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Doc on a bike. NHS, Leicester Med School, Cycling Plus Magazine. LFCC Cyclocross Champion (old gits category). Riding's the best medicine. Follow me on twitter @awkwardcyclist

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Seven Lessons I Learned From Three Peaks Number Two

So I survived another Three Peaks with body and bike intact. It wasn't all plain-sailing but I finished higher up the field and five minutes faster than in my first attempt. The aches and pains at 48 hours seemed significantly worse this time around (even my fingers hurt) but my enthusiasm for this wonderful event is only stronger. Here are the lessons I hope to take into next year's event.

Cheery on the approach to Simon Fell
Photo Jack Chevell

1. Never trust a Yorkshire weather forecast

The week before the race was spent anxiously checking the BBC Weather website. Heavy rain, gales, thunderstorms and hail were all predicted for the Horton-in-Ribblesdale area at various intervals. Mark Richmond kept us informed with various warning emails about survival bags, rain jackets and hypothermia. The night before he even advised sun-cream, sparking a surge of optimism. Arriving in the car park I was greeted by fog on the tops and pretty heavy rain. In the end it was distinctly damp and the wind on Whernside and Pen y Ghent threatened to blow the bike off my shoulder. A tougher and altogether different experience to the glorious sunshine of 2015.

2. You can't check your kit enough times

A last minute change of rucksack to accommodate the obligatory rain jacket almost left me without my tools. Luckily a quick run through my kit before joining the melee at the start highlighted my error. A broken chain near the end of the Whernside descent could have seen my race end early without that precious quick-link!

Simon Fell - short but perfectly formed video from Alex Duffill

3. Tubeless is trouble-free

After much debate I decided to race on my Schwalbe X-Ones with 65 psi. Significantly lighter than last year's set up I really felt the benefit on the road sections and the long carry ups. No punctures, no sickening clanging of the rims on the multiple rocky sections and great grip even on the wet slabs of Whernside. A good choice and a shoo-in for next year should I get a start.

4. Sub-Four hours is bloody difficult

My three ambitions for the race in ascending order were - finish in one piece, finish faster than last year and most ambitiously, finish under four hours. Two out of three isn't bad, but the 16 minutes I would need to make up for my final target seem out of reach. Descending is not my strong point, but even if I went downhill as quick as my club mate and ex-professional mountain biker Nick Walling, I would still have missed the target by a minute. Chapeau to anyone who gets a First Class Certificate!

5. If you're going to endo - do it in the peat.

On two occasions I found myself sailing over the handlebars - on Whernside and Pen y Ghent. Against the odds I manged to land in a bog on both occasions, narrowly missing some nasty, potentially bone-crunching boulders. It took me two days to get the peat out of my skin and my club jersey will never be the same again, but I see that as a small price to pay.

6. There's no such thing as a "too granny" gear

38/42 still not low enough to get me up to the hairpin at Pen y Ghent. I need a hidden motor.

7. This is the best cycling event of the year

The climbs really hurt, the descents can be terrifying and you get cramp in muscles you didn't know you had, but the atmosphere and the feeling of achievement at the end make all of that worthwhile. The marshalls, the mountain-rescue teams and the organisers are all heroes. Just after crossing the line a fellow rider told me he'd wiped one hour off his personal best after working really hard and losing a stunning amount of weight over the last year. The race is full of stories like that. Long may it continue! 

Cheery at the end.
Photo by Jack Chevell.

The rest of Alex Duffill's excellent short film of the race:

Three Peaks 2016 from Alex Duffill on Vimeo.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Dean Barnett's Three Peaks Course Notes

Former runner up and Three Peaks obsessive Dean Barnett gives us the benefit of his vast experience of the race with these helpful course notes.

The start is a wee bit manic, especially through Horton over the bridges and tight corners. The pack starts to split as the road goes up. Try not to go into the ‘red’ so soon…. As you drop down a slight hill you will see spectators lining the narrow farm track off the wide road. Someone always drops a chain as you thunder over a cattle grid and up a slight climb. As you crest the climb the fun begins… farm track, fields, walking, running, slabs of stone ….SIMONS FELL. 

Photo from http://www.slipstream-design.co.uk/phil-wilson-saddle-sore-but-still-smiling/
It’s steep and long! Trickle of energy and concentrate on keeping a good footing. At the top take a few seconds to look back, the view is worth it (if it’s not foggy!). You climb over a style – can be slippery – and start to ride / run up and down. Keep a safe distance from the rider in front as many slip off as they are still recovering from the earlier effort. You will hit a rocky path up to Ingleborough summit. Steps and more steps, the top is flat but very rocky. Get your timing dobber ready for the check point. 

Off the top it is rocky and tricky, lots of on and off the bike. After about five minutes you turn off the path onto a land rover track. Keep looking ahead as there are peat bogs and rocks! If you don’t respect the descent you will soon be sitting on your arse! All of a sudden you will see a cluster of spectators (next checkpoint), keep concentrating as the track still has a couple of surprises! The check point is just after a nasty bog!

