Three Peaks Cyclocross Blog

A personal blog and pointer to all I find on the www about the 3 Peaks Cyclocross

Diary of another first timer: Simon Fox

My name is Simon.
I’m a virgin.
Well, I’m a 3 Peaks virgin, at least.

Over the years I’ve had a go at mostbike related events – on an MTB I’ve done XC, DH, trials and enduros.I’ve done time trials, duathlons, triathlons and hillclimbs. I’ve

been round the Velodrome a few times. Hell, I’ve even owned a unicycle. Out of all of it Mountain biking is my first love (aah!). I also take part in fell races as a member of Darwen Dashers (I would have said ‘competed in fell races’ but some might disagree…). So, the Three Peaks cyclo-cross – tough, big climbs, big descents. Perfect!

I’ve got a garage full of bikes butno cx so when I was offered the loan of one for the event (cheers, Russ) it was too good a chance to pass up. Now came the hard bit. Training? No, getting the entry form in as early as possible! Early doors on the 1st July (I’d had the date ringed in thick black marker on our Simpson’s calendar for months) I’d got the form printed off after much hand wringing over what to put in the ‘racing/training over the last 12 months bit. As it turned out the hard copy chopped most of it off anyway – ah, well. Then it was just a case of writing the cheque, triple checking everything –oh, and nipping down to the Post office for one of those large, certificate sized envelopes. I got the whole shebang in the post box in time for
the Saturday morning collection too! A few days later the 3P’s website shows that I’ve been accepted. Yay! And indeed –‘ulp!’ Just less than 3 months to get fit. Or should I say: FIT?

Fortunately I’m not in too bad a shape for me as I’ve been trying to do enough fell races to complete the Darwen Dashers Fell Championship. So, I’m running a few times a week
and normally I get out on a Wednesday night for a mountain bike ride of about 1 to 1½ hours and again for 3 hours on a Sunday morning. Enough to keep me ticking over but not really enough to do the event justice. Hmm, time to get training.

Here’s a few ‘snapshots’ of what
I’ve been doing to prepare:

Date: 29th May 2006. Ramsbottom Off-road

A harder than expected first run left me out of breath and out of rhythm and it was only on the second lap of the cycle leg that I started pulling it round. Once I’d settled in I had a good strong ride and just passed people. I was a little surprised to be caught by a guy I know who had gone out on the earlier wave. However, unfortunately for him (if not for me!) he overcooked it on a bend and went down like the proverbial. I was so concerned that I slowed down. Slightly. After checking he was ok I got on with the job in hand.

I always find transitions quite hard so on the second run I tried not to go out too fast.

The mountain bikers acted quickly
when the Traffic warden arrived.

However, I soon found myself in quite a fast group of five, eventually becoming a group of three – myself, and two younger lads who were really motoring. To be honest I was just
hanging onto their shirttails but once they explained that this was cheating I stopped and just ran along behind them (These are the jokes, folks!). They dropped me on the sprint to the line but by then I was past caring. Anyway, 7th overall and first Male Vet 40 was a great result for me. I actually got a prize!

And the prize for the loudest shirt
worn by a competitor … an envelope.

Date: 16th
July 2006. Winter Hill, Bolton.

The middle of a 6 hour mountain bike
ride with some friends, taking in Peel Tower, Turton tower, Rivi Pike and Darwen tower. I called it the 4 Towers ride – I don’t know why.

It was baking hot, very still and we’d just reached the bottom of Winter Hill from Belmont Rd. If you don’t know the area this is a pretty descent climb (but a much more fun descent!) and it’s made more of a challenge when you’re on a singlespeed On-one Inbred mountain bike pushing 32:16 ratio. I’d managed it once before so I knew it was ‘on’ but I’d been riding for a few hours this time and the heat was pretty oppressive. Such a tall gear means that for the majority of the time you are standing and thrutching to keep the cranks turning. I caught and passed one of my mates part way up and made a crack about giving up, crying and pushing. Somehow I managed
to do my crying on the inside as I forced my way up the last steep section to the five-bar gate at the top. Drenched in sweat I collapsed over my bars in front of two walkers. ‘Singlespeed.’ I gasped to explain. Amazingly one of them understood what I meant and gave me a ‘Fair
play, mate’. Almost made the hernia worthwhile, I tell thee…

Standing in front of Rivington Pike
bike rack.

