have been a couple of minutes quicker…’ that sort of thing. I guess it’s like that for most people really – the event is so hard on bikes and bodies that the likelihood of even relatively minor mishaps is very high. Despite the harshness of the route, as Dave Haygarth rightly points out, if anything becomes loose, falls off or snaps, it’s likely it’d be my fault anyway…
For this, my third attempt, I was as sure as I could be that I’d not have a niggly mechanical at the top of the first climb like I have in previous years, I’d changed my feeding/hydration strategy (I was wearing a hydration pack filled with cramp and bonk-proof Clif Shot drink, in other words) so that I was less likely to be spasm-riddled mess at the end, I was sticking my neck out a bit and using lighter tyres than those bloody Landcruisers (that I hate) and I’d fitted gears to the bike that would allow me to ride more of the course than ever.
Physically I was feeling reasonably confident in spite of the fact that my ‘3 Peaks-specific’ training hadn’t been particularly good; but then the skills needed for this race are so specific that the training would have to be to the detriment of most of the other stuff I’m involved with. The ability to shoulder a bike up an almost-vertical moor is a bit pointless when you’re 18 hours into a 24 hour solo MTB race, after all.
I’d be relying on my fitness and bravery again 😉
Car parked in a monumentally convenient spot (thanks Simon), faffing out of the way, I made my way to the start and met up with Phil and Dave, hellos and howdos to friends that I met briefly on the way there. We were in the 3.5-4 hour section of the starting lineup, despite this though there seemed to be a lot of people in front of us; no doubt a good mix of over-confident types, first-timers about to get the classic ‘first-time-around-shock’, folk who were actually in the right place and maybe more than a few riders like us, all-too aware of what was in front of us but happy to start further back and just aim to beat last year’s time (oh, and survive in one piece).
The climb up Simon Fell and then to the summit of Inglebrough seemed steeper than last time, I was using my left hand to steady my ascent more often than normal. Maybe I was going the wrong way. Look up. A lycra-clad arse blocking out the sunlight. Nope, going the right way. Keep going. The burning in my calves wasn’t as pronounced as last year so I pressed on a bit. Phil was a few metres in front, but not far. I remembered his first-time sub-4 hour performance of last year and decided that if I could stay reasonably close to Phil I’d be doing ok. We’d spend the rest of the race within seconds of each other – I’d pull ahead a bit on the climbs, we’d work together on the roads and he’d completely leave me in his dust on the descents.
Near the summit, I had a niggly mechanical. Pretty much in the same spot as last year’s loose bottle cage and the seatpost incident of the year before that. I had to stop to tighten my headset (next year I’m going to dip the bike in a huge vat of threadlock). At the same time, Phil had punctured. I left him to it, knowing that he’d probably catch me on the next descent anyway (and I was reminding myself that this was a race after all).
I arrived at the foot of the climb of Whernside and cracked on with the climb, thankful that this one has got steps but apprehensive about the mental descent on the other side of the hill. I felt ace during this climb. Chatting to and then passing other people, I made a lot of time up and was able to reach the summit much quicker than I was expecting. The descent was as tricky as ever, no punctures and I made it down eventually in one piece.
Almost at the road again and Phil finally caught up, one whole mountain later than I was expecting but I knew that he’d descend like a man possessed as usual. Working together on the road to Pen Y Ghent we both knew that despite earlier difficulties we were well on our way to a respectable time. We also knew (from information shouted at us by Deb) that we’d gained a good seven minutes or so on Dave – he had a cold but we ignored that and pretended that we were just dead fast 😉
The climb of Pen Y Ghent, unlike previous races, just kind of happened. I rode much more of it than I’d done in the past and even on the really steep bits where carrying is necessary, I was still feeling great. Phil was keeping up – I wasn’t hanging around though as I knew that I’d get dropped on the descent if I dared to reach the summit at the same time as him.
Reaching the summit a couple of minutes before Phil, just as Dave started his descent I begun my final downward plummet. Almost immediately I rode down a very steep section of moorland and went over the bars. For the first time in my life, I landed on my head. Hearing a loud CRACK I knew that I’d at best knackered my helmet. I lay still for a couple of seconds whilst other riders stopped to check that I was ok. I was still able to move, the bike seemed ok. I removed my helmet and it looked ok (although I would find a crack in it later). Off I went again, this time less confidently, much more carefully….a bit slower.
Inevitably Phil caught me up on the lower slopes so I just followed his wheel. We were battering down Pen Y Ghent lane, scattering rocks in our wake, each of us changing position at the front and just generally ‘having a race’. My chain came off the chainring a couple of times but I was flicking it back on with the mech. Eventually though it snapped.
It took 2 or 3 minutes to sort that out, Phil rode to the finish to record another sub – 4 hour time and I eventually rode across the line in 4:01. An improvement over last year’s time of 2 minutes! Woo!
Denied my target by the same kind of niggly mechanicals I mentioned earlier and one hell of a crash, I congratulated friends and fellow finishers for a while, changed into a clean jersey, got some food from the car and then turned a 38 mile race into a 90 mile day out and rode back to Manchester….
….which might sound like a really stupid thing to do, but I’ve got one eye on Dusk Till Dawn next weekend. I’m racing solo (obviously) and Michael’s coming along to support/mutter encouragement. Father/son roadtrip. Yay!
3 peaks Cyclocross Team JMC ‘Roll of Awesomeness’
Dave Powell 3:55:01
Phil Simcock 3:57:58
Jason Miles 4:01:57
Andrew Burgess 4:41:27