This time last week, if you asked me to write a list of the things that appealed about the Three Peaks Cyclocross Race, I’m not sure it would be a very long list. I hardly ever ride road, I’m built more for long distance than I am for speed, I’m not really a fan of carrying my bike and I’m not much of a runner. I guess it appealed because it looked hard, and it’s been running for over 50 years, so it’s got heritage. Anything that old has to be good, right?
The race is described as “the toughest and biggest cyclocross event in the UK”. Benedict Campbell titles it as “The Epic” in his film Love of Mud, and various winners and former entrants describe the punishing terrain and sometimes harsh weather conditions that take their toll on bike and body. But then, a distance of 38 miles, of which 34 is rideable and 18 is on tarmac doesn’t sound that bad, all things considered?
The sweat poured off me as I pushed my bike up the narrow lane to Fremington Edge. I heard a vehicle approaching quickly as I reached a gate across the road. I held it open as an old chap in a 4×4 roared through. Just 20 yards beyond the gate he screeched to a halt in a cloud of dust. He jumped out and without any introduction said
Would you like a cup of tea?
I was in Yorkshire. I don’t think I’ve ever been offered a cup of tea by a complete stranger while in the middle of nowhere, but if it was going to happen anywhere, you might suppose it would be Yorkshire.
The tea incident was a momentary distraction from a Maths Problem. If it took me 7 hours to ride the first 100 km of a 300 km route, how long will it take me in get to the end? The opening third of the Yorkshire Dales 300 had gone pretty quickly, and not as hard as I expected. The opening section out of Skipton was on road, and as usual I found the lure of the front group impossible to resist, which, after the first 30 km I was starting to regret. I let the lead pair of Stuart Cowperthwaite and Phil Addyman drop off in the distance while I took a picture of classic Dales terrain
Once I was on my own I found my own rhythm more easily. This allowed me to concentrate on other things like how hot and sunny it was and, for balance, other things like it’s really chuffing windy. The long climb up Apedale seemed to reinforce the wind issue as it did everything it possibly could to blow me back down the valley as I heaved on the pedals in the opposite direction. It all ended in a stiff push out of the end, and to a downhill. The wind not content with the progress I was making blew harder to the extent I had to pedal down the other side. When I eventually turned side on, I discovered it’s the sort of wind that tries to suck the air out of your lungs before you’re ready for it, via your nose. Eventually I turned my back to the wind and enjoyed the fast and swooping bridleway into Reeth, which marked one third distance. I pulled in to the shade of a tree by Dales Bike Centre and had 10 minutes sorting myself out with some food and tend to various bits of kit on me and the bike.
While pushing up Fremington Edge, I saw two riders behind me. It wasn’t until Great Pinseat that Stuart and Phil – who I’d unknowingly passed at Dales Bike Centre – caught me up. We rode the section to Gunnerside, getting in a nice technical descent into Gunnerside Gill. Since Fremington, the last 30 km had taken 3 hours, and which started to make my brain ache as I adjusted the answer to my Maths Problem.
In Gunnerside, Stuart and Phil seemed to take a stop, so I tried to capitalise and rode on. I got as far as Muker before feeling the need for some proper food. The Farmers Arms served a nice chilli and rice, which was chased down with a pint of coke. The logic was to eat earlier in the evening to avoid the chance of wanting to fall asleep if eating closer to darkness. I got back on the bike feeling pretty good and with thoughts towards maybe pushing through the night.
The edges were peeling on that idea by the time I got to the top of the Buttertubs climb, which took the best part of half and hour into a full on head wind. Without having much knowledge of the area, and with the route being so long I hadn’t really committed any of it to memory, so just figured I’d take it as it comes.
The possibility of me being able to ride through the night was looking very doubtful after the Roman Road after Bainbridge. A long loose climb that my 100 mile legs could not assail with the wind as it was. I resigned to a mix of pushing, riding short sections, looking back the way I’d come, looking forward to where I had to go, cursing the Romans, before resigning to more pushing and trying ride where I could.
