3 Ups and 3 downs

I shouldn’t let the 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross get to me like this. I should know better. I’ve had my day in many ways and know that I’m never going to have another belter of a result in this beautiful race after 22 times around those hills. But this is what the race does to you. It gets inside you and niggles away.

There is no telling yourself that you’re just happy to get around or you will settle for a safe finish. You can try telling yourself it, and maybe even you believe yourself for a bit. But the nearer you get, the clearer it becomes that you want to get the very best out of yourself, and nothing else will do.

The 58th annual 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross was not a good year for me. Ironically, I don’t think I have had such a smooth, problem-free ride. My bike was perfect – only a couple of minor chain drops, but nothing at all to complain about. My technical riding was bob-on. Nailing the descents, and never putting myself into danger, but stealing so much time on other people it’s almost criminal. But this was an off day royale.

I knew from the moment we started turning pedals on the 3 miles of neutralised valley road that I wasn’t going well. Even sitting in the bunch was a major effort and I started to get dropped from the lead group almost before the racing had begun. It felt like my brakes were on. (They weren’t, I checked). When we got off our bikes on the steep crawl up Simon Fell, it felt like my brakes were on, even though my bike was on my back. (I think they were). I was plodding up, but giving it everything I had to go at a plod. I knew it was not going to be the kind of day where it would kick in and I’d get something back. I just had to struggle on and keep my chin up. This is the 3 Peaks, and with the starvation of two COVID years, I was just bloody lucky to be back doing this.

A pattern

Looking at the split times afterwards, there’s no surprise at all to me to see that the UPs were appalling, and the DOWNs were ace. To be honest, it was the thought of these prolonged descents on unsuitable bikes that kept me sane most of the day. The knowledge of all the nuances of the track, the reading of the conditions, and the sheer enjoyment of picking up places with basically no effort. In terms of the 116 V50s who started, (my age category – where I finished a dreary 16th) I was 3rd, 6th and 3rd on the descents. So no issues there. But yes…. those climbs. And even the flat road sections I can normally hammer. 2022 was not happening for me. The corresponding positions in the V50s were shocking … 22nd, 21st and 18th v50 was not going to cut it for me.

So, what was it?

I really don’t know. The usual frequent pre-Peaks trips to the loo on Saturday were to be expected, but I did have some rotten guts (sorry) looking back over the latter half of the week. On the day they weren’t particularly bothering me, but I was definitely just not all right. Tired eyes, washed out. People were telling me I didn’t look brill. But I’m not sure – if you look at it the other way, my 3 hrs 47 finish is probably about 6 minutes ‘per mountain and road’ on what I might have realistically expected… and that makes it sound like I’m in the ballpark. It doesn’t take much to tip the balance.

Thank yous

It can never be stressed enough that this race is impactful not only on the riders. The group of volunteers who have kept this event going since John Rawnsley somehow made the first event since John’s death in 2019 feel even more special than usual. The fantastic event program was heart-warmingly dedicated to John’s memory, and all I can say is he’d be quietly very proud of how the first race he was unable to race or watch went down. It was blissfully smooth, parochially quaint as ever, and just as friendly and boutique as it’s ever been. Well done to the planners, marshals, Commissaires, Mountain Rescue teams, course markers, outriders, indeed every person who donned a hi viz and made this race so smooth.

It’s also a day that amazes me in terms of the chaos that support teams go through. Well done Katie and Elsie and thank you.

Finally, I’m not brilliant with names to faces. Proper old man stuff. But to see and hear so many people cheering me on despite the lowly position was truly humbling. Thank you – you kept me honest and cheered me up, constantly.

Pics and videos:
Thank you to Alan Dorrington, Steve Fleming, Pete Aylward, Alex Morris, Nick Taylor, Johnny Dodgin, Nicola Smith, Graham Wright, Emma Osenton, Elena Green, and anyone else who took and sent me pics. At least I looked fast.