The Three Peaks Cyclocross: Ace and Rubbish

No surprises in telling you that the 3 Peaks cyclocross, the 54th edition of which is taking place this Sunday is my favourite race. With any an annual event, it’s always going to feel special. Part familiar, part rare, part scary and part exciting.

The best part for me is that there isn’t a best part. Nor a worst part. They mingle.

The build up – a few days before

It’s ace because:
  • Loads of people are involved. You can feel the buzz across the social sphere.
  • The questions start coming. The genuine feeling that there is a community of people supporting each other in their prep
  • The training ends. You might ride, you might run, you might test-ride your bike and check for mechanical tweaks, but the training is over
It’s rubbish because
  • There’s a dry feeling in your mouth… (not literally .. although it’s been too long since you had a good beer or three). You have momentary panics about minor issues on your bike. Did you tighten that bolt enough? Did you tighten it too much?!
  • The training ends. (See above). There’s nothing you can do but you know you have never trained enough. Nobody can ever feel totally well-prepared for the fist climb (of Simon Fell). But somehow, you can’t help thinking that everyone’s trained better.
  • Relaxation is simply not possible. It’s a complication preparation business. Food, clothing, whistle, survival bag, spares, tools, warm-up clothes. Clothes for after. Food for after. Breakfast plans. Sleeping x hours. Re-checking your bottles. It’s endless. You just can’t wait for it to just bloody well start.
  • That weather app is overheating.

On the day

It’s ace because
  • This is the best race in the world. Unique, tough, beautiful. You may try and challenge that, but you’re wrong.
  • All the faffing is behind you. No matter what’s gone before, this is the day, this is the hour.. time to get stuck in.
  • It’s like a massive social event. So many faces to say hello to. Some you see frequently, some only once a year. There’s even people you smile or nod at every year who just look familiar. You don’t know who they are, but they’re there each year.
  • Roger Ingham. Just those two words. You hear the man on the rickety van-mounted PA, you know you’ve arrived. Did I say unique yet?
  • It finishes, and the craic starts in an instant. The support team, the competitors. those million stories. It’s just the start,
It’s rubbish because
  • Just plain scared. It’s a lot of climbing and it’s not a sportive. Fight or flight stuff.
  • 650 riders, two bridges, one legal side of the road and only 10% of the field have ever ridden properly in a bunch of more than five. That 3.3 mile road race neutralised section to Gill Garth is hairy. There is jollity and joviality, but there is no calm or relaxation. Nerves fray.
  • It’s over in no time. I know, there’s times on the climbs or headwindy road sections that you feel it’ll never finish, but the worst bit is that it does. That’s it for the year. You don’t get another chance for 52 weeks.

The days after

It’s ace because
  • You can focus on other things. It’s the start of the ‘real’ cyclocross season now for me. I can start looking at proper, focused skills and training that don’t involve sore shoulders, punctures and bloody hills.
  • You can de-Peaks your bike. The daft modifications. The silly tyre pressures. Those Landcruisers. All of it can gradually ebb away now and a bike can become a thing of pleasure rather than some blunted utility vehicle.
  • The photos start rolling in. People tag themselves and share their day. You get to see how it looked. How other people fared. Weirdos like me write up their day and love reading how it went for others.
It’s rubbish because
  • You suddenly realised you never got a chance to chat to [whoever] and you feel really bad
  • You can’t believe that [whoever] finished in front of you and you can kick yourself but can do nothing about it now
  • Your mind has started nagging you about what could have gone better. Why did you follow that bloke down that unknown line off Whernside. Why didn’t you carry a spare [whatever]? You didn’t eat enough at [insert place name].  Nagging. Percentages. You promise to write it down to remember for next year, but you don’t actually do that.
  • You’ll be flying in four days. The fitness that a good hammering like that gives the body is amazing. The fitness gained for this would be perfect … for … the … Three … Peaks … Cyclocross. DAMN.   All ready now, and too late!
  • It only comes once a year.