Training for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Part 2

Pic: Geoff Waugh

It’s now nearly August, and hopefully training is well underway for the select 650 given a ride in the 3 Peaks Cyclocross this year. Getting out and about off road may have focussed the mind on the physical challenges inherent in the race, but also perhaps on the equipment dilemmas that it throws up too.

Part 2 of this 3 part Peaks series looks at some of the choices and decisions required to make sure your trusty ride gets you (and itself) to the finish in one piece over terrain that is not to be honest, overly friendly to a thin tyred ‘cross bike.

As the Peaks is firmly (and rightly) a unique cyclocross race, it is worth pointing out that only drop handled ‘cross bikes can be ridden. Not 29ers, not straight bars and not fat tyres over 35mm in width. Anachronistic maybe, but part of the heritage of the race and as such these rules help preserve its unique, slightly unhinged quality. Nowadays, modern ‘cross frames with tapered 1.5” headtubes make life a lot easier – the first time I rode the On One Dirty Disco in the Peaks, I was more than appreciative of the fatter fork crown and headtube as it soaked up the pounding of the rough tracks better than anything I had ridden before. The same applies with the Planet X XLS and comfort was taken even further with the On One Pickenflick which is hands down the best Peaks bike myself and team mate Dave Haygarth have ridden.

I’ve set up my Pickenflick to be, for me, the ultimate Peaks bike. Here is how I have put it together:

Bars 44cm – as wide as is comfortable for my shoulder width to increase control on the descents.
Chicken levers on the tops – an absolute must as they push your weight backwards for steeper descents and allow a different hand position to relieve fatigue and discomfort when braking for long periods.
Bar tape – padded if possible, non-slippy if wet and possibly double wrapped (experiment with this before race day).
A superlight saddle – you’re not actually sitting on the saddle much so you can sacrifice comfort for weight.
Bottle cage – only on the seat tube for ease of carrying. Many use camelbacks but I hate being bashed on the back of the head and the sweatiness on my back so opt for bottle hand ups along the route. Mountain bikers may beg to differ.
Brakes – the advent of discs has made them the go to product for Peaks braking. The extra power over cantilever brakes means much more control for much less fatigue. And hydraulic brakes, even more so. I use TRP Hy-Rd which have a hydraulic reservoir on the caliper but are cable operated. Best of both worlds in many ways. If on discs, or cantilevers for that matter, make sure your brake pads are new and capable of coping with grit. A wet Peaks has seen many riders running out of brake power coming down Penyghent or even before…
Gearing – this is always a source of discussion. I’ve chosen a SRAM XO mtb chainset 39/26 matched to a 26 tooth rear cassette so I can get a 1:1 gear ratio with a short cage mech. Such a low gear ratio is heavenly when hitting the final riding climb up the lane and track toward Penyghent. You can stay in the saddle longer, potentially avoiding cramp and saving tired legs for the final walking climb to the summit. A 39×11 ratio is easy big enough for the road sections – you’re not usually going that fast!
Tyres – this is where opinion divides markedly. I have almost always used tubulars in the Peaks, others use tubeless and many clinchers. Ultimately, it depends on your preference and budget but for the record I use fat 34mm tubulars for their undisputed increased pinch puncture resistance, increased volume and comfort, and run-flat ability so I can descend to a spare bike or wheels. Puncture risk on the road is minimal but I carry a can of sealant in case anyway. Many have successfully used tubeless – just check your rims can take high pressure. Clinchers remain the most popular with thick sidewalled tyres being necessary over thinner lighter normal ‘cross tyres. Tread choice is firmly in the intermediate/summer conditions camp as there is little mud and more and more ‘manicured’ gravel surfaces along the route. Choosing tyres for the road though is not worthwhile as you need the real performance to be found off-road. Pressures for tubs will be around 65psi so handmade cotton artisan products are not suitable unless reinforced with latex walls – I use the sadly now discontinued Tufo T34mm which are seemingly made from rhinocerous hide. Pressure in clinchers needs to be 70psi or above though much more tends to result in even more bouncing and jarring.
Wheels – I have used Planet X disc carbons which were plenty strong enough for the rough tracks when paired with 34mm tubulars. They were however a bit of a handful when carrying over the summits in 60mph winds during the 50th Anniversary race in 2012…. More appropriate is a standard 29er wheelset or better still an old fashioned box section clincher or tubular rim matched to a high spoke count of 32 or 36. Bombproof.

