My fourth 3 Peaks Cyclocross race was also my first wet race. I’ve been fortunate in the past 3 attempts in that the conditions had been reasonably (or very) dry in the days leading up to the race and during the race itself.
The wet start to autumn this year included rain pretty much all last week and the morning of the event. A super-tough event just got tougher.
The record-high number of riders lining up at the start resulted in near-madness during the lead-out along the road to the foot of the first offroad climb. I lost quite a lot of places at this point as, once again, my nerves and self-preservation instincts whilst surrounded by eager riders kept me out of the way of trouble as others surged towards oncoming cars and into gaps that simply didn’t exist.
No matter, one of my strong points in this race is my relatively quick and consistent climbing on foot, so I figured I’d reclaim a lot of ground once the gradient kicks up.
The iconic climb of Simon Fell is always off-the-scale difficult. Until yesterday I was under the impression that it gets (slightly) easier each time you do it, the benefit of familiarity allowing you to decide a vague route to the top, avoiding the usual procession along the wire fence on the left hand side. Yesterday though it was much harder than ever. The grass seemed longer this time and it was very wet, causing several slips and slides that threatened a plummet downwards and a likely collision with several unsuspecting people beneath. Added to that was the constant fear that people above you would suffer the same fate and come plummeting down on your head (or is it just me that has these thoughts?). Note to self – when it’s wet, join the procession along the fence.
The descent of Ingleborough was as slippery as expected with many riders coming to grief or riding much slower than that would have otherwise done in dry conditions. I gained a few places here, the disc brakes on my bike allowing me to regulate speed consistently, braking performance mostly unaffected by the conditions.
Once at the road, I expected Dave, who I’d passed during the last descent, to catch me up. I had these ‘Dave’s chasing after you’ thoughts in mind so I rode extra-hard towards Whernside 😉
The ascent of Whernside, up the sometimes-narrow stone steps, often allows me to make some off-piste forays up the grass at the side of the steps to improve my position in the race. This time though, the ground was just too wet and slippery so for the most part I joined in the slow procession and stuck to the steps. It’s easy to see where time is lost when the conditions are wet.
The descent of Whernside was one of the most enjoyable times on a bike I’ve ever had. Last year I was desperately trying to avoid a puncture or a crash, however this time I felt more confident and in control and rode most of the normally nightmarish stone slabs and steps. Occasionally walkers and spectators would cheer and clap with their approval of my heroics, urging me to carry on with what must have looked like complete recklessness at times.
I had powerful brakes, bar-top brake levers and a very short stem. I suppose I was cheating. But it looked pretty impressive and was immense fun.
There is such a thing as a 3 Peaks-specific cyclocross bike and I was sat on it.
I started to think about a possible sub-4 hour finish. It was certainly possible as I rode the road section from Ribblehead to the start of the Pen-Y-Ghent climb. It was possibly possible. Just. I was alone and isolated on this section though and struggling into a headwind. Luckily, a group of 5 riders caught me so I held a wheel until the start of the ascent. Starting to pass riders again, I started to feel good in spite of the increasing struggle uphill. A ‘fast trudge’ upwards to the summit, reached the checkpoint then turned around and started my final ascent of the day – the same ascent where I crashed and cracked a helmet last year, shortly before snapping my chain and losing loads of time.
This time the descent was trouble free (apart from nearly hitting a dog) and I reached the road with only a couple of minutes before the 4 hour mark. Legs starting to cramp, I knew that a new personal best wasn’t happening today, the conditions slowing progress at various parts of the course just enough to see me roll across the line in 4:03.
Certainly the hardest 3 Peaks race I’ve done and in a strictly performance sense it was yet another ‘middle of the pack’ result, but without doubt it was the one I’ve enjoyed the most so far.
Already my thoughts are turning to next year’s race….aaarghh this is how people become obsessed with the bloody thing…..!
Results and split times are here.