I got to the top of Artengill Beck just before 11pm, which was 175 km into the route. A sub 24 hour finish was now well out of reach, as the last 75 km had taken 9 hours. A tough 75 km it was too. The last of the light had faded, as had my legs and my resolve to switch on the light and push (literally or figuratively) into the night. I picked a spot by a wall where the wind would blow up the valley and keep the midges away. Finally I’d put the wind to some use!
At 3:00 am the first of forecast rain woke me up, so I quickly gathered together my gear and within 20 minutes I was on my way down the valley. This was to be a ride of two distinct halves. My arms and legs tingled slightly from exposure to the sun on Saturday, but there was little doubt that today would be easy as Wind was back but this time with his old friend Rain. On the climb up the side of Whernside I spotted a rider in the distance which spurred me on to catch them up. Mick Collins was one of the riders who had come by me while I bivvied earlier, but he had taken less sleep than I. We rode together down to Ribblehead, before I pulled out a lead and eventually put myself out of sight.
The section from Horton in Ribblesdale, Stainforth and eventually to Malham was ridden in appalling conditions. I was soaked, battered by wind and rain and feeling very low. I stopped in Kirkby Malham to change some kit and discovered that I lacked the strength and coordination to do simple tasks like unbuckle a clip on my seat harness. I rode into Malham and straight into the first cafe I could find. An hour later I came out feeling suitably refreshed.
Once I’d left the cafe, I started on the climb out of Gordale and saw Mick in the distance. By the top of Mastiles Lane, we were riding together again. The rain had eased now and it was looking like it would brighten up, but the wind still persisted. The with not much more than 50 km left to the finish, the route is intricate to say the least. Weaving back and forth to catch all the good trails of the area. All things considered, body and bike were working well. No significant aches or pains, and the legs seemed to be able to turn the pedals up most grades despite the GPS showing more than 7,000 metres of ascent. After Malham Moor, the route finally turned south east and towards Skipton. Across the valley Mick spotted a track up the side of Rylstone Fell, and said
I bet you any money that the route goes up that!
And he was right. At a distance it had a perspective that made it look unfeasibly steep. On closer acquaintance it wasn’t so bad, but too much for me. Mick rode out of sight while I pushed. Once on the top, the trail opened up to a lovely piece of moorland singletrack that was just perfect for my gear. Carving turns, pumping little compressions and generally having a hoot made the previous 290 km melt away in my mind. I caught Mick up as we started the descent off Brown Bank to Halton Moor. The end felt close now and the pace picked up, hammering the road together back into Skipton, with the excitement of nearing the end. We stopped the clock at 15:52 on Sunday to give a total ride time of 31 hours 52 minutes. Joint third place honours, behind first place Stuart Cowperthwaite and second Phil Addyman.
It’s fair to say the Yorkshire Dales 300 would be a hard route on a good day. The wind, and later the rain, made it a proper test of endurance and staying power. The balance of really fun trails, linking sections of road and those bits you just have to do to link the good bits together can be tricky to get right over such a distance, but Stuart Rider has pulled it off.
The Yorkshire Dales 300 can sit quite comfortably and proudly amongst the array of other ITTs in the country, waiting patiently for its next challenger.
Midge headnet and repellent
Terra Nova Discovery Lite Goretex bivvy Polaris Bikewear Core Bamboo base layer
Gore Bikewear Alp-X Waterproof
X-bionic thermal arm warmers
First aid kit
[Packed into a XS size Exped dry bag]
Pick a few points on a map, a variable distance apart, say 20-40km.
Highlight any good rideable off road trails you know between these points. You’ll need about three fifths of these.
Highlight any of the unrideable trails you know between these points. Don’t use any more than one fifth of these, or your route will have a slightly sour taste.
At this stage, you may notice that not all your trails join up. Link as many of these sections as you can with bits of road, yellow ones if you have them, or any that have those small black arrows on.
You might still have a few loose ends, but don’t worry, these can be linked up using arbitrary rights of way over the top of bleak mountain tops. Again, don’t over do these, as it will affect the bitterness afterwards.
Once prepared, keep your route in a dark place for a couple of months to mature and don’t tell anyone where it is.
