3 Peaks Cyclocross 2011

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.

photo: Cycling Weekly

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.

photo: Ed Rollason

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.

How irritating!

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.


September and the start of October are always a crazy-busy time of the year for me, in a bicycle racing sense. There seems to be a number of really enjoyable and ‘special’ races at this time of year, a time of year when many of my bike racing friends are getting ready to have a bit of a break, or in the case of the cyclocross crowd, are just getting started.

I’m torn at the moment, as I was this time last year, between a need to continue to train hard in preparation for Relentless 24, the totally ace 24 hour race in Fort William – and taking it easy with a proper taper in preparation for this weekend’s 3 Peaks Cyclocross race. A little voice in my head (and a few voices on Twitter) tell me that I should taper now and prepare properly for the 3 Peaks… give the race the utmost respect that it undoubtedly deserves and perhaps do a bit better in it.

I certainly don’t want to appear so churlish as to claim that the 3 Peaks is some kind of training ride, because as a training ride it would be really really horrible, quite mad and put most people off training altogether –  but the more I think about where my priorities lie, the easier the decision to NOT take things easy just yet becomes.

Relentless is a race that I hit the podium at last year. It made a big impression on me, partly due to the unseasonably warm and sunny weather of last year’s event and partly due to the incredible course (coming home with a trophy helped too). Obviously, I’d love to finish as well (or better) than I did last year so to achieve that I need to carry on with the hard miles right now, just to get mind and body in the right place for the immense sustained effort that a 24 hour solo race demands.

Meanwhile, everyone I know that is taking part in the 3 Peaks this weekend has been tapering and enjoying a rest for the last few days and will no doubt continue to do so until the start of the race. After the race, they’ll all be pouring celebratory beer down their necks and feasting on cake and chips. And who can blame them?

I, on the other hand, apart from a couple of easier days late this week will be very much ‘pressing on’ and after the 3 Peaks I’ll be thinking about the number of training hours I have planned for the following few days before I can start to taper for Relentless.

As for beers at the pub in Helwith Bridge, well, I’ll be maintaining a sensible pre-race diet and focussing on the 24 hour race in 2 weeks’ time (oh…maybe just the one though).

Last year I rode the 60 hilly miles back home after riding the 3 Peaks race for the same reason. That looked a bit of a weird thing to do…but for some of us, the work isn’t quite done yet.

…but when the work is done, I’m definitely going to treat myself to one of these bad boys-

Get Cross

I tried something new at the weekend. I invested in some skills training, specifically, cyclocross skills training. Meeting up with Ed ‘Great Rock’ Oxley at Lee Quarry – not a typical cyclocross venue but one of the closest things around these parts to Whernside, one of the nightmares of the 3 Peaks race – we chatted and compared our cross bikes with new-fangled disc brakes and waited for the rest of the ‘pupils’ to arrive.

Joining us for the day and bringing with them their experience and expertise were Dave Haygarth and Alan Dorrington. I was looking forward to getting faster and smoother not by routine training in the usual sense but by learning smarter ways to ride a bike – around corners, over rough ground, dismounts, that sort of thing.

Quite soon we were staring at the Lee Quarry pump track, listening to Ed’s advice on how we should ride something like this on a bike that in our minds at least, was not really designed for the job.  Off he went to show us what he was talking about. All the way around the pump track, working the terrain and getting all the way around without pedalling.

Off we went. After an hour or so, everyone was pumping the pump track and was flying around much smoother and faster than the first time. Progress.

Then we worked on technique for riding over rough ground. To make sure we all knew what ‘rough ground’ is, we rode over some big rocks. Some people fell off. Some more than once.


We rode some of the red trail a few times, each time applying skills and techniques we’d just learned, each time getting faster, staying off the brakes a bit more…

This stuff works much better than any bike upgrade.

Then we went for our dinner in a big greenhouse with a kitchen in it…which was nice. There was also loads of cakes.

The afternoon session was a bit more ‘regular’ cyclocross in a nearby park – grass, mud, barrier tape, run-ups, dismounts, that kind of thing. Dave led this session and passed on a wealth of knowledge and racing tips and we made a bit of a mess of the grass.

