September’s mismatch

Guest Blog Post from Alan Dorrington:

Less than one calendar month till the 3 Peaks but my conflict has been in full swing for some time now – normal cross vs Peaks. Whilst the Peaks is cross, it certainly isn’t cross as we know it, Jim. It is utterly unique, combining skills sets that borrow heavily not just from cross but from mountain biking, fell running, even time trialling…… The struggle is in training for a one-off 4+hr (for me) event with all these skills when, as a cross obsessive, the calendar is demanding concentration on a sub 1 hr blast over relatively amenable parkland surfaces.

I was attracted to the Peaks from a cyclocross background – back in the early 90s when I first came across the race it seemed it was something that you did as part of your cross season. Why? Because most others did as well. Since then, the Peaks has welcomed mountainbikers, runners, road riders, adventure racers and more to the party and it no longer feels the sole preserve of the cyclocross community. And it is all the better for it.

I enjoyed relative success in my first Peaks in 1991, ending up 14th and 1st newbie. No course recces, no prior knowledge – just some useful tips and mentoring from Zodiac clubmates and Peaks stalwarts, Keith Broadbent, Ian Small and Neil Orrel. A year later, forewarned and forearmed, I improved to 10th. But that is where it finished – the following year was a DNF and it was 12 or so years before I started cycling again, re-entered the Peaks, only to DNF again. Must try harder…..

Reflecting the other day on those rides in the early 90s, I realised what a long way the Peaks has come, and in many ways how much ‘bigger’ a race it has become. Looking at the standard of rider required to finish in the top 10 these days, it has become clear that as more Peakistas have come along to join the ranks of the out and out crossers, that the standard has shot up – particularly in terms of the depth of the field. Put it like this, nowadays there are some very talented riders (myself definitely not included!) finishing outside the top 10. This is not to take away from the acheivements of former winners like Tim Gould and Fred Salmon who were winning impressively around the time I was riding, nor others competing at that time. However, the race simply has got harder, in my view. Call that the Jebb effect, or call it what you like!

I’m back to ride the Peaks again this year, after a slightly chequered relationship over the last few years. The draw is there, strong as ever as the race exerts a unique pull over its participants. For me it manifests itself as a combination of fear and excitement, as it is never a race to be taken lightly, but one which rewards particpants more than any ‘mere’ cross race. And the conflict? Whilst the first cross race of the season is under our belts here in the NW, and the need for turbo sessions of short intervals all very well, they are of little use when staggering up Simon Fell whilst you fight for grip underfoot. Peaks specific training is where it is at right now and where you’ll find me over the next few weeks leading up to the 27th, lugging my bike up and down the local fells, trying to harden up that right shoulder. See you at the end of September!

Gears and gear

Despite being at this game since 1995, I still can’t help but want to tweak with gear in the hope that there might be some ‘holy grail’ of equipment / setup that I’ve missed out on.

I’ve gleaned lots of valuable knowledge in the numerous events I’ve ridden – like anyone who does the race a few times. The early ones were more experimental and gradually you work your way into knowing what works for you. The problem this year is that I seemed to have forgotten that and started reinventing my particular three peaks wheel.

Shimano gearsThis time, it was the gears. I’ve acquired a Mountain bike this year after a gap from MTBs for a few years. It goes well and I love the setup. So being a three peaks junkie I inevitably started to ask myself if there was anything I could learn from this year’s MTB riding. Mistake number 1… I’ll explain why:

Having decided that – being in the lucky position of having three cross bikes – I was going to radically adapt my ‘Ingleborough and Penyghent’ bike. Given how hard the Penyghent climb is after a good dowsing in Ingleborough and Whernside, I seem to struggle on gearing, not being able to turn over the rather small 34-27 bottom gear I’ve used there for the last two editions of the race. So the ‘logic’ is to build up a bike with an easier gear. Given that I’m on 10 speed – and hence limited to 27 on the back – my only real option was to look at a smaller front chainring. Out comes the MTB triple chainset. I was starting to get quite chuffed about my choice of gears… it made sense… on paper. 28-27 would really help in those dire moments on Penyghent… wouldn’t it?

Well… no, actually. You see, I’ve been here before. If there was a medal for riding as much of the course as possible, maybe I’d look into gears as the solution, but yesterday on a long, hard, off road day out, experimenting with my new luxurious gear, it came back to me very quickly. Having a smaller gear just makes you travel slower. The three peaks is a race. Damn. I recalled Penyghent last year, and also recalled a battle with Philip Hinchliffe who eventually finished one place ahead of me. We hit the start of Penyghent together and I was envious of his triple chainset – but by the summit – despite his riding where I could only walk – we crested within 20 seconds of each other. That’s just it really – his more ride-able gear took him up the hill no faster than my walk / jog / push / carry approach.

