pic. Steve FlemingSee that face of concentration, that's because I've realised there's a faint whiff of a chance of a sub 3.30 time (which is a big deal in the 3Peaks world) and I'm hanging on for grim death trying quite hard to get off the final descent as quickly as possible, but without spleening it or puncturing. Both common occurrences.
I never ever thought I'd get near this, but a 3.31 in the end is cruelly just not good enough. Twelve minutes off last years time, so pleased as punch with that.
Preparation for this year went well; started training in good time, running / skiing though the winter, lots of early summer miles in, then settled into the Espresso Cycle Coaching schedule once again masterminded by David Lines. This is all designed around my busy work / family life and involves shorter more intense sessions, which seem to do the trick for me. Lots of indoor turbo stuff, unpleasant, but effective.
Form was coming on nicely with a win at the first Scottish Cyclocross race at Bute a fortnight before the Peaks and weight was right down at scrawny, malnourished look, perfect. Even time this year for a nice taper to get rid of the constant fatigue of heavy training.
I made a few changes to the bike, as a mountain biker I've always struggled descending on the drops so I raised the bars a bit, fitted a shorter stem and wider bars
Would still like hydro cross top levers - come on Hope!
Usual pre race plan; down a day early, set out cached bottles (this worked well again) then hook up with the fast Scottish contingent (Gary and Ewan) to scope out some lines off of Whernside - the hardest descent. This was a good thing, recorded an almost reasonable split time on this part.
Like last year, nervous the night before, but ate and slept well and arrived at the race venue nice and early for a wee pedal around to settle the nerves and wake the legs up.
That Start! It doesn't get any nicer, got a better start line position though and managed to get near the front for the key turn off the tarmac over the cattle grid (scene of many a crash) and onto the first of the off road sections.
First checkpoint after the horrendous slog up Ingleborough and I was up on time a wee bit, but by the checkpoint at the bottom of the hill I was well up on last years split. Grabbed my bottle on a cane (always a wee boost to morale when I see it's still there) and head down for a fast roadie bit to the next hill. No help on this leg, just head down and pedal hard.
The next hill, Whernside, is a real leg killer, with hundreds of stone steps at just the wrong height. However, time split on reaching the top was way up, it was at this point I stated thinking sub 3.30!
A cracking descent followed, following Gary MacDonalds advice of 'just batter down the slabs' passed loads of crashed riders or those dealing with punctures - my tubeless @45psi got through it aok though.
Down off the hill safely and the last bottle stash was collected from a handy bush near the viaduct, and unlike last years bottle cage fail, I was able to drink all the contents before the last climb (no point taking it up the hill)
The last climb is different to the first two in that most of it can be pedalled, well, with a 38x42 it can! Like last time great crowd support, really lifts the spirits to get cheered on, the crowds are what make this such a special event. Same has to be said for the marshalls, always cheery and they've been stuck out in the cold and the rain all day, not just for 3.30 hours!
3.10 split at the summit. Aaagh sub 20mins to the finish! I know I can't do that, this descent rewards the fearless 'brakes off' types.
I can't descend like the best of them, the consequences of spleening it and being possibly stuck in a hospital hundreds of miles from home and family play on my mind too much.
These days I'm more safe and steady.
Anyhoo a minute quicker down off the hill than last year, then the final lung busting few miles to the line - saw some riders, chased them, caught them, didn't look back, heart rate here 183! 3.31 and a handful of seconds, delighted, but 4th in cat and off the old buggers podium. Damn.
Really don't know how I could go any quicker, don't even know if I'll do it again, it's such a huge effort to prepare for this race, but could I possibly find that extra minute or so....