Hands covering the brakes, I watch out for other riders while trying to scan the wet ground ahead for the best line to take. Suddenly my front wheel sinks into a bog and stops dead. But I don’t. I go over the bars and face plant straight into the peaty mud. The rider behind me bursts out laughing. Fortunately for me it’s a soft landing, because this is the descent of Ingleborough and there are still two more peaks to go.
The 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross race has been going since 1961 and though the rules and route have been tweaked over the years, it’s always been an annual cycling smash-fest over Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-ghent. It’s often dubbed as the toughest cyclo-cross race in the UK and has also been described as a fell race with a bike to slow you down on the climbs and to speed you up (and scare you) on the descents.
One of the lucky 650 to get a place on the start line, I’d been really looking forward to the race and had put in a few decent training sessions, which consisted of multiple bike carrying reps up The Chevin. Unfortunately, that training was then significantly curtailed due to two minor accidents. The first being a banged up shoulder from a trip over the handlebars after running out of talent when bunny-hopping an obstacle! The second was a sprained ankle after hitting the deck while doing a running recce of Whernside three weeks before the race. What a d**k!
Descending Whernside can be tricky even on foot
Thankful just to make the start after such fitful preparation, my primary objective was now simply to get to the finish. Thoughts of a time around 4-hours had been largely banished…and were completely extinguished by the top of Ingleborough! My ankle was holding up, but twinges of cramp in both quads meant that I was already in survival mode.
At the start of the Whernside descent, looking ‘relaxed’ (© SHP Imaging)
The rest of the race was incredible. The ascents were steep and descents were tricky. There was rain and there were some hailstones. The wind on the top of Pen-y-ghent was so strong it was a struggle to keep the bike from being blown off my shoulder. The cramp, which had begun in my quads, spread to muscles in my legs that I didn’t know I had! At several points during the race I really had to dig deep. Then almost suddenly, after 4-hours, 33-minutes and 59-seconds of effort and intense concentration, it was all over. I’d finished the 3 Peaks. I could barely stand, but I’d absolutely loved it.
The pain of Pen-y-ghent (© Patrick Frost)
The terrain, the history and the sheer lunacy of it all combine to make this a very special race. This 54th edition was really well organized and the marshals were efficient and encouraging. Two people though deserve very special thanks: my sister, who stood out in the wet and cold to hand me water bottles before and after Whernside. And the lady in the white VW van that drove past on the road to Horton and handed me some jelly babies out the window. Saviours both.
I really hope I get a place again next year.