Unlike last year when the unseasonably hot September weather bathed the Yorkshire Dales in glorious sunshine, Sundays edition of the Three Peaks Cyclo Cross race saw a return to form with a mix of wind driven showers and lead grey skies. But hey, if you want good weather don’t do cyclo cross, especially in this part of the world.
The Three Peaks has been tormenting anyone brave enough to tackle it since 1961. It is recognised as the toughest cross race in the world and although there is possibly less than one percent of the starters in with a chance of victory each and every finisher is a winner.
Six hundred plus hardy competitors embarked from Helwith Bridge at 9:30 to tackle the climbs of Whernside, Ingleborough and Penyghent and of course every other twist, turn, hump and hollow between them. The race is a good solid mixture of offroad riding, road racing and tortuous hill walking with bike on shoulder. A day for the mountain goats ensued.
Travelling towards my destination the roadsides were filling up with spectators eager to glimpse friends and family members as they tackled the route. At one point I found myself driving alongside Rob Jebb as he appeared from a farm track and hurtled along the road. You can’t do that in the Tour De France!
Taking my usual position at Ribblehead ( I must try a new location next year) and doing my damndest to keep the horizontal rain off my lenses the riders, lead at this stage by chief goat Jebb, started to appear shortly before 11:30. Two hours over hill and dale and still looking wide eyed and relatively fresh, this is a game for the most rugged of athletes, men and women of grit and resolve that us mere mortals can only wonder at.
Jebb flew past with last years victor Paul Oldham close in his wake. These were the protagonists who would duel for the spoils as the race unfolded.
Veteran Nick Craig, who first won this event in 1991, opting for an alternative and less rugged decent towards the iconic viaduct lay third with Ian Taylor hot on his wheels. Taylor took a tumble on the grassy slope but quickly remounted to resume the chase.
And so it was for the next two hours or so that my chosen hillside was littered with many a rider each undertaking their own private battle with the terrain, the weather and their own inner thoughts. I witnessed punctures, cartwheels, skid and slides. Many an expletive was heard as riders battled to mix speed with personal safety only to be skittled by hesitation and lack of momentum. The cobbled steps needed to be met head on and at reasonable speed. Don’t dally or you will be parted from your mount!
When the stragglers finally went past Ribblehead and on their way to Penyghent the winners, Paul Oldham and Delia Beddis were long since back at the ranch and in receipt of their trophies and presumably a well deserved pint or two. But the stragglers are just as important as the Jebbs, Oldhams, Beddises and Craigs. The ordinary folk are what makes the race special. Its what makes us all believe that we too can tackle this course. Speaking for myself though someone has to photograph it so i won’t be partaking. Whats your excuse?
The Three Peaks always, in my tiny mind anyway, sounds the bell for Winter. From here on in the weather turns grim and the tyres turn nobbly. Zip up your coat, put on your hat. The next few months belong to the hard men and women.
For full results go here.
If your photo appears in the gallery please feel free to download. Personal use only though, no commercial rights.
For the full set go to chrismeadsphotography