Giles Perkins’ first timer report from the 3 Peaks Cyclocross

Fluent in Cross friend Giles Perkins (Here Come the Belgians) rode the 3 Peaks for the first time on Sunday. And like many newcomers, despite preparing diligently and thoroughly, he found it to be a very intense experience….

Fluent in Cross took Giles out for a recce prior to the race which whilst it clearly paid dividends, did not guarantee him a trouble free ride in what is a brutal and tricky race. Here’s how he got on:

Date: Sun. 28th September
Location: Helwith Bridge, Yorkshire Dales
Weather: Still, lightly overcast, warm
Synopsis: HQ early / sign on / Hope hot air balloon / fettled bike / prepped food and drink / gridded 4 to 4 1/2 hour section / waiting / anxious / nervous / 9:30am off / slow roll-out / quickly to 30mph / peleton stringing out / crash ahead left / another crash, centre / settle down / turn off to Simon Fell / through the farm / over the stream / up towards the fell / dismount / trudge / steep / steeper still / drop a bottle trying to drink / step out of a shoe / lose shoe again / zig-zag up the steepest part / don’t look up / don’t look back / over Rawnsley’s leap / ride hard to the base of Ingleborough / saddlebag loose / stop / ride some more / trudge up the rocky path / dib-in on Ingleborough / descend a short while / dismount / scramble down the bank / picking through the rocks / remount / surge down to Cold Cotes / dib-in / fresh bottle / fast down the lane to Ingleton / up the climb / leading a group / fast to the Whernside turn / drink some more / dismount for bridleway / take a cup of water / ride a short while / first twinges of cramp / shoulder the bike / trudge up the staircase / trudge / step by step / no looking up / ride a short while / more carrying / dib-in on Whernside / descend avoiding the rocks / walkers everywhere / down the slabs / over the stile at Blea Moor / take the line through the field / overtake / overtake some more / fast past the signal box / take the shortest line at the viaduct / stop briefly to refuel / banana, fresh bottle, gel / onto the road / take gel / drink water / legs cramp up / slow down to ride it out / get in a group / turn into Pen-y-Ghent lane / ride hard / left line through the rocky section / descending leaders everywhere / push on / forced to dismount by slower riders / turn at the last gate / ride up as far as I can / trudge / trudge / trudge / blister on my left foot / struggle ever upwards / don’t look up / getting slower / finally make the top / glorious views / dib-in on Pen-y-Ghent / descend as best I can / onto the path / hands battered / fast down the lane / no-one around / finally the bottom / onto the road / 2 miles to go / screaming in pain / cramp everywhere / motorcycle alongside / welcome words of encouragement / end in sight / reach the funnel / dib-in / the end / dazed / confused / pale / empty / broken / safe / happy
Result: 4hrs 44mins 48 secs, 409th from 529 finishers, 26 DNFs / 184th Vet40 from 231 finishers, 6 DNFs


Pic: Andrew Burgess

Race report: NWCCA League Round 2 – Horwich Humdinger – 14 Sept

Fluent in Cross contributors Mark Turner and Dave Haygarth have been racing at Horwich recently. Here’s how they got on..

Mark reports:

Round 2 and off to Horwich’s Humdinger, always a great course, well run and well attended. 108 in the vets & women’s race. The prolonged dry and warm weather meant that the course was going to be dry and fast, it’s cross Jim but not as we know it!!!

One interesting side to the race was that Alan “Crossjunkie” offered to take me, I experienced the pampering of a pro, bike loaded onto the car and a coffee stop thrown in on the way. Honestly I could get used to that. The flip side, Alan is still on the recovery road from a bad crash earlier in the year and itching to get back racing. A fast course, catching up with the cross crowd, tub discussions were both a putting a huge smile on his face but also causing him some inner turmoil. You can take the race away from the boy but not the boy from wanting to race – great news since the weekend is Alan has been given the all clear so be sure you will see him on a course soon.
A couple of laps of the course confirmed the pre race overview, fast crit type cross racing was going to be de rigour. The course was a good mix of wide flat grass, twisting parkland around the trees, short sharp climbs, steep drop into the woods and natural hurdles.

This race was also the first time I had ridden with a single front chain ring, the local crafted ring by Hope Tech is of the fat / thin design meaning no chain catcher required. The set up I opted for was a 38 tooth up front, rear block 28 / 11. I was curious to see if I could displace it, especially as the course was riding hard and bumpy, no such issues. The chain stayed put even through some rapid gear shifting. The next test will be how it copes in the mud.

A good warm up on the turbo and then off to the start, with ten minutes to the off. A wide open start and a big field there was the inevitable crash. For me I got a good start and settled into the rigours of the first lap chaos, being in the first 30 or so had the advantage of not getting too slowed down in any bottle necks.
The racing was fast and furious, the course offered no real rest, you were either, pushing out of corners, climbing a short bank or slogging across the grass into a headwind.

