I very rarely cross a finish line with both arms in the air, especially when finishing mid-pack, but the Yorkshire 3 Peaks Cyclocross finish is different than my other races.  The joy of the finish is a combination of relief at having got round “the toughest cyclocross race in the world” in one piece, the lifting of the pressure I put myself under in the months preceding the event and the realisation that I have taken part in something really special.

In the hours that follow the finish I don’t feel all the aches and pains, euphoria is fantastic pain relief, as competitors swap stories about incidents and accidents, their performance and, most importantly, what we will do next year to get round faster.   I’ve never heard anyone say they don’t want to come back.

In the days that follow the damage done becomes apparent, but I accept it as a badge of pride, a reminder of the effort applied, the risks taken and the consequences.  What’s harder to deal with is knowing it is another whole year before I will get chance to have another go.

With Phil Simcock before the start

I came into the race following two months very specific training including lots of fell running, big tough training rides/races and turbo-trainer sessions.  Weight down, power up and I felt good.  What I hoped for was some foul weather, I always get a much better placing (but never time) when the conditions are challenging, as well as the much-needed luck that helps you avoid mechanicals and crashes.  In my six previous attempts I’d had plenty of crashes but none that had stopped me from finishing and I’d never had a puncture.  A minor miracle with descents like Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent.

My times ranged from 4hrs 54m to 4hrs 17m with a cluster of three finishes at 4hrs 38.  In the right conditions I thought there might be chance of a PB but hoped to dip below 4hrs 30m for only the 2nd time.  Conditions on the day were good.  Warm, but not too much and windy, but not blowing you off your bike windy.  All the grassy sections such as the descent off Ingleborough and the new route at the top of Pen-y-Ghent were hard going though, really sodden and boggy.

The start was the usual scary (neutralised!) chaos and I tried to keep as safe as possible.  600 plus riders blasting down a narrow country road with tight bends. I rarely ride on the road and never in a group so it’s probably better for everyone else I keep out of their way.  Everyone talks about the balance needed between fell runner, mountain biker and road rider for the 3 Peaks and I am definitely lacking the latter.  I got mullered on the first road section. Heart-rate was maxxed out and people were cruising past me.  I expected it though so it didn’t damage morale.

The Simon Fell climb on Ingleborough is always horrible.  The toughest climb and super steep in places.  Your helmet does a great job of keeping your head safe from impacts with the back wheel of the climber in front of you. Sections require you to grab at clumps of grass with your left hand to stop you falling backwards.

Start of Simon Fell.  Photo courtesy of www.muddygorilla.com

The descent to Cold Cotes is a belter.  Grassy and boggy with a scattering of rocks for added menace.  I got lucky with my lines this year and stayed upright.  I even managed to ride through the really boggy section at the bottom that I’m sure is only there so spectactors are entertained by the over-the-bars crashes into the mud.

The places gained on the descent were soon lost on the road section to Whernside.  But then gained again on the steps up to the summit.  I felt strong on the climb and did a PB for that section.

The descent off Whernside is the scariest one and where I have had my biggest crashes.  Knowing this I walked the dog up a few days before and scouted the lines to take.  What a difference this made, another PB.  No crashes and lots of people passed dealing with bike issues.

Whernside summit

On the road section to Pen-y-Ghent I got in a group with a couple of other riders and we worked together against the stiff headwind.  Well I say worked together.  A really strong girl did most of the work and when I did take a turn she went straight back in front – clearly I wasn’t fast enough for her.  Thanks whoever you were, you did a great job.

Whernside descent

After what has gone before Pen-y-Ghent is really hard.  A rocky trail that builds in steepness until you can take no more and you have to dismount and carry.  This year I rode further up than I have ever done before and avoided any near misses with the flying riders coming back down the same path from the summit.  4hrs 1m at the summit meant a PB was out of the question but a sub-4hrs 30m time was definitely doable if I could avoid any issues.  The descent was a fine balancing act between going flat out and risking bike damage on the rocky terrain and too slow for a decent finish. Despite a few heart-in-mouth moments, I got the balance about right and crossed the finish line in 4hrs 24m.

Pen-Y-Ghent ascent

Chuffed with the result, no injuries or bike issues and my best time since the almost perfect conditions in 2013.  237th out of 600 plus.

Comparing sections with 2013 it seems that I was 7 mins slower from the start to the top of Ingleborough, but pretty much faster everywhere else.  Now then!

The finish

Thanks again to everyone involved in putting on this great event.  All the organisers, marshals and spectators for the huge amount of support everyone receives.

This race is just awesome. Please let me do it again next year. ?