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Young’s Three Peaks triple

David Taylor reports for Snowdon Sports Editorial
Pictures by Rob Lampard

Reproduced by kind permission of Cycling Weekly - the Cycling Magazine for all your essential information.

The Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross, now approaching its 40th anniversary, is as popular as ever, with more than 200 riders braving the North Yorkshire weather for the latest version. There can't be many bike events where riders are sent off with a warning from the local mountain rescue team and sent on their way with emergency survival packs. But then, there is only one Three Peaks classic. It is billed as the world's toughest cyclo-cross and, at 60 kilometres, is roughly three times as long as the average event.

The Three Peaks is the 38-year-old brainchild of John Rawnsley, the Bradford Racing CC stalwart who has organised and competed in every version of the annual test of man and machine between the North Yorkshire summits of Ingleborough (723 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres). Even for the fittest, it can be tough tramping the heights of this challenging trio of wild hills. Doing it by bicycle takes a special type of rider and a lot of care and attention. This much is obvious to anybody watching the stream of finishers coming across the line at Helwith Bridge after three hours or more out there.

Some are bloodied, others are on the verge of collapse. But all have one thing in common. No matter where they finish in the listings, they go home with the satisfaction of knowing they have conquered the Three Peaks, be it in a little over three hours - like this year's winner Chris Young - or more than six hours for last-man home Tony Lee, the ‘grand master veteran' from Huddersfield Star Wheelers who was completing his 14th appearance in the event.

This year's race attracted its biggest ever entry of 248, of whom 220 started and 205 finished. And that on a course where lines of riders can be seen disappearing over distant horizons or vanishing into the mist and cloud that can blanket out the landscape within minutes. Yes, it's certainly an adventure to compete the Three Peaks.

Led away from the start on the opening road section, the massive pack was able to fill the road as a North Yorkshire police motorcycle outrider brought oncoming traffic to a halt. 'Look back - it looks like the Tour de France coming up the road," said race commissaire Harry Gould. He was right, but not for long. As soon as the pack reached the first off-road section at Gill Garth, that 200-plus pack was already spread over five minutes.

Heavyweights poised

Gary Foord (14th): rode for fun Over the cattle grid and on to stone-strewn tracks, it was Seth Smith (White Rose) who took the lead, but all the big-hitters were in the first 20 - Chris Young (Team Marie Curie-Pace Satellite TV), Richard Thackray (Pace Racing), Ian Taylor (Eric Burgess Cycles RT), Gary Foord (shown left), now virtually retired and riding his first Three Peaks for fun, Paul Oldham and Rob Jebb (Hope Technology), Dean Barnett (Team Raleigh M-Trax) and Jake Stow (GA Cycles).

The near six-kilometre climb to the top of Ingleborough stretched the elastic, with the lightweight Young taking the £25 prime for first over the top. But what goes up must come down, and the five-kilometre run down the hillside saw Ian Taylor overtake Young.

Taylor reached the tarmac road at Cold Cotes clear of Young, who was followed by Jebb, Thackray, Jake Stow, Barnett, Gavin Hardwicke (Beauvale CC), Jon Watson (Paul Milnes RT), Matt Ellis (Atom Elite RT), James Parker (Team Marie Curie-Pace Satellite), John Atkinson (Helwith Bridge Alers), early leader Seth Smith and espoir category rider Alex Forrester (Matlock CC). Already, 13 minutes covered the leading 13 riders.

By Ingleton, with 20 kilometres behind them, Taylor was 10 seconds ahead of Young. Jebb and Thackray were at two minutes, Stow at two and a half, Barnett at 2-45 and former national junior cross champion Hardwicke at 3-23. On the road to Chapel-le-Dale, small groups formed as a headwind made the going hard and the race moved towards the day's second test, Whernside.
An off-road loop of around 11 kilometres tested even the toughest, and the crowds formed up at Ribblehead, alongside the magnificent viaduct with is 24 arches carrying the famous Settle-Carlisle railway line.

Local guide books point out that it's not easy walking Whernside. Biking is worse. But, as our brave racers have showed over the past 38 years, where there's a will there's a way.
As at Ingleborough, it was Young setting the pace and taking the prime before the seven-kilometre drop down to Ribblehead.

Climbing in the clouds

Clouds hid the top, but Young's figure came into sight as he appeared on the long strip of stone pathway that led him back to the welcome tarmac road. A change of bike, and Young sped off again. Reports from out on the course were that Taylor was in second spot at Chapel-le-Dale. But would he still be there?

The answer was no. It was international fell runner Rob Jebb who followed Young through, but he was more than two minutes adrift of the former national cyclo-cross champion. Taylor came through in third, virtually four minutes behind Young, after puncturing and taking a heavy tumble.

Stow was next followed by Jon Watson, Thackray, Parker, Barnett, Ellis, Atkinson, Forrester, Oldham, Foord, senior veteran Reg Haigh (Team Marie Curie-Pace Satellite TV), Noel Clough (Swaledale CC) and Seth Smith.

On to Horton-in-Ribblesdale and the left turn for the track up to Pen-y-Ghent - five and a half kilometres up to the flat top at more than 2000 feet. Taking another £25 prime, Young headed back down to Horton and he was able to watch his rivals still slogging their way up as he plunged back down.