<photo 2

I managed to keep in the top 30 or so for the first 25 minutes then had a bad lap and lost 15 or so places, thankfully I recovered and stopped the move further back down the field. The advantage of the 40 minutes race is the bell comes soon or not soon enough depending how you are doing. I saved my final push a little too late, I passed several riders coming into the woods and in the section from the exit of the woods to the finish, my legs still felt like they had more to give. The lesson is go hard sooner.

Any disappointment of the bad lap soon evaporated, when several of the riders who had been on our courses came over and enthused about how they had put into practice what they had been taught to great effect.

Average heart rate 164 bpm max heart rate 176 bpm

Distance 8.85 miles
Average speed 11.2 mph Max speed 19.4mph
Position 56th out of 108

Dave Haygarth, one of the Fluent in Cross photographers also returned to ‘cross racing after an extended period off with injury. And promptly openend his account with a 2nd place in the closely contested Vets/Women race that Mark also rode in. Great to see Dave back racing again in preparation for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross at the end of September. Perfect remount technique here from Dave:

Photo 14-09-2014 03 26 43 pm

Race report: NWCCA League Round 1 – Hoghton Tower – 6 Sept

Fluent in Cross contributor, Mark Turner reports on his return to racing….

Red Rose Olympic had chosen a stunning venue for Round 1, turning into the drive you were met with a long straight driveway heading up towards the hall.

This was my return to racing of any kind after a year off through work commitments and various other reasons that cropped up.

So whilst one half of the FiC team was enjoying the sunshine in Devon, I loaded the car and headed down the M65.
A quick change into my warm up gear and I headed off to sign in and see what the course was like. Pre registering for the league made sign on as simple as handing over my race fees and picking up my numbers.

I was in time to watch the Youth race and was pleased to see many Cycle Sport Pendle Riders in the thick of it, Nathan Hawthorne & Cory Edmondson coming 2nd & 3rd respectively. Sadly Georgia Ashworth snapped her chain after a really strong ride.

Once they were off the course it gave me a chance to get a few laps in. Remember these laps are great for seeing what lines work, where the pitfalls are, where you may attack or where to try and recover. I still see many riders chatting to their mates as they ride round and taking little notice of the course.

It was an interesting course that had been set up, tight twisty corners, off camber sections, narrow wooded sections, cobbles and a ride through the barn with a couple of steps thrown in. A couple of laps at a slow pace then a faster lap confirmed it was a short course that would give little time to recover. The light rain was adding to the courses difficulty and losing the wheel in some of the corners was a real possibility.
Off the course and back to the car and the bike set up onto the turbo in readiness for the warm up.

The rain had stopped and it was beginning to get warm, so as I warmed up I remembered to take on some water.
My warm up consists of 5 mins steady riding at a low gear and high cadence (90 rpm) elevating my heart rate from resting to Z2, then 8 minutes of harder peddling and bigger gears taking my pulse to Z4 /Z5 i.e. what I expect to be riding at in the race. I then ease back on the gears and intensity but do 6 x 10 second sprints every 30 seconds so taking around 3 mins to complete then spin steady for 5 mins. Another sip of water and then Jacket on and off to the start.

I was riding my Griffo clinchers at 35 psi. I aim to be at the start 10 mins before the start, luckily I spotted Fluent in Cross coaching course attendee Giles who had already secured a good place in the line and squeezed in alongside him. After a little manoeuvring by the officials to make sure the riders would get through the gate posts safely we were ready to race. The start was up the tarmac climb towards the hall so a good start was critical (remember to practice these).

My start was good and I was soon passing riders who were struggling to clip in, it was then a case of settling in and concentrating on getting through the first lap in one piece and maintaining my position. My plan was to see how my body would cope with racing again, though I had a sneaky eye on keeping up with a particular rider who has made great progress over the last couple of years. I was sat nicely on their wheel going through lap 2 – 3 then I made a school boy error, I let my bike drop back down after the steps, the chain bounced off. I wasn’t too concerned as I built my momentum up and flicked the lever hoping to re engage the chain (I’ve done this many times with no problems) I managed to slip the chain between the two rings and had to stop to pull it free and reseat onto the front cogs. That cost me 15 places at least. So a hard push to try and recover some of the lost places, this was going fine until a crash in the wood right in front of me slowed me down again.

All too soon the bell was rung and the final lap was on us, my legs felt good and I managed to claw back some places and roll in 54.
First race back and I loved it, the final position could have been much better but that’s racing!

Fastest lap 4.55, average heart rate 158 bpm max 170 bpm
Average speed 9.2mph max 19.2 mph


