Last weekend was ‘that’ time again… the monster of a race that is the Three Peaks! With only one of our riders taking part this year, (Scotty and Sam’s entries denied and Tomo pulling out due to illness) it was up to Scot Easter to represent. Here is his in depth (and bloody great view of how things went down!
The Three Peaks time machine. It’s the same every year. One minute it’s June and you are dreaming of all the specific training you are going to do. All the mountains you are going to run over. The next minute it’s a week to go, you’ve done sod all, your cross bike is in bits, you’ve not ridden it for months and you panic because you can’t find your 42T cassette (yes I’m soft). 2019 was however looking like a vintage year, a World Tour Pro, Lachlan Morton was coming over to have a crack. All sorts of speculation was being thrown around as to how it would play out. Was he going to ride off and win by a country mile, or would he fall to his knees and weep at the very sight of Simon fell. Yorkshire did it’s part to add some drama, promising sunshine and high temperatures all week then delivering some very northern weather on the day. I’d not had a particularly good run into the race, a heavy crash two weeks before put a stop to any real training and a cold was still lingering. Thanks to everyone who said “At least you’ll be well rested”. Yeah cheers n** head.
Fuelled up and baby oil applied, I head off to the start. Looking around there are the usual familiar faces and some new ones all looking a bit lost and confused. I feel a bit smug, this was my 11th edition and I know what the f**k I am doing, this is my Church, cool and calm.
Sh*****t, I’ve forgotten my bastard number. Novice! About turn and full gas sprint back to the van to find it. Standing there having a panic piss whilst uber support man Adi pins my number on, soz mate. Sprint back down to the start just in time to line up with the other 650 riders. It’s like a big old reunion, good friends mixed with people you only ever see on that Sunday in September. A few minutes of nervous smiles and (very) sh*t banter then flag goes down.
The road section flies by and we soon turn and head off road and through the farms (I managed not to fall of in the cow sh*t again…win!). Once onto the open moorland the race starts proper, the next km or so it the only part that resembles a normal ‘cross race, rolling along through a few gates before Simon Fell comes into view. Every year, without fail it takes my breath away, rising up like the walls of Mordor, usually with the leaders already skipping up it.
Hugging the wall I plod up, I do not feel good, struggling to breath properly and with heavy legs it feels like I’m the slowest person on the hill. After mentally slapping myself across the face I visualise something worth climbing a mountain for and crack on.
Cresting Simon fell and over Rawnsleys leap its time to pedal again, now up in the mist visibility is low and everything falls into silence. This flowy section is bliss, it feels like I am the only person up there and have some fun letting the bike slide around on the soggy ground and wet limestone. Then a voice from behind, “Are we near the top yet”. Haha “No my friend, we are not”. A little later and we are off the bikes again on the stone steps to the first summit, following the tape across the flat plateau to the mountain rescue teams who take your numbers, and wave you off to start the descent. I have zero interest in fixing a puncture up here (see mild hypothermia in 2012) so take it steady at first on the rocky path. The rest of the decent to Cold Coates is pretty uneventful, trying to figure out which patches of ground to trust, which will hold your weight and which will swallow your front wheel ejecting you off the bike and over the handlebars. Dropping out of the clouds I can see the crowds at the bottom, I love this part, it feels like there are 20,000 people down there all cheering you on. I reality they are mostly waiting to see who takes the wrong line and goes face first into a bog. Not this year, but a cheer behind indicates someone wasn’t so lucky.
Onto the road section and I manage to team up with another lad and we share the work to the bottom of Ingleborough. Now I normally go backwards at this point and struggle on the steps up the flank of Whernside but today it felt ok. I didn’t gain ground but I didn’t loose it either. Head down, left foot, right foot, visualising the top. Back on the bike again and pedal up to the summit before throwing myself down it. Now this descent has always been my achilles heel, for some reason I can never get into a flow and find some sections harder than they should be. This year is no different and I make a right pigs ear of it and I loose my sh*t more than once. Thankfully I make it to the style without a puncture and start the more enjoyable part of the trail to Ribblehead.
Back on the road to Horton and finally I start to feel like a bike racer again, my legs feel like they actually want to turn the pedals for the first time in the race so far. No time to get carried away though, there is still over an hour of racing and one Peak to go….
Turning left turn up Pen Y Ghent lane and looking up I have that familiar thought, “How the f**k am I going to get up there?!”. Another mental slap, and I crack on, mostly because I don’t want the crowd waiting at the bottom to witness me getting off and cry. Again, the climb up PYG is normally a real struggle, today it feels a little easier, maybe the “well rested” theory was right, maybe not going as hard early on meant there was a more left in the tank. Or maybe it was just the bottle of Coke (cheers Lawrence) and a tailwind. Who knows, either way I’m not really passed by anyone on the way up.
Now this is where sh*t gets real. Crunch time. My Garmin says I’ve been racing for 3h10min, and I know it takes about 20 minutes (for me) to get from the top to the finish line. Getting in under 3 hours 30 mins gets you an ‘Elite’ time. I’ve done it before, but last year missed it by 38 seconds and that just pissed me right off. It was a year of thinking where I messed up and could have saved time. It was going to be tight.
Riding down the first grassy section I feel that grim sensation of hitting a hidden rock and brace for the hiss of a puncture, but I get away with it. Back on the main track dodging the riders still coming up, trying to ride the line between going fast and trying not to crash or flat. My arms start to feel the strain, I can either brake or hang on at this point, not both. Time to let go of the brakes, knowing if I puncture I’ll be close enough to Adi with my spare bike and not lose too much time.
Through the S-Bends at the bottom of the track and onto the road, my Garmin says I’ve got about five minutes to ride the two miles to the finish. Sitting down I try and get into time trial mode. Now at any other time riding this road section at 23mph+ wouldn’t be too hard but now I’m three peaks deep. I skip chewing the stem and start licking my front wheel instead trying to get ‘real aero’. In reality I’m swinging all over the place, break dancing on the bike and about as aerodynamic as a house brick, but the legs feel good and I start passing riders on the run in. Hitting the final little drag it feels like Mount Ventoux but I crest it and sprint round the last bend into the finish. The clock stops at 3h 29m 43 seconds.
Now, confession time, this race means a lot to me. After rolling through the finish I had to sit down, head in hands and let a bit of emotion out. After my crash I didn’t think I’d make the start, then to make things worse a cold kicked in. The prospect of not finishing or putting in a sh*t performance made me think of not racing. I have my reasons for thinking f**k it, and I’m glad I did.
Another epic ride from Scot and amazingly added another ‘Elite’ medal to his haul from this amazing event! Roll on next year, with hopefully a little more orange on the grid!