When I was doing the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race last month, somewhere around the top of Whernside, a chap said to me
“We must be mad!”.
“It depends”, I replied, before asking him how many times he’d done the event.
“Ten”, he said.
“Ah, well, this is my first time, so you’re the one who’s mad; I’m just exercising my right to try anything once…”
Fast forward three weeks and I’m stood in a car park in Llanbrynmair with too little gear strapped to my bike ready to embark on my fifth Bear Bones 200. Indeed, nobody has ever done all five, so where that puts me on the sanity scale, I’ve no idea. (more…)
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. (more…)
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…)