Back at the Helwith Bridge Hotel, the crowds applauded as Young turned into the finish and sat up to acknowledge their welcome. Jebb was next home and then it was Jake Stow and Ian Taylor, his mouth dripping blood after another crash descending Pen-y-Ghent, followed by Jon Watson. While Young and Jebb were well clear of the next finishers, just 18 seconds separated Stow and Taylor - almost a sprint finish in the circumstances.

There was a long wait for the prize-giving, hut there was a good reason for the delay. Organiser John Rawnsley was doing the honours along with Ann Bagnall, hostess at the Helwith Bridge Hotel who was leaving after 13 years. John was still out on the Peaks, battling on and determined to finish his 38th consecutive event. Three hours and 34 minutes after Young had finished, grey-bearded Rawnsley rode in and began to talk of next year's event and the millennium edition. 'It will be the 40th year of the Three Peaks, and I am thinking of inviting all the other past winners back to ride," said Rawnsley, who won the first event back in 1961 in 3-21.35 and will doubtless be celebrating the millennium by riding his 40th event.

What they said

Chris Young: thanked his family after third consecutive win Not just fitness and stamina, but careful planning plays an essential part in any Three Peaks win. On the day, Chris Young (shown left) had the measure of the opposition as he raced to his third win in five years. "It was a dream race for me today," he admitted. "I was determined to win for a third time and left nothing to chance. I had every hill covered with a spare bike, and I have done a lot of road training to build up my stamina, long rides mostly. I was fit after a season of mountain biking - after all, the Three Peaks is only a bit longer than some mtb events. Mountain biking gives a good base for what is a long, slogging race like the Three Peaks. Ian Taylor was unlucky crashing when he did. He was making it hard for me at the start, and he frightened the life out of me coming off Ingleborough when he flew past. I've ridden this four or five times now, and won three times, so that's pretty good. I always get a bit stressed before a big event - my wife Helen has a lot to put up with so I have to thank her and my family for their support. I'll be taking a bit of a break now, but I hope to have a full cyclo-cross season.”

Second placed Robb Jebb: puncture put paid hopes of a winSecond-placed Robb Jebb (shown right) was not a happy man. "There's no doubt about it, I am very disappointed," he said. "I felt really strong and fit, and was looking to win. I hoped to keep within two minutes of Young and then close on him, but I had two punctures on Whernside and a couple on Pen-y-Ghent. I would close on Young, then puncture and the gap would open again. It just wasn't my day." Jebb, an England international who finished third overall in a national fell running series, said he might try his hand at mountain bike racing next season.

In contrast, third-placed Jake Stow was pleased with his ride. "I've ridden four times now, but I'm still on a learning curve," he said. "You've got to ride a few times before doing well."

His face covered with blood, Ian Taylor definitely looked the worse for wear. "I got past Chris over Ingleborough, and we stayed together," he said. "Then I punctured at the top of Whernside where Robert Jebb passed me. I punctured on Pen-y-Ghent, ran all the way up it and was riding on a flat coming down -that's when I came off and landed on my face," he said before leaving for hospital to have his injury stitched.

Raleigh's Suzanne Thomas: debuted with a winFirst woman to finish was debut rider and mountain biker Suzanne Thomas (Team Raleigh-M-Trax) (shown left). After completing her first Three Peaks, she said: "I really enjoyed it - but I'm glad I didn't know what was coming. Running with the bike was hard, it kept hitting my back. I thought about using both hands to hold it, but I needed a hand free to clamber over the rocks. Going up Pen-y-Ghent I shouted out to riders coming down 'how far to go to the top?' I was told 25 minutes. Luckily, they were joking."

Former Milk Race winner Bill Nickson (East Liverpool Wheelers), now 45, was another first-timer. "I try to do one silly thing a year and this was it," a remarkably fresh-looking Nickson said after finishing 83rd. "I don't know how the top boys do it. I just like to keep fit and healthy, so this fitted the job."

All-rounder Ben Elliott (Macclesfield Wheelers), another debut rider, did well to finish 38th. "It's a good way of keeping fit," Elliott said. "I'm planning a go at my club's Shrewsbury-and-back record, 120 miles - this will make it seem easy."

Official complaints about riders using road bikes over some sections of the 60-kilometre race brought time penalties for Young, Jebb and Taylor. But on appeal these were cancelled when officials agreed that the bikes had knobbly tyres. However, organiser Rawnsley is keen to ensure that only genuine cross bikes are used for the whole distance. Police objection to the roads being blocked by helpers' cars while bikes were switched was another reason to rule out road bikes.

Three Peaks past winners
1988Tim Gould(Ace RT)57km in 3-02-48
1989Tim Gould(Ace RT)57km in 3-01-21
1990Fred Salmon(Cycles Peugeot UK)57km in 3-05-16
1991Nick Craig(Cycles Peugeot UK)57km in 3-13-47
1992Fred Salmon(Team Peugeot)57km in 3-00-46
1993Fred Salmon(Team Peugeot)57km in 3-05-59
1994Chris Young(Muddy Fox)60km in 3-33-40
1995Andy Peace(Helwith Bridge Alers)60km in 3-08-00
1996Andy Peace(Pace Satellite TV)60km in 3-09-37
1997Chris Young(Pace Racing-Pace Satellite TV)60km in 2-58-10

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