While your route is maturing, you will need to source approximately 70 mountain bike riders (bikepacking variety) who will ride your route. They don’t need to know where it goes at this stage, they just need to think they want to do it. (more…)
After last year’s Highland Trail Race, one of my overriding feelings after completing it was that once was enough – I was not going to go through all that again. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike, and it pushed my physical and mental limits far beyond those I’d encountered in a “normal” 24 hr solo race.
Time is a good healer, it seems. My mind had shuffled all the gruelling bits to the back, and memories of good trails and heroic efforts combined to form a comparatively enjoyable experience, albeit one that didn’t involve a lot of sleep. The addition of another 120 miles for the route this year in the form of a northern loop around the Assynt placed it well and truly into the realms of Epic (a much overused words, but in this context it most definitely deserves the capitalisation), and this tantalisingly difficult section on top of what I already knew to be a tough route made it difficult to resist.
My final preparation was less than perfect, and nearly didn’t happen at all if it weren’t for the support of Shand Cycles. High drama even continued up to the day before the race when my bike came loose on the bike rack while driving to the train station, ruining a Jones H-Bar in the process. I boarded the train anyway, and set about trying to source a replacement while en route. Keep Pedalling in Manchester came up trumps with a new bar, even going as far as meeting me at the train station to hand it over so I could continue my journey north to Scotland with as little disruption as possible.
Race day dawned cloudy with a cool breeze from the North-east. It looked like a good day for getting the miles down, and with the 1 hour earlier start this year we would have a little less pressure to get to Fort Augustus before everything shut. I settled into a rhythm reasonably well on the opening section, but clearly not able to match the pace of some of the front runners. This was a long race, and I wasn’t about to blow up on the first day. (more…)
A fraught week gathering kit together in preparation for the Cairngorms Loop 300km ITT suddenly got a whole lot worse when on Wednesday night I discovered a problem with my “race bike” that I wasn’t going to be able to get fixed. Casting an eye around the garage revealed a cyclocross bike with 8 gears and a fat bike with one gear. I dusted off the 10sp clutch mech I bought last year, but had not got round to using and stripped the 8sp cassette off the cyclocross bike, mated the bar-end shifter to a Paul Components clamp and set about fitting it all to the fat-bike. If only it was that simple. (more…)
The air was cold rolling down the road out of Tyndrum. The Highland Trail Race was done, but the riding wasn’t over until I’d got myself back to Ewich House. Having the prospect of a bed for the night was useful incentive to finish the race that evening.
I was too late for food in Tyndrum so had to make do with what I had left in my bags and whatever I could scavenge from the car. Half a packet of crisps, two pieces of stale malt loaf, one flapjack and a large supermarket cookie. Not quite the reward I was hoping for, but together with 120g of Torq Recovery powder, it was going to have to do. (more…)
I woke up with a jolt. I fumbled for my phone, the only means I had of telling the time with my GPS switched off. It was 5:15 am and very light. I got up quickly to see if Mark’s bike was still in the bothy, and it was. I gathered my kit together in a matter of minutes and was on my way by 5:25 am.
Knowing that Mark was a stronger and faster rider than me, I knew that I needed to get a few miles down the road to give myself a cushion for the rest of the race. The only reason I was in this position was because I’d slept less than he had. I’ve just done three of the hardest days riding of my life, covering 530 km, and I now had to race another 160 km to the finish. And I’ve just had 1.5 hours sleep. No pressure. (more…)
I opened my eyes just enough to assess that it was now daylight and closed them again. The rain pounded on the tin roof of the emergency shelter. I was still on my own, so whoever it was out on the mountain last night, they either stayed in Shenavall or stopped somewhere else. It was 6.30 am. I got up and put my damp cycling clothes back on, and then put my goretex jacket and shorts over the top. My legs weren’t feeling brilliant, but then yesterday was a 194 km day. Maybe they’d loosen up. (more…)
I think it got light before 4:00 am, but it wasn’t until 6.30 am that I hauled myself out of my sleeping bag and got my kit back together. It was a tidy bothy, one I’d be given the details of by a friend via the Bear Bones Bikepacking forum. It was worth having ridden the extra distance to and I felt fairly refreshed even if by only 4 hours sleep. I’d saved a couple of pieces of pizza from the night before, one of which served nicely as breakfast. (more…)