With the thermometer in the car reading 1 degree C as I passed through Carlisle I wondered if I’d packed enough clothing and how the forum’s favourite Landcruisers might cope with ice. Needless to say by the time I reached Helwith Bridge everything looked grand and sunny with enough excitement and anxiety to banish such meteorological concerns. Three peaks cyclo cross time again.
I’d really enjoyed the race last year, feeling strong and just going round for the first time, confident of finishing and holding back enough to race where I could. This year I’d been infected by Dave Haygarth’s obsessive musings about the race and, armed with last year’s experience and buoyed by a substantially improved time in the Kielder 100, wondered how I could improve. Like Dave I had also suffered some kind of cold in the week before but, unlike him, I was never destined for anything other than average mediocrity.
I thought I’d lost time on the road sections last year, being conscious of people streaming past me, so vowed to hang onto the back wheel of anyone who passed and take my turn on the front if working in a group seemed likely. As the 500 strong peleton headed North this tactic worked well and soon I caught up Christian, my ‘teammate’. Up Simon Fell passing those cyclists who would pass me later on the descent and road and all was fine – even a quick chat with richpips who appeared from behind a rock near the summit.
My hands had been really sore at the end of the day last year from braking on the hoods so going down Ingleborough was a place to experiment. Skidding on my side through a bog made me realise that the ‘chicken levers’ offer little modulation or feedback even if the riding position feels better! Braking from the drops like the experts seem to do is the answer, if you’re an expert . . .
Tagged on a line of about 8 others on the road to Whernside certainly made it feel faster, thinking about keeping my cadence up and just going fast must have helped too. Through the drinks station I realised I was riding next to Isla Rowntree so on behalf of Sam said hello and how much he loves his bike. She and I then kept exchanging places til much later – I would pass her up the hills and on the road later when she had cramp; she, being a class-act, would leave me for dead down the hills (not quite literally as it turned out).
The top of Whernside was a fantastic place to be that day with clear views in all directions just no time to enjoy them. The descent went well, surviving the steep grassy bit down to the track at the bottom by luck alone as I couldn’t actually see where I was going and couldn’t go any more slowly! Negotiating a truck stuck at Ribblehead due to all the traffic was easy on a bike, especially one that will go offroad. On this next road section I noticed that several people seem to involve friends to pace them along – one bloke in particular went flying past being dragged by two mates. I couldn’t even think about joining them at this point and had to settle for just riding along.
Sadly when I checked my watch on the approach to Pen y Ghent it was obvious that no records would be broken, in fact I had my work cut out just to equal last year’s time. Pedalling up the track seemed much easier than before but then when the walking started the cramp set in. Stuffing down more flapjack and drinking what was left in my bottle staved it off but it must have cost some time. Not as much as what happened next though. Coming back down, this time briefly ahead of Isla, I discovered the problem with braking from the drops and was catapulted over the handlebars on a section I should have walked. The landing was one of those awful, bone jarring, crunches on my chin which caused some real alarm amongst the people ascending. Luckily there was no blood evident and teeth seemed ok so I ran off down the bit we’d watched the night before and wondered why people didn’t ride it!
Back on the road at Horton the cramp came on again and with no 60yr old veteran to drag me in this year I had to muddle along to finish 8 mins slower than last year. Disappointing but appropriately humbling. Isla Rowntree finished 2 mins ahead of me and my descent from PyG was 6sec slower than last year. All my time lost was on the last two ascents. Conditions had been excellent so obviously I’m just not as fit as I have been. I’d like to think this is a life stage thing – it’s harder to get out and train now the boys are bigger as they want to come too and they go to bed later – but I fear it may just be an age thing . . .
There are a lot of me, my, I s in this account which I don’t really like but it is my account of what is a very personal experience of a race. It’s clear reading other people’s accounts that most people are in their own world of pain or pleasure for the duration. A selfish few hours then but something that’s horribly addictive!