Date: 14th June 2006. Local
mtb route twixt Darwen and Bolton.

The usual Wednesday night thrash round with my mate, John. This time there was a difference – I was on a cross bike. A Kona Jake the snake I’ve borrowed from fellow Darwen Dasher and Three Peaks veteran, Russ Owen.

The road climb before we hit dirt is usually a stupidly fast sprint where we both try to pretend we’re not really trying hard. Tonight I’ve put a hundred yards into John without that much effort. Not too surprising I suppose, after all it is virtually a road bike but it made me (and John!) sit up and take notice. The next section takes us along a fairly flat but stony farm
track. Again it feels fast but once I hit the really bumpy stuff – wow! I was hoping my fillings were well attached. That was getting a bit close to double vision time! I tried to moderate my riding style, relax and use my arms to absorb the bumps.

On we went, eventually reaching one of my favourite local bits. It’s a descent comprising of some natural rock steps of various sizes overlooking a reservoir. Taking a quick breath, I launched off. Ooh, tricky! Not only no suspension to contend with but also stretching forward on the drops to the brakes whilst trying to hang off the back. I made it down having only jibbed at the largest drop, fearful of twatting the big ring on it.

The more I rode the bike the more comfortable and confident I became. I found myself surprised at what I could get away with riding on the bike. John found himself impressed at how quickly I could leave him in my dust on anything flat or up. Well, it was either
impressed or pissed off – I forget.

Date: 23 July 2006. Notre Dame de
Mont, Vendee, France.

The Vendee is to a large extent comprised of ‘marais’ or flat, salty marshland by the sea. Possibly not the best place to take a singlespeed mountain bike but I’m on holiday,
the sun is crackin’ t’flags and I’m on my bike. All is right with the world. I’ve used my fluent ‘Franglais’ to sign up for a 48k VTT ‘Rando’. Great! Well, apart from the fact that I don’t really
know what I’m doing it’s great.

I spotted the event in a ‘What’s on’ guide a few days before and I thought ‘VTT? That’ll do me.’
I was so keen that I was only the second rider to arrive at the little hall that served as the signing on point. I’m pretty sure that I managed to give my name the wrong way round but anyway ‘Fox Simon’ paid his 5 Euros and was ready for action. I picked up one of the barely
legible photocopied maps and quietly prayed that I wouldn’t need it. A few other riders arrived and, after a few ‘Bonjours’ all round made to set off. I tucked in behind a guy in his 40’’ on a Decathlon hardtail who looked the part and a slightly sweaty, tubby lad in his late teens on a full susser. He didn’t quite look the part.

We crossed a back road and immediately went into the forest. I’d already discovered the cycle path that stretches for miles following the coastline. It was largely flat but nice to ride on, if a bit ‘spinny’ on a SS. We carried on following the occasional fluorescent orange arrows marking the way. Out of the forest and into a small housing estate. Almost immediately there was confusion in the ranks. Which way? My two French companions seemed to have different interpretations of the crappy map. I did my best Gallic shrug. After a short tour of the immediate area we found our way and continued out into the marshlands.

The young lad started flagging and was dropping behind when we reached the first checkpoint. France being what it is there was quite a bit of food on offer. It seemed rude not to so I dug into the prunes and some very nice cake. Whilst I was pigging myself another rider appeared. He was on a GT and dressed in full team kit. He looked quick and set off before us. By now I’d realised that it would be pretty hard to get lost on this course so I set off in pursuit.
And after spinning out so much I was bouncing in the saddle I just as soon gave up on the pursuit business but carried on at a reasonable lick. Turning onto one of the many back roads that criss-crossed the route I spied a rider up ahead. After a while I managed to catch up
and tuck in behind. I think he thought I was sucking his wheel but on the road it was all I could do to stay with him. It was only when we turned off road that I managed to pass. He looked at my bike and made a comment about ‘seul vitesse’ (single speed) and I told him that ‘Oui’ it was ‘trop tard’, especially on the road bits.