It was ace. There will be more of these courses and if you want to go faster on your cyclocross bike and discover where your real weaknesses are (and thus what you need to practice afterwards), you should get your name down here www.great-rock.co.uk

Kielder 100 2011

In spite of the tougher-than-expected ride on Monday, I’d recovered well. I was feeling good the day before and during the race – the usual frantic pace of the start (after the somewhat silly fast-slow-fast-slow pace of the quad bike during the neutral lead-out) saw a lead pack immediately appear. initially I was in the chasing pack but somewhat surprisingly, I was able to close the gap and join the front group. It was going well. My glasses steamed up so I backed off a bit in the first singletrack section but I wasn’t losing sight of the riders in front.

The rain had started the night before the race and didn’t stop. I knew the gritty surface and the water wouldn’t be doing any part of the bike any good but figured that it would be the same for everyone and my brake pads were ok. My chain was soon stripped of all lube though and following some annoying chainsuck, I stopped to apply some more. All that lost me a bit of time and a few riders, including Phil, caught me up. It didn’t matter though, I was feeling ACE and I was seemingly riding faster than I had done for a long time.

pic: Joolze Dymond

Cutting a long tedious story short, 30 miles into the race I approached a marshal point down a hill. The marshal was directing me to a right turn but instead of turning right, I pulled on the brakes and nothing happened. At all. Accelerating, I shouted ‘NO BRAKES!!’ and carried straight on, off the trail and into the ferns. This sounds funny now but at the time I had no idea if the ferns were hiding something flat or the edge of a cliff. Luckily it was the former and I came to a halt, slowed by the 5-feet-high vegetation, around 12 feet from the forest road I’d just left.

The pads in both brakes had vaporised – all the pads already down to bare metal –  within 30 miles of grit and filth. I’m annoyed at myself because I only had one spare pair of pads with me, so enough for one brake. Game over.

Phil came past and I shouted to him that I was out of the race. I trundled back to the campsite and spent a few hours cleaning my stuff and packing up. After that I wandered around Kielder village like some kind of weird hobo, went to the cafe for my dinner, hanged around with Lee and Rachael (Lee dropped out due to brake problems and a knackered knee) and waited for the rest of the lads to finish their race.

It’s frustrating because I was doing well. Really well.

Dave, at one point just in front of me, finished 7th. Phil was 21st. Budge also survived to cross the line in 62nd. Less than 15% of the starting number actually finished, most retiring from the race apparently due to brake problems and/or ‘can’t be arsed any more’ issues.

Kielder100 2 – 0 me

Daftest Daft Ride Redux

The last time me and Dave attempted this particular Daft Ride, we ran out of daylight and our lack of lights meant that we cut it (slightly) short before things got dangerous. This time, we’d have lights and we’d both arguably be a bit fitter and therefore faster so we’d have every chance of nailing it. Not only that, we’d be starting a bit earlier than last time – we’d aim to be riding at 6am which meant I had to leave the house at 3:30am (rather than the pathetically-late 4:30am of last time)

The route is best described as a monster. Approximately 130 miles, 15000-ish feet of vertical ascent and several really big hills..nay, mountains to ride over. Most of the route is off-road and plenty of unrideable, ‘hike-a-bike’ sections to ensure the calves get plenty of gyp.

This time we started from the tiny village of Blencarn at the foot of Cross Fell. We planned to end the ride at the end of the final descent. We’d probably need our lights by this point but all being well, we’d get away with only needing them for the ascent and the half mile or so along the road back to the cars.

Battering along trails remembered from last time, we made reasonable progress along the bridleway alongside Ullswater following a fast warm-up along the road.

The ascent of High Street, apart from a comedy (but painful) fall on my part, came and went without too much drama. The sections where bikes needed to be carried weren’t terribly difficult (that’s 3 Peaks training, that is) and following a couple of photos and some jelly babies at the top, the ascent was fun…in a really scary, ‘christ this is a bit steep’ kind of way.

Pathetically under-powered XC race Brakes almost melted and at times completely grip-less-on-wet-grass tyres cursed at, we continued our journey on minor roads towards Staveley, on towards Borrowdale (I think) and Tebay.

Then on to Sedbergh for a raid on the local bakery followed by the second major climb and descent of the day. While our shopping for sandwiches, sweets and pastry was deeply pleasurable for us, going to the Spar was no doubt less fun than usual for the ‘normal’ shoppers in there due to the pungent sweat-and-dung funky stench of two off road cyclists. Undeterred, we queued up with grumbling pensioners and frightened children with armfuls of high-calorie food and ate most of it at the nearest kiddies’ play area.

