It is in late September that the un-oiled call of the moorland grouse is replaced by the plaintiff honk of disc brakes echoing across the tops and the valleys below in The Yorkshire Dales - yes the legendary 3 Peaks Cyclocross race.
The notoriety of how hard this race somewhat overwhelms it, however it does explain the banter on the start line. As 650, usually cold, and usually wet, competitors amass for the start everyone is trying to hide their nerves by calling one another ‘mate’ and commenting about how they don’t understand why they have come back for so much more pain - to a man and a woman I think we all know why we have returned as this is one of the best races there is. A lot like Marmite - you either love it or hate it.
The gridding worked better this year as everyone’s predicted times was reflected in their race number, so we lined up in that order. It meant the start was a lot calmer.
Simon Fell is very nearly at 100% gradient, from photos I estimate it to be 42 degrees. A real test for calves you soon realise if your training has been effective. For me the first real improvement came after Rawnsley’s leap when I engaged my lowest gear, slightly lower than 1:1. All I can say is that a super low gear is a super good idea. The Orange Sealant seemed to be doing its job well as neither tyre was flat. Orange Sealant is a latex solution with a suspension of variously sized small particles; in the event of a puncture the particles (hilariously called ‘nannites’ in the publicity jargon) help the latex plug the hole and you can ride on.
I made good progress down to Cold Cotes only going axle deep in the bog a few times. I fell off a few times as well, it must be said, but the peat is soft and so all was well.
Now of course this race is full of risks. There’s all the chronically steep climbs, the bogs, the steep descents on grass, stone steps, scree and gravel the size of your fist. Sheep probably come up higher on the risk list than cattle grids; however it was a cattle grid at Chapel-le-Dale which will define this year’s race for me. I, like many others it seems, came off on it. Laying on the ground I was quick to judge that I was basically okay, but not cycling any further that day. A bystander acted immediately to check I was okay and then make the road safe for others by moving my bike. Blood was flowing from my head and it was time for my own nannites to get working. Michael helped me back to the main road where first aid was administered by event staff. I am enormously grateful to Michael, his calm, thoughtfulness and generosity was exactly what was needed.
So for 2016, not so much 3 Peaks as 1! The other crucial point was that cycle helmets really do work; whilst I need to buy a new one now the old, in breaking, significantly reduced the impact to my head; an impact perhaps not even nannites could deal with.