I found myself able to keep up the good pace and dropped him and also pass another couple of riders. As I reached familiar territory (after another cake stop!) I was joined by a guy
who plainly doesn’t want to be beaten by an ‘Anglais’ on a silly looking bike with no gears. This made for an entertaining, if breathless, conclusion to the ride as I spun to a ridiculous cadence and he ‘big ringed’ along the flat forest trails to the finish. He realised he wasn’t going to get rid of me and we both eased off a bit and settled for a draw – honours even. At the finish there were glasses of orange juice and some large baguettes filled with pate. After a couple of hours
red lining the rev counter I reckoned I’d earned it. One way or another I think I got my 5 Euros worth!

Voici, Marcel! Zere’s something
silly lurking in ze undergrowth!

Date: 16th August 2006. Helmshore,

Christ, this is hard work. I’m half way round Pilgrim’s Cross fell race. I know I’ve set off too fast
and I’m gradually dying on my arse. It’s raining – a nice cool rain that stops you overheating but also makes the grass slippy for the trail shoes I’ve opted to wear. Why didn’t I wear the fell shoes I’ve used all season?

The race is a counter in the club fell race championship and I need the points. Behind me somewhere is a club mate who I had a battle royal with at Bull Hill fell race recently.
That one ended up with us sprinting for the finish neck and neck with him winning by a gnat’s whisker. Tonight I know it won’t be so close. Sure enough he flies past on a descent knowing descending is one of my weak points. What he doesn’t know is that I’m knackered, nowt
left in the tank. I’ve got a strain on my hamstring too. Despite not having done the race before I know the area well enough to realise that we’re now close to the final downhill to the finish. He’s about 20 yards and three places in front of me. I give it all I’ve got left down the loose, rocky Robin Hoods Well but it’s futile. I finish 44th, tired, wet, sore and fed up. I know I should be able to run better than that. Possibly my tactics didn’t help – I felt good on the first climb and just tried to hang on going at that place for the whole race. Would I have done better to play ‘cat and mouse’ with my rival? Who knows?

Running away from a big, scary hill.

Date: 29th
August 2006. A666 Darwen to Bolton and back.

I’ve borrowed a road bike to use whilst waiting for the cx bike. It’s a Giant TCR – a compact framed, ultra lightweight racer. I love it. It’s got a close ratio block and the gearing is pretty tall but I’ve got ‘Singlespeed power’ (TM) in my legs now so the climb up Bull Hill to start the ride to work is not so bad. Down the dip and up again.

By now I’m warmed up and I’m pushing the big ring. Once I’ve crested the rise it’s fairly flat and gives me chance to wind it up ready for the descent into Egerton. Some days I’ll keep pedalling down here but today there’s a tailwind. Freewheeling at 30mph is nice! The route is gradually downhill all the way which gives me chance to keep up with the bits of early morning traffic. A few sneaky short cuts (Oh look, I’m a bus!) and I’m at the gates to work. Just over 30 minutes – a nice, steady pace so as not to work up too much of a sweat.

The ride home has a completely different character to the quiet and almost relaxed ride in. Now it’s a ‘charge, stop, charge, stop’ challenge. Virtually a gridlock in the centre of Bolton and surrounded by pollution spewing engines. Surprisingly I really enjoy it! I love carving through the traffic and beating cars away from the light. The best bit is a stretch of dual carriageway where the fast line is between the two lines of moving traffic. I’d have made a great bike messenger!

Once past this bit the traffic thins out and the road gradually climbs. I try to switch off a bit here and just keep tapping it out until I’m away from all the buildings and suddenly I’m amongst woodland and views of open moorland. I can’t let my mind wander too much, as the carriageway is pitted and potholed apart from a 6” strip next to the kerb. That, and the cars whipping
by my elbow at about 70 mph, keeps me in a state of frowning, handlebars clenching concentration.

Soon I’m hooking it up into the big ring and pushing hard on the steep hill back down into Darwen. A few brave and highly skilful (!) bunny hops over potholes and I’m pulling
up outside home. This time I have worked up a sweat! Forty minutes – not bad, I’ve known it to take longer in the car and this way is a lot more fun.

It’s not a beer gut, it’s a baggy shirt!

Date: 1st
September 2006. Darwen.

Not long to go before the big day now. Just got to actually get hold of the bike I’ll be using, have a look at the course, organise the support team (wife and kids), do plenty of last minute panic stricken training and we’re away. Bring it on! (What am I saying??)
to be continued…..

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