The long, hard climb from the ice cream-selling sheep farm across Brant Fell to the summit of The Calf was, as it was last time, very tough. The bridleway is mostly rideable though and it was one of the most rewarding sections of the entire route, especially when passing a group of walkers who cheerfully passed compliments on our apparent fitness level J

Reaching the top, another ‘bikes leaning against something quite high up’ photo opportunity was taken, more jelly babies and a Clif Bar and then we were off again for the descent down to Bowderdale.

I’m sure I’ve read magazine articles about this trail where it’s described as some kind of flowing, fast, sinuous singletrack. It’s fun, a lot of fun, but it definitely needs some commitment. I remember the last time I rode this trail that I was a bit surprised at how much like hard work it was in reality. It must have eroded a bit since last time because this time I found it very tough indeed. Having to stop a couple of times to massage my hands back to life, progress along the trail was slow. Eventually reaching Bowderdale completely knackered, we carried on to Crosby Garret Fell, site of the now-infamous ‘Being Chased By Cows’ episode of 2009…

Eventually we reached our second Spar of the day in Appleby. More food devoured while we mused on how ‘shouty’ the locals seemed to be, we pressed on towards Dufton and the climb up the moor to the astonishing High Cup Nick.

This climb was incredibly tough, sometimes frustrating. Short rideable sections permeated by unrideable sections of rocks, deep bogs or primitive wooden bridges, our progress was now so slow and tiring that thoughts were now turning to the imminent sunset and our ability to complete the ride as planned.

Once at the top and the whole majesty of High Cup Gill could be seen, the mood lightened again. Pictures were taken and ‘wow’s’ were wowed. Jelly babies and Clif Bars were eaten. Bikes were picked up and we braced ourselves for yet another bruising descent, this time towards Cow Green Reservoir and on to the minor road where we decided to ‘decide what to do next’.

Our original plan would have been to ride north-west to Garrigill, climb Cross Fell and descend back to the cars at Blencarn. Simple….apart from the fact that we were switching our lights on now, a good 15 miles from the start of the climb of Cross Fell rather than maybe a short section at the end. We were running late in other words and we agreed that a revised route along the road would be the sensible option rather than attempting, in the dark, the potentially tricky navigation that Cross Fell would require. The route along the road looked like it should be about 20 miles…..

We headed south-east to the junction at Middleton-in-Teesdale (which took a while) then headed to Brough on the minor road across the moor. By now it was completely dark, it was windy and it was raining. The road was also a rather large climb, which was a surprise. I remember reaching Brough and declaring that the last road was  ‘beyond horrible’ or something. We’d survived, but the ride, a good 15 hours after we’d left the cars, was by now starting to really take its toll on us both.

Digging deep, we pressed on towards Appleby (again) where we’d ride along minor roads to Blencarn. It was clear by this point that our earlier ‘about 20 miles’ estimate was optimistic.

The batteries in Dave’s GPS ran out. We slowed down a bit more as we tried to navigate deserted singletrack roads in the dark…neither of us was entirely sure which way was The Right Way until Dave, in a moment of inspiration, remembered the ‘sequence’ of villages that lay before us.

‘Dufton, then Knock, then Milburn…Milburn is right next to Blencarn..I’m sure it is’. Awesome. We’d have had to sleep in a hedge if it wasn’t for this single moment of genius.

We made it back to the cars just after midnight, 161 miles ridden and 17,000 feet (maybe more) of vertical climbed. We were also about 4 hours later than expected. Agreeing that we both felt like we’d just competed in a 24 hour race, we hastily said our goodbyes, threw our kit into our cars and GOT THE HELL OUT OF THERE.

Technically, we were beaten again by perhaps the daftest of all Daft Rides, but we’d actually ridden a lot further than the original route in a fairly respectable time (bearing in mind food and photo stops). We’ll have another go at it next year I’m sure, but for now, it’s all about recovery. You see, there’s a certain 100-mile mountain bike race that needs to be dealt with next weekend. Is it possible to recover sufficiently from a 161 mile mountain bike ride in just 4 days? We shall see…