It’s the turn of Cyclworks rider John Senior to give us the details on his 2018 3 Peaks…
The Nuts and Bolts of the Matter
It's 4am and I'm packing the car to drive to Helwyth Bridge for the Three Peaks – unchallenged as the hardest cyclo cross race in the world. In 2016 I’d ridden and finished and understood that the only way of knowing how hard it really is - is to ride it – in 2017 I didn’t get an entry (hard to believe so many people want to suffer that badly) so I marshalled, which guarantees you an entry the following year if you want one. 2016 hadn’t put me off and I knew I could do better.
However this year, 4 weeks prior to the fateful day, I’d had to abandon a mountain bike ride after aggravating the nuts, bolts and bits of bone left in my elbow after a snowboarding accident when I was younger and significantly more stupid. I couldn’t even change gear driving back from Dalby so starting the Three Peaks looked a remote possibility – the Doctor in casualty told me it would take two months to settle down and I couldn’t ride my bike hard until then..
Optimistically, I walked up a lot of steps and did some turbo efforts and crossed my fingers. Two weeks before the race considered emailing the organiser to say I was injured – but I thought I’d give it a few days..and the weekend before 3P’s I rode two hours on Saturday, raced Cyclocross on Sunday and did an hour on Monday. My elbow wasn’t 100% but I figured with some strapping it’d be ok.
So at 6.40am my Wife, my bike and myself arrived at Helwith Bridge. The sun was coming up and the nerves were building. I went to sign on with an eye on the weather and showed my whistle, waterproof and survival bag at the kit check (these are mandatory kit in case you need to be rescued on the mountains). Back at the car I opened my flask, ate muesli and a banana , sorted through my kit and decided on shorts, jersey and arm warmers for the day. Pretty soon was lining up at the start.
I should say that I wasn’t in it to win it but - I was in it to race (this isn’t an event that you can just get round – there are cut off times and they aren’t overly generous). Most people lined up in the under four hours and faster zones – I was aiming to go sub 5.30 – definitely to beat my previous 5.53.05 – but I moved forward into the 4.30 zone – simply because almost no one else had.
A few deep breaths, good luck from Hazel, a few words with other riders and then – we’re off. The speed builds as we head out in what is supposedly a neutral start zone but, as riders try to hold wheels and jostle for position and it's actually anything but neutral, your heart rate soars and then the real race starts - over a farm track – through the fields and then looming up the wall that is Simon Fell.
The Ups and Downs
Simon Fell is more like climbing than cycling, it's only open for this event, a 45 degree scramble, your eyes level with the heels of the person in front, kicking your shoes into footholds and eventually hauling on the sagging fence at the side. You’re gasping not breathing, your calves burn, your shoulder aches and for the fiftieth time your top tube hits the back of your helmet...... and yet you plod on.
Over the top, up a ridge, dib your dibber at the timing point, across the top and then juddering, bouncing, shaking down to Cold Cotes. My elbow seems OK and if it can stand what feels like being thrown around in a washing machine then I’m all good. Onto the road I’m glad I had the bike checked at York Cycleworks. I’m also grateful to be riding on tarmac - however briefly. I force down an energy bar, slurp from my hydration pack and then turn off to start the torture by a thousand steps of Whernside.
The only positive thing about climbing Whernside is that it isn’t Simon Fell – in walking boots, appropriately dressed with a rucksack, flask and sandwiches it’s a nice morning out. In cycling shoes, carrying a bike into a strengthening wind it’s a bit of a grind. I plod behind and alongside other riders who are sucking in air, stopping occasionally (not for the view) and repeating the mantra ‘nearly half way’ apart from one guy who is, no word of a lie, saying ‘Why?’ every time he breathes out. Psychologically this may be helping him but its doing nothing for me - at this stage in the race there is no good answer.
I dib in once again at the timing check-point – ride 30 metres and get blown off the bike by the wind!! Get going again – a bit unsettled by my fall and subsequently bottle the first steep downhill. Instead, I run dragging bike after me until I feel I can ride safely and start pedalling along slabs and on muddy track at the side, taking
a gamble on riding through a pretty deep hole and go over the bars into a face plant! I hear the cartilage in my nose crunch and if I wasn’t fully focused before – I certainly am now. Other riders enquire after my health but I’m fine, some smiling members of Mountain Rescue also ask – I suspect they saw the incident and are comparing it mentally with the 100’s of others they’ve seen here.
I race down as hard as I dare, run down a descent which I’m sure I’d have been safer riding (one for next year) and push down to Ribblehead Viaduct. Hazel’s made it to here and its great to hear her shout ‘Come on-well done..’ (Please note – spectators encourage everyone – but its always good to get a shout from family and friends). Back on tarmac (great), two climbs done (great), Camelbak (other brands of hydration pack are available) empty (not so great).
I give it everything for a couple of miles and then ease off as I recognise approach to Pen-y-ghent. Turn left and start to climb. Straight into 36x36 – this is the 1-1 magic ratio (but I’ll be using a 34 next year). Being able to ride a fair bit of Pen-y-ghent – more than in 2016 – actually puts a smile on my face. However, all good things come to an end and its back to foot slogging. At this point I’m really suffering and the lack of a drink feels like its starting to tell. I dib my dibber at the top, get a mouthful of water and head down. I decide to run a descent I could have ridden but am actually faster than two blokes who’re riding so not much time lost. I jog down a rocky gulley (mental note to self – you will ride this next year) and then ride down the slabs and over the water gulleys.
Unfortunately, I get carried away and miss the left turn though the gate but I do catch the wheel of a bloke from Sunderland Clarion (I don’t feel guilty as I’d given him a gel at the top of the hill). We fly down with wheels sliding all over and catch another half dozen riders so it’ll be a race to the line …except it won’t as I’m introduced to Pen-y-Ghent cramp which is apparently a Three Peaks thing. And its IN MY GROIN! It is flipping agony and no way can I pedal through it. I dismount, stretch, shake it out, get back on but no go. So I do what any self respecting cyclist would do in such circumstances – I ride with one leg while bending and shaking the other. After a couple of minutes it eases and I hammer the final kilometer like I’m trying to win the Olympic Road Race.
One final dib, a hug from a frozen Hazel, check my time 5.22! That’s 31 minutes better than last year. Without the missed turn and cramp 5.15, riding the descents I could have but didn’t 5.05, not running out of drink 4.50, not falling off 4.45, not doing my elbow in 4 weeks before 4.30! All speculation but I will certainly be entering next year which will be my first year in the 60 plus age category, hopefully I can celebrate with a trouble free ride and a sub 5 hour day!
Things to note
If this sounds like fun – it is – although it is hard earned.
You can never do enough walking up steps with your bike as preparation.
Tyre choice is a big deal. This year I went tubeless with 50 PSI in the rear, 45 PSI at the front. Schwalbe G1 35mm were my tyre of choice
Do as much as you can to hone your technical skills.
Ride your event bike a lot.
If you can walk the Whernside descent in the weeks beforehand it will help.
If possible take someone with you on race day.
Next year I’ll be switching to bottles for my drink and getting them replaced by the 'support'.