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Power in the Peaks

Colin Wilcock reports for Snowdon Sports Editorial
Pictures by Phil O'Connor

Reproduced by kind permission of Cycling Weekly - the Cycling Magazine for all your essential information.
This article first appeared in Cycling Weekly, Thursday 7th October 1999.

It's three times the length of the average cyclo-cross and is often claimed to be the toughest race in the world - the 39th running of the Three Peaks classic in Yorkshire certainly proved its worth, with determined riding and a thrilling sprint at the end.

The field shoulder their bikes along the backbone of Yorkshire At the end of one of the most hotly contested versions of the Three Peaks cyclo-cross, debut rider Ian Cuthbertson (Merlin-Rock Lobster) outsprinted three-times winner Chris Young (Team Marie Curie) to take centre place on the podium.

Not even the awesome North Yorkshire summits of Ingleborough (723 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Pen-y-Ghent (674 metres) - nor the punctures which both suffered - could separate Cuthbertson and Young as they raced across the line at Helwith Bridge more than six minutes clear of third-placed Richard Thackray (Pace Racing).

Young had started the clear favourite after winning for the previous two years and three times in all. Cuthbertson has a fine mountain bike pedigree, but was something of an unknown quantity in what is billed as the world's toughest cyclo-cross. He had also only just recovered from a broken bone in his wrist, the legacy of a crash in the RAV4 series final only four weeks earlier.

Young attacked as soon as the field turned on to Simon Fell, the lower slopes of Ingleborough, and led over the summit, but never quite managed to put daylight between himself and the chasers. On the descent to Cold Cotes he held a 50-yard advantage over Ian Taylor (Eric Burgess RT), with Danny Alexander (Matlock CC), last year's third-placed rider Jake Stow (GA Cycles) and Cuthbertson in close attendance.

Fate deals a blow

Along the road section to Chapel le Dale - before they turned on to Whernside - Young, Taylor and Alexander worked well together while Cuthbertson was around 25 seconds adrift and working hard to get to the leaders which he did on the climb of Whernside.

Fate took a hand on the very summit when Young punctured and faced the prospect of having to run down the descent to Ribblehead Viaduct, while Cuthbertson pressed on to take a solo lead without any serious problems.

He led Young by 1-41, but the Marie Curie man was looking determined and was being urged on by the partisan Yorkshire crowd who were, as always, out in great numbers.

Ian Cuthbertson made the most of his breaks to win on his Three Peaks debut Behind Young, the next 10 riders were by now spread over two minutes and included Taylor, Stow, former winner Andy Peace (SiS Racing), Richard Thackray - who is regarded by many as a potential future winner - Gary Foord (unattached), Lewis Craven (Bradford RCC), Philip Webster (Bronte Wheelers), Rob Cook (Team Marie Curie) and Jamie Moston (Brixton Cycles).

Making good use of his road racing experience, Young hammered along the main road into Horton in Ribblesdale, turning on to the final peak of Pen-y-Ghent around a minute in arrears. He kept up the pressure on the climb, catching Cuthbertson on the final slope to the summit and taking his third prime of the day.

Fans lend a hand

After a trouble-free ride thus far, it was Cuthbertson's turn to experience problems. He punctured twice on the descent, and on both occasions was helped out by spectators giving him spare wheels, which at least meant he lost little time and was twice able to catch up with Young.

Unlucky Young approaches Pen-y-Ghent They came back on to the road together and headed for the finish at Helwith Bridge, where Cuthbertson gained the distinct advantage of being first into the short finishing straight. He held off Young by a bike's length and, both shatterd by their efforts, they sank into the grass at the side of the road, while helpers provided endless drinks.

Another grandstand finish came from Richard Thackray. After coming off Whernside in sixth position, he fought his way through to finish third and was chased for much of the way by Lewis Craven. At the top of Pen-y-Ghent they were just yards apart until Craven's forks snapped, leaving him with a long run to the finish where he crossed the line in 48th place.

His misfortune let the 1995 and 1996 winner, Andy Peace, through into fourth place, an outstanding effort from a man who had an operation for testicular cancer only eight weeks previously.

After finishing fifth, Ian Taylor had a long and anxious wait for his girlfriend and Eric Burgess team-mate Kali Exley to finish as best of the women. First veteran home was Paul Gilbert (Universal CC), returning to the race after a nine-year gap.

Cuthbertson also took the award for the best first-time rider. The last 'first-timer' to win was Swiss rider Arthur Manz, back in 1981. With Rob Cook (ninth) and Paul Oldham (10th) backing Young, Marie Curie were easy team winners.

Tough times at the stile Event organiser John Rawnsley (Bradford RCC) completed the course for the 39th time but was disappointed with one of his slowest times so far. Former Milk Race hero Bill Nickson (East Liverpool Wheelers) completed the course for the third time but just failed to beat his target time of four hours. Ron Kitching, a long-time supporter of the Three Peaks, presented the prizes.

What they said

Winner Ian Cuthbertson soon knew he was in for something more than a run-of-the-mill race. The 25 year old rider from Ormskirk, Lancashire, was asked which was the toughest part of the course: "The first 100 yards of the first climb," he replied without hesitation. Would he be coming back next year? The smile and shrug suggested that he would. "I've wanted to ride this race for a long time," he said, "but I have never had a decent cross bike before." Punctures apart, he had enjoyed the experience. "I was going really well," he said, "but it was harder than I thought it would be."
Chris Young cursed his puncture: "The top of Whernside - what a place to have a blow-out," he lamented, announcing that he would be donating his prime prizes to the marie Curie cancer charity.
Kali Exley refuted the suggestion that the Three Peaks is not a race for women. "I have really enjoyed myself today," she said.
Bill Nickson completed the course for the third time and enjoyed the scenery. "I've done it twice before, but this is the first time I have been able to see where I was going! The other two efforts were a real grovel."
John Rawnsley, now helped in organisational duties by Jonathan Berry, vowed "to get a lot fitter for next year". Sprint finishes in the Three Peaks are rare, but not unknown - Rawnsley was involved in a 'fight to the death' with Harry Bond in the first ever event back in 1961. "Me and Harry came to the finish together when a car stopped in front of us," Rawnsley recalled. "I went down one side of the car and Harry down the other, and I got the verdict."

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
1998Chris Young(Team Marie Curie/Pace Satellite TV) 60km in 3-08-02

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