Safely onto the road for a fast descent to the tip of Ingleton. Right turn and a slog of a climb!! Low gear for me. Groups of riders form on the road, don’t piss anyone off as you are likely to be in their company for the next hour. Eat and drink !!You turn off the road onto a farm track over a couple cattle grids, through the dismount section (drinks break) and start a long hike to the top of Whernside, the path zig-zags with loads of steps. The climb has couple of false flats as you near the top there are sections of the path you can ride with a low gear. Before you know it you are riding along the top ridge – get your dobber ready. 

Photo from http://www.swissside.com/103-2/

After the top the path is fast, 2 minutes in and the path disappears!! BEWARE. The fun now starts as large rocks with drainage gaps dominate the first half of the descent – punctures galore. Look for lines off the slabs, be ready to jump off and keep it smooth. As you exit the slabs the path is rough with sharp rock edges. Keep looking for tyre marks across the moor… it might be a good line it might lead to flying over the handle bars. You will know you are at the bottom of the descent when you hit the railway line. You now face a fast path with stream crossings to Ribblehead. Try and eat if you can!

At Ribblehead you will pass through another check point. The long road ahead is not easy, there are a couple of nasty climbs. You ride past where the race turned off to head up to Ingleborough, get a wee rest on the descent into Horton and ready yourself for Pen y Ghent. 

It is a busy climb, racers going up and down, walkers and spectators. Get into a good climbing rhythm. Heads up at all times as riders may well be coming down towards you. You should be able to ride the lower slopes. When you past through a gate it gets tough. You will either be walking or in the granny ring. You reach a grassy corner, from this point it is a foot race to the turn at the top. Its rocky and loose. The last 200m is on the grass, last check point before a fast descent, stick to the grass, bogs at first (beware the bogs) and then drop onto the path. Keep your nerve and bounce down!! 

As you hit Horton it’s a dash on the road to the finish! 

You will love it!!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Schwalbe X-One update - a Three Peaks Contender?

Tubeless very easy indeed

So, 8 weeks in, are the X-Ones living up to their early promise? The short answer is yes. So far, so very good, which gives me a bit of a dilemma...

Dry runs

The Met Office claims that this summer has been wetter than average, but that doesn't seem to be my experience. Out riding on the trails around Leicestershire and Rutland, there seems to be a distinct absence of mud. On recent rides, the ground has been baked pretty hard - even heavy rain seems to dry out very quickly. This has led to some bone-shaking rides which have tested my fillings to the limit. Not that the conditions have bothered the X-Ones. They've stayed puncture and burp free, despite some uncompromising hits on the rutted and occasionally rocky trails. A few visits to Wakerley Woods to improve my handling on the singletrack have exposed the tyres to some nasty sharp gravel sections, again with no difficulties. I have even started making an effort to hit some boulders fairly hard to test the tyres to the limit, but they have shown no signs of giving way. Admittedly, practically all my current training is aimed at the Three Peaks, so I have mostly been running higher pressures than I would normally - around 60 psi. I decided to try them at 45 psi yesterday after some rain. Grip, handling and comfort improved and the tyres stood up really well to the broken tarmac, rocks and random housebricks of the field roads I took in. The only time I felt the tyres to be a bit less secure was when I ran a much lower pressure (below 30 psi) for a cyclocross training session with Dean Barnett. Racing on a steepish off-camber section I felt the rear tyre collapse under the strain - no loss of pressure or burping, but enough to make me back off on the next lap.

A contender?

Which brings me to the dilemma. With the tyres performing really well in the sort of conditions prominent in the descents of Whernside and Pen y Ghent, could my set up survive the Three Peaks? The appeal is obvious - tubeless means less weight to carry up the long climbs. With the risk of pinch flats removed, the opportunity to run lower pressures would make for a more comfortable ride than with tubes. My concern is around durability. The Smart Sams I ran last year were heavy and don't handle as well as the X-Ones, but they survived the whole race without a single puncture. Dave Taylor of Schwalbe UK, gave me this advice: 

Tricky to say, certainly if the weather changes. Smart Sam are the go-to tyre for this challenge although sponsored riders will use Racing Ralph or Rocket Ron (33/35c) or a combination of both. These are LiteSkin tyres so not particularly robust whereas the Smart Sam’s although heavier are more robust. Three Peaks will be a nice test for the X-Ones if you decide to use them and to be honest if you hit something that ends the life of the X-One then it will most likely also end the life of a Ralph, Ron or Smart Sam. For absolute piece of mind in all conditions use Smart Sam. For maximum performance and speed use X-One. Carry a spare tube with either. 

Before extensively testing the X-One, tyre choice for the Three Peaks was a no-brainer. The great performance of this set up is giving me food for thought. I would welcome the advice of any experienced Three Peakers out there..


Cycle Systems Academy got in touch via twitter to point me to this podcast with cycle-tech legend and 3 Peaks addict Keith Bontrager - http://www.cycle-systems.co.uk/archive/201604

In it Keith recommends tubeless, but at 100 psi. Last year's winner Paul Oldham also runs tubeless, but told me he runs 45 psi for comfort. The plot thickens! Further tweeting reveals Keith's logic - Paul is a better rider, picks better lines and avoids hitting rocks hard. Keith likes the margin of error that the higher pressure gives him and recommends a tough tyre like Bontrager CX3. I suppose he would :-)