That’s the hardest bit about coming to terms with this equipment experimentation – I know in my heart of hearts that the training is what’s required. That requires time – not money or technical know-how. Hey ho. The bike now has it’s standard gear on and it’s back to the training. Until the next bright idea.

No juniors (yet!) for 2009 race

UPDATE !! COMMENT FROM JOHN 18 07 2009 – TWO JUNIORS NOW ENTERED – the future is safe!

From my own sketchy memory – this is the first year that the event will have no juniors ever – if the current ‘latest’ list of accepted riders is anything to go by. This is obviously a major shame for a race that seems to boast such enthusiasm.

Fell races seem to be going the same way of late – with the increase in enthusiasm in the more senior end of the population not being matched by enthusiasm in the younger riders.

It’s obviously a great shame – maybe the race is shrouded a bit too much in this legend of harshness, danger and difficulty – it puts off today’s couch potatoes. Maybe we should bring out a Nintendo Wii version of the Three Peaks Cyclocross that youngsters could safely take part in without going too far outside of their comfort zone.

Let’s hope later versions of the entry sheet show a couple of ‘ard kids.

2005 Whernside Photos from Richard Seipp

Mark LeylandRich from qwertyphoto has just told me he’s uploaded this batch of photos from the descent of Whernside from his point-and-shoot camera. Still a nice collection capturing the good, the bad and the very tired looking.

I’ve just discovered these on an old HDD today. Taken with a point and shoot, so not that great quality. Looking forward to this years race

Click here to view them

James Eddison – Skipton / Swiss rider’s account from 2008

James Eddison came from Switzerland to ride the Three Peaks in 2008 and has only just recovered enough to send us this tale of his experiences…. thanks James.

2008. I finally had a start place. I had been wanting to enter for many years through growing up in the Dales and watching friends compete. One particular pal was always my cycling companion, who always beat me in whatever we did together. I had this burning ambition to beat him in the Peaks. In 2006 I moved to the Zuri Oberland in Switzerland and finally started taking my cycling a bit more seriously. I met a couple of lads at work who were and still are significantly better than I am on a bike and I used this as a springboard to up my fitness. From riding general 25 mile loops around Skipton I moved on to doing 120km road rides with some serious climbing. In addition our local hill out the back door is a 4km 600m climb. Perfect. Peaks training was shouldering the bike up this little gem, with the odd trip out down the local Mtb DH course, on the cross bike – much to the disbelief of the local DH lads! Come race day, sadly my pal had pulled out due to injury but was there for moral support, which spurred me on no end.

The start was an odd occasion. I have competed in a few road races with neutralised starts, which are in general pretty neat and calm – but the Peaks start was crazy and frightening, especially when starting back in the ‘midfield’. I counted myself lucky to stay upright as there appeared to be many riders not used to such a start swerving from left to right. The first part of Ingleborough – I had been warned, but nothing prepared me for that gradient! Ouch. The descent of Ingleborough – great, passed many. Stupidly didn’t take on a fresh bottle at the bottom – I was running out of energy on the way to Whernside – lesson learned!

Managed to ride all the way down Whernside, how rocky is that?! – Please my personally hand built wheels held together (they were even perfectly true at the end of the race!). Got a decent tow in a pack on the way to Penygent.. was feeling OK until I hit the gravel track – blimey, does that stuff sap the energy out of you on the way up! I took far too long on the way up and got passed by many, however on the descent I took pride in the extreme practice I had made on the DH course and passed scores.

As soon as I got onto the road for the short blast back, I had this overwhelming sense of joy/happiness at the realisation that I had completed the Peaks after many years of wanting. Seeing my pal on the run in back to the finish gave me an extra boost of motivation. I crossed the line at 3 hrs 58, beating my pals best time from through the years by a good 8 minutes. Job done! He was the first to congratulate me, a true friend and competitor.

