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Amateur Events

3 Peaks Cyclocross 2013, the world’s toughest CX race?

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross is tough enough for anyone, infact it’s just madness

Dubbed the toughest and biggest Cyclocross event in the UK, the 3 Peaks Cyclocross race challenges even the hardiest of riders.

Welcome then, Phoebe Sneddon who’s raced Cyclo-Cross (CX) for three years, who stepped up and thought it time to tackle the 3 Peaks CX challenge head on.

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross bike race is one of the toughest UK events out there. For those of you who aren’t in the know, it essentially consists of carrying your bike up the three highest peaks in North Yorkshire, before clinging on for dear life all the way down the other side. Throw in a smattering of road riding between the ‘Peaks’ for good measure and it sounds fun right?

I always thought there comes a time in a CX racer’s life that you have to consider racing this event, and it’s something I’ve always fancied doing, but deep down I considered myself far too weedy, weak and slow. For support, I talked my training partner and newest MuleBar Girl – Sigma Sport team mate Di into entering.

Di is a fell running, Ironman, CX racing machine, so I was confident she wouldn’t have any trouble with the race, although bizarrely enough the first time I’ve seen Di properly nervous, is at the start line of the 3 Peaks CX! Once signed up and committed, we set about adapting our bikes with MTB gear ratios, a more upright descending position and sissy levers.

A hint of respite for Phoebe on the 3 Peaks CX race

Sick with nerves I got myself to the start line, thanking my lucky stars that it wasn’t raining like the previous year. I had chosen to wear a Camelback as it was quite warm and there were various items I had to lug around with me for the event. Quite disconcerting when you’re packing, to have to include items such as a survival bag and whistle, alongside the more traditional bars, gels, jelly babies!

I lined up at the back of the pack for the start, with plenty of other friendly nervous looking riding. In hindsight my positioning was probably a bad idea, although my aim was to just finish, with no real time in mind, getting stuck behind a mass of pedals wasn’t ideal! The organisers kindly set us off on a rolling road section, where I moved my way through the bunch trying not to let the racing excitement take over and blow my legs to pieces in the first few kilometres.

3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross course details

  • Total distance: 61kms (38 miles)
  • Road: 28kms
  • Unsurfaced: 33kms
  • Unrideable: 6kms – 8kms (dependent on individual ability & prevailing conditions)
  • Total climbing: 1524m (5000ft)

The first climb involved shouldering the bike and crawling while holding onto a fence up an extremely steep grassy hill side, or cliff face as it felt. I was quite enjoying this bit chatting to other riders, overtaking people and generally keeping my spirits up, I think at one point I was actually singing to myself. It did not last long.

At the top of the hill we were met with gale force cross winds. Struggling to ride or carry the bike I scrambled over the rocks to dig myself in. All sense of enjoyment was lost at this stage. The descent was long and grassy with lots of hidden obstacles. It was over one of the obstacles that my race took a turn for the worst.

World’s Hardest Cyclocross Race a Road Cycling video by thebaker

As I started to enjoy myself descending, I let the brakes off. Picking up speed I hit something, I have no idea what. Flying over the handlebars I bashed myself hard on the head and damaged my right arm. The crash knocked the wind out of me. Rolling over I sensed my arm was badly hurt. As a doctor I tried to instil some common sense but doctors make terrible patients. After 5 minutes of sitting on the floor getting my breath back I got back on and carried on the bottom. My arm was bleeding a fair bit and I was briefly checked over by the marshals at the bottom. Once on the road I felt slightly better. I pushed on to the next climb.

It soon became evident that I couldn’t get out of the saddle as my right arm could not support my weight. Once at the top of the second climb that dreaded wind started again and I stopped to help a rider who had been blown off their bike into a stone wall. I started another long descent this time on flagstones, as I dropped off one of the steps I felt a searing pain in my right elbow. So much so that I wobbled off into the soft bog at the side. Choking back the tears I realised I was unable to hold the bars on the rocky surface let alone brake with my right hand. I was back to running again. Scrabbling/trotting as fast as I could I told myself once at the bottom I could throw in the towel.

Considering the 3 Peaks CX race next year? Phoebe suggests to:

  • Drive up there with some walking boots and check out what bits of the route you can (you can’t ride much of it before the race, as much of it is private property)
  • Practise, practise, practise carrying the bike
  • Practise, practise, practise descending rocky terrain on the cross bike
  • Never give up, just keep moving forward

As soon as I hit the next road section I was able to rest my arm on the tops and get my self together. I decided if I got to Pen Y Gent before the time cut off I would give it go. Just as I made it to the bottom of the third climb I saw Di coming down. Just the sight of a familiar face cheered me up no end. Knowing she was still in the race and smashing it by the looks of things spurred me on. That feeling lasted 5 minutes before the pain in my elbow built up. I had to get off and walk. Concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other I made it to the top knowing that I would have to run most of the way down made me feel physically unwell.

Palpable relief at finishing

I had made it to the road – 4km to go to the finish – bloody hell I was going to finish. I realised I was second from last. There was no way I was going to finish last. I pushed on dropping the last man behind me. In the distance I could see a tiny figure in bright pink trainers pedalling towards me. Just as she had done as the end of the fell races – Di had come back to get me. Riding along side telling me how proud she was I was still going and how I was nearly there I made it to the finish.

Stiff and sore the next day x-rays confirmed a small fracture of my right radial head – elbow basically. Not a serious injury but not something you would want to ride the 3 peaks with. With exercises, stretches and painkillers I should be back on the bike in no time.

Despite an exceptionally slow time of 6 hours I finished and I have to be proud of that. Di rode an absolute stormer and finished first female first timer with a lovely trophy.

Inspired by what you’ve read? You can sign up to compete in the 2014 Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race on the organisers website.

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