In terms of equipment for the individual, shoes with super stiff carbon soles are best avoided. You spend a lot of time walking on steep or rocky terrain and they are simply too harsh and uncomfortable. Something with some flex will see you right on race day. And don’t use toe studs – although the first climb up Simon Fell is steeper than in your worse nightmares, and greasy and slippy too, further round the course studs will come back and haunt you on the rocky climbs and steps.

A gilet can be a good piece of kit to take – the start tends to be cool with things warming up and it can be nice to have some core warmth that can be taken off and discarded/stowed easily later. Similarly arm warmers with a S/S top are best. You will often be required by the race organisers to take a waterproof for protection on the tops and always have to take a survival bag and whistle. Yes, the terrain can be very hostile if weather is bad and I believe there was a fatality a number of years ago. Prepare well, dress appropriately and carry your safety equipment too and you’ll be fine if the weather is bad.

Finally, to go along with your puncture sealant/spare tube etc take a chain tool. Nothing will stop you quicker than a broken chain and no tool to fix it upon the moors.
Next time, we’ll cover nutrition and how to ‘ride’ the race on race day.

Part 1 here

Training for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Part 1

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross race in Yorkshire has long been billed as the hardest cyclocross race in the UK, if not the World. And for good reason. Over 38 miles of finest Yorkshire terrain, half of which are unsurfaced and a with large amount unrideable, it is a unique test of rider and ‘cross bike. After a record number of entries this year, the lucky 650 riders allocated a race start have their confirmation now and for many thoughts will be turning toward how to prepare over the next 3 months or so.

This summer we’ll be dipping in and out of how we have prepared for the race in the past, but for now can offer up some thoughts and a couple of specific sessions that will help focus your mind, if nothing else, on the task ahead to get fit for that last weekend in September.


It might seem obvious, but you need to ride offroad. I don’t mean on nice tracks, through local woods and round playing fields – gnarly, rocky tracks and trails are the order of the day here. This may be easier for some who live near this kind of terrain but the Peaks is a total all-body workout, what with the carrying climbs and harsh descents. A lack of time spent off-road can come back and bite you in the latter part of the race as everything begins to hurt, not just your legs. But mix road and off-road sections up on these rides. There is a rhythm to the Peaks – fast road, stupid hard carry, tough descent and then repeat x3. Emulating this type of pedalling hard then walking then descending pattern in training will mean you are prepared well for the demands of race day.

And then there is the carrying…. time on your feet spent carrying the bike, preferably up really steep hills is key to a good experience on race day. How much carrying you can do will again be dependent on the topography of your local area. If you live in or near any moorland, 20 minute carrying climbs will be possible to find, not necessarily ones too steep to ride, but ones that you can walk up in preference to riding, conditioning your shoulder and legs for carrying. Those living in more topographically challenged areas have been known to seek out long flights of steps or even office stairwells out of hours to replicate the process. Either way, find somewhere where you can get in some carries of over 10 mins minimum, at a walking or jogging pace – you may need to do this by doing reps up and down. Don’t worry about how you look, you’ll be glad you did it when you hit Simon Fell in September. And learn how to carry properly – nothing is more uncomfortable than a ‘cross bike dangling vertically off your shoulder. The more horizontal and balanced the centre of the top tube is, the more comfortable your carry will be.

So, as we roll into July here’s a couple of specific sessions you can do to help things along:

Session 1 – Peaks roller

Aim: to condition yourself to the rhythm of riding road and off-road in succession, as well as the ability to keep a good pace on the road sections.

Seek out a mixed off and on road route to give you 2-3 hours riding time. For the off road sections, incorporate trails, rocky sections if possible and any carries you can. Ride these sections steady, concentrating on technique and flowing on technical sections.

On the road sections (min 20 mins if poss), ride tempo or even threshold. Practice eating and drinking whilst pushing on. This is what you will do on race day so get used to it now.

Session 2 – Peaks bricks

Aim: if you already run, or want to run in training, this is for you. It’s a concept borrowed from triathletes who need to condition themselves to the change of effort, muscle groups and feel between the different disciplines. The Peaks course forces you on and off your bike multiple times. This can be a shock to those used to steady riding.

Ride 30 mins tempo/steady on the road (cx or road bike). Stash your bike somewhere safe, don trainers and walk/jog/run for 10 mins before returning to the bike and repeating.

You can extend the bike session or the run session to whatever length you like – just mix them up at least a couple of times, maybe more if you have time.

Happy training…..


Cross over lunch

Whether the weather is good, or whether it’s bobbins, we urge you to get out on your cx bike at lunch during the week. Find a local park, or recreation ground and get some mud under your tyres. Or at least some dirt….