I have competed in many bike races in Switzerland since moving here, and whilst they are all good, nothing quite compares to the unique nature of the Peaks. This year I have set my sights on doing it again, and hopefully beating my time. Preparation has been different and tough. The group of us here set ourselves the challenge of the Trans Alp Road Race, 880km and over 18,000m of climbing over 7 days. We started training in January (in Switzerland with over a meter of snow on the sides of the road!), a week at Easter in Majorca for some warmer weather, many weekend long road rides around here and the mountain passes followed finally last week the race. We managed P60 out of 550 starters. I have never been through so much pain, mentally and physically on a bike ever, I can’t say it was pleasurable, but it was satisfying.
So now to the Peaks… I should start running again – which I hate, and I can’t even go close to my road bike after last weeks hell. We have a nice 5 day Mtb Trans Alp social trip planned for the first week in August – so hopefully that will keep things ticking over. I really don’t want to waste my new found fitness. Motivation for Transalp training was difficult, but somehow Peaks training is more fun and the end goal more pleasurable. I see it more of a challenge than trans alp in a strange way, maybe it’s because in reality the Peaks is the highlight of my cycling year. I try explaining the appeal to my cycling pals from here and they don’t quite get it. Hopefully this year they will travel over with me, see how stunning the Dales are and that the UK is far more than the big cities and that this quirky race in God Own is one of the finest races in the world.

Entry form concerns: Reactions, Context, The bigger picture

I’ve had a good chat with a good number of people over the last 24 hours about the entry form and whole entries issue with the Three Peaks Cyclocross. It’s such a complicated and sometimes subtle ‘system’ that it needs a bit more explanation.

The first thing to understand is that there is no formal ‘system’ for filling / selecting riders for the race. Remember that the race never filled up in advance until 4 or 5 years ago. For that reason it’s never been an issue until the last couple of years. Even two events ago (if we discount the 2007 foot & mouth year) the 2006 event was full in record time of 29 days !
John Rawnsley is one of those salt-of-the-earth good people with a strong sense of morality. He fundamentally does not like to let people down. Bearing this in mind, after what is rumoured to have been 1400 hits on the entry form in a little under 11 hours, John was in no quandary about taking the form down from the site.
Leaving it on there would have also given john the nightmare of opening perhaps 2500 envelopes and sifting through as many entries to try and make a decent field. That in itself is several days’ work on top of what is virtually a full time job for John.
However, it’s important to remember that the entries are not closed until the final list of accepted riders is published on the site. It doesn’t take much to work out that there is a complex and ultimately manual task for John in balancing the right field for the event. This means balancing the race demographics
  • old / young / (and juniors!!)
  • newcomers / seasoned riders
  • male / female
  • people who will genuinely turn up, be fit, and finish !
My blog post yesterday was packed to the brim with my usual flippancy – and over-simplifying things here doesn’t help. Yes – it is a race – and yes – there is a selection process taking place alongside a first-come, first-served system. But there is no ‘system’ and there can’t really ever be. As soon as there are rules about who rides, you’ll need to bend them. First-come, first-served is fair to an extent, but imagine the race without Rob Jebb or Nick Craig in it. It’s equally unsustainable.
So, once again, hats off to the likes of John and Keith Parkinson (the official website‘s webmaster – who voluntarily published his phone number on the site when he took the form down and lost another day and evening of his life to this race as a result ) – doing this nightmare of a ‘job’ for the love of the event and the sport.
I hope you get in – and if you do I bloody well hope you turn up and give it your very best shot !!!

Entries online, entries offline.

Well that was fun wasn’t it?! Entry form removed due to excessive demand… so it IS a first come, first served event – I’d always been saying it was a RACE and that John and team had to look at the entries and decide who’s going to turn up AND make a race of it.

I think it’s fair enough to give some credence to those who enter promptly but surely we’ve got to allow some room to pick and choose who rides?

Oh, and I know of at least one seven times winner who hasn’t got to the form in time – and yes – I agree wholeheartedly that John should consider a late entry from him.

Nick Craig: A Vet, but not done yet

Just browsing through some fell running results and I see that 3 Peaks legend Nick Craig has been posting some of his best ever fell running results this year. This from the supposedly full-time bike rider.

See some of his recent running results here, including second to one of Rob Jebb’s main running rivals Lloyd Taggart a couple of times already this season.

Talking of Rob, most of you may have noticed that the recent birth of his first child – daughter Millie – doesn’t seem to have blunted his sword in any way – with a repeat performance of his 2008 Fred Whitton ride in the Lake District, placing equal first with former national hillclimb champion James Dobbin.

Jebb’s peaks domination continues

Robb Jebb’s seven three peaks cyclocross victories would be enough for most mortals, but it seems he can’t get enough.

In this year’s three peaks race (the running race, that is), Rob completing the 55th running of the 24 mile course in 2 hours, 54 minutes and 53 seconds, making it four wins in the running race since 2005.

Perhaps more special and notable in this year’s victory, was that Rob became a father on 25th March for the first time. Millie Hannah Jebb was born to Rob and Sharon, meaning that, rathr worryingly, fatherhood seems to have done nothing to dent Rob’s thirst for victory.

Full results from the fell race here.