Saved by the bolt: 3 Peaks Cyclocross 2017

Is there no substitute for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross? Last years race left me craving for more racing and led me to take up XC MTB racing again. Racing laps around a trail is excellent, but the race is over all too quickly, not really comparable. Stuff like the ‘Hope Pre-Peaks challenge’ is close but still not extreme enough, and crucially not a race [ stopping for a quality coffee and cake stop halfway round does take the edge off] nothing seems to compare to spending hours traversing a vast intimidating landscape at race pace. The exhaustion and hurt accumulate deeply in the body, emptying every reserve, making simply staying on the bike a challenge. Thinking about it I’m not sure what exactly makes it so addictive.

Great shots of the race can be found  [] and a write-up of how the winners did here [Cycling Weekly]
This year I did more specific training, tagging along with a few other 3PCXers found loads of new trails and off-road routes into the Peak District from Manchester.  Key elements of the training were, practising the emergency dismount [falling off more than usual] ‘bog yomping’ as my mate Dan calls it; basically legging it over irregular boggy terrain with the bike, and loads of bike carrying up steps. I have since noticed one arm is considerably longer than the other due to misaligned shoulders.  However, I still didn’t get as much training in as I would have liked, and this year I was still hoping for a similar time if not a little better than last year maybe 4.15h [dropping my dreams of a sub 4 hours] I saved some weight on my bike with upgraded wheels and tyres [1.2kg] and lost 10lb body weight [no idea where from]  in the 5 weeks run up, by not drinking booze in the week and generally good eating and loads of training.

Photo thanks to Rob Atkins there is a great set of photos here …

However, despite all this time-consuming preparation, I broke one of the golden rules about not messing with your set up the week before a big race [ probably David Haygarths rule?]  My numerous pre-peaks tweakings included replacing worn derailleur jockey wheels. Imagine the feeling as I realised one had dropped off, just after the fast 5-mile rolling start, just after turning into Gill Garth for the first section of off-road. This after having worked my way up the pack, looking forward to a really good go at the first climb up Simon Fell.

After throwing my bike down in rage I stood for a while cursing, then frantically searching walking up and down the track, staring at the puddling mud underneath the onslaught of hundreds of riders furiously speeding past, wild staring eyes, the jarring buzz of over 300 wheels repeatedly hitting the cattle grid nearby – into which potentially my jockey wheel had gone. I couldn’t find it.

As the last few riders filtered through the gate – I had nearly given up and started to consider splitting the chain to make a single speed setup. Then I noticed the jockey wheel glinting in the mud, Yessss! But crucially, no bolt to fix it on with. Luckily I managed to install it using a spare screw [pre-thread locked] of just the right size that I always carry for such emergency repairs. Without the thread lock it would not have worked as you can’t tighten a jockey wheel with a normal bolt as it would stop it turning – so I could tighten it just enough that it could spin, but the thread lock would keep it from vibrating loose. [why didn’t I check the other one to see if that had come loose too!]


By the time it was fixed it seemed like hours had passed – possibly 10 mins, I was sure I was the very last rider, utterly deflated, I headed for Simon Fell and started to claim back some places. I was glad to be riding but lost some of that essential x factor one gets when racing trying to match a better riders skill or pace.

On the way up I passed one poor chap who dislocated his shoulder or something going up to Simon Fell, some kind competitors were helping him, the race is not the same without hearing at least one person groaning in pain]. I hit the top of Ingleborough in 354th place. Legging it over the top and down the first bank and onto the rock again, I soon felt I was back in the race. Feeling on fire for the downhill I made 26 places including passing the various injured, punctured, or face planting riders, total madness. before hitting Cold Cotes.

Nice. Cold Cotes Classic face plant. Photo Andrew Ward – see album here

I spent the road sections hammering it as hard as possible, overtaking as much as possible, rather than taking opportunities to rest. I managed to team up with a couple of others. it was great fun sharing the work and sling shooting past some larger groups. I’m sure my almost slick tyres gave me an added speed edge on the road just felt like having totally slick tyres. 

It was good to see the familiar faces of the descending Pen-y-Ghent as I ascended. As my riding ground to a halt and I started to carry – my legs began to cramp – but not enough to stop movement, last time on this climb I had cramp throughout my legs and back, perhaps those magnesium supplements helped? From Ribble Head, I took a further 23 places before reaching the summit of Pen-y -Ghent.

It’s such a nice feeling reaching the PYG summit, at least the climbing is over – a quick breath before just 25 mins of sheer terror and holding on for dear life before its all over. The pain quickly transfers from the legs to the arms upper body and neck.

The new section of descent from the summit was interesting – deep wet waterlogged moss with hidden boulders and peaty bog. Everyone seemed to drift through this just on the cusp of control. Hitting the bouldery track again I started to take a few more places, but totally lost control over one rocky outcrop. Preparing for a painful impact I pointed the bike to the grass,  hoping for the best, as it bounced its way over the rocks. It was very close, but I managed to keep it together and stay on.

DSC_7819 (1).jpg
Whernside, in the background you can see riders slipping and sliding down beside the steps. Photo Steve Harling

Cramping arms and fingers made it hard to articulate the brakes – but at-least this time they worked [see last years post] the second half of the descent I had to keep one eye partially closed as something weird happened with my contact lenses again, felt like the wind hand blown it inside out. Remarkably I gained 19 more places on the way down to the finish.

Knowing the course a little better helped a lot, but still, I had forgotten just how technically challenging and actually very dangerous some parts of the course are. I was very glad of the skills and extra off-road focused training this year.

I finished just 6 mins slower than last years 4.19h and 5 places back at 4h 25min and 238th/600ish place. Who knows, perhaps a 4.15h would have been possible if all had gone well, but no matter, I had a great race, perhaps even more exciting due to the mechanical problems.

Thanks to the organisers and the volunteer marshals who made the day possible, not to mention encouragement from the many spectators, including my brilliant family Harriet and William who came along reluctantly to support.

Cycling weekly article


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