Every year for over a half-century, Yorkshire Dales National Park has hosted the renowned 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross event, which takes place at the start of the season in September. The course varies considerably from the standard 45-60 minute courses, and instead takes place over 38 miles, with the winner usually clocking in around three hours. Of those 38 miles, 18 takes place on the road, while 20 is over mixed-terrain, with four full miles being completely unrideable, usually forcing many racers to traverse much of the 5000 feet of climbing by foot and their bicycle on their back.
This year, one of our European contributors, Andy Ward, who helped with our Milton Keynes World Cup coverage last year, has been selected to participate. Over the next month and a half, Ward will be offering columns on training and bike setup from the view of a beginner to 3 Peaks.
By Andy Ward
Noun, Informal : a list of the things that a person would like to do or achieve before they die
Type “cycling bucket list” into any search engine and the results run into tens of thousands. From climbing Mount Ventoux, to rattling down the Arenberg trench via racing across America – the possibilities are endless. For British cyclocrossers, however, that list is a very short one. Stick a bunch of us in a pub and the conversation inevitably comes round to one particular race… the 3 Peaks. In the past, I’ve always been the one sipping my pint, shaking my head and marvelling at the madness of it all – until now. In a sudden loss of common sense, in which the consumption of beer incredibly played no part, I’ve gone and entered the “hardest cyclocross race in the world”.
At 46 years of age and a respectable GP at that, I ought to know better. The requirement for a survival bag and a voluntary donation to mountain rescue should have rung alarm bells. But I claim to love cyclocross and as Dean Barnett, second in the race in 1995 told me, I should prove my love by doing the 3 Peaks.
So how do I, a veteran of a mere dozen or so cyclocross races, prepare for what will be undoubtedly the toughest challenge of my cycling life? How do I reach the fitness required in 11 weeks whilst juggling a job at the coalface of the NHS and spending occasional time with my family? How do I learn to tackle the vicious gradients when I live in the gently rolling county of Leicestershire? How do I set up my bike for the big day? I’ll be taking advice from riders who know and sharing their tips as I work up to the race.
The Training Begins
Where do I start? I have an inkling of how to prepare for the cyclocross season. Lots of base miles through the summer, practicing technique, speed endurance sessions on the turbo. It works reasonable well for one hour of intense effort in a league race, but for the 3 Peaks? Fortunately, help was at hand through the magic of twitter, the expertise of local veterans and two previous runners up – Dean Barnett and Paul Oldham.
All were agreed on three key pieces of advice: ride your cross bike a lot, ride it on rough off-road and shoulder it as much as possible. My road bike has taken early retirement this summer. Dean was kind enough to send me his training plan from 20 years ago. 16.5 hours on the bike with three hours of running in the first week! This does not fit easily into my hectic working week.
Extending a few commutes on my singlespeed cross bike to take in canal towpaths is helping to increase the mileage. Another problem is that the rolling countryside that makes up my home county of Leicestershire bears little resemblance to the fells of Yorkshire. Needing a steep slope to practice the slow grind of Ingleborough I was directed to the historic monument of Burrough Hill Fort.
On the face of it, an unlikely location for hill reps, the 2000 year old embankments provide plenty of opportunity to toughen my shoulder and strengthen my legs. An Iron Age Fort for calves of steel! Poring over the map I’ve created a tough training loop, with rutted bridleways and field tracks mixed with rolling road sections to get me to the hill. Two weeks in and it feels like progress is being made. I’ll keep you posted…
Andy Ward is a British-based lover of all things cyclocross. NHS General Practitioner and lecturer at Leicester Medical School. Cyclocross is the best medicine. Follow him on twitter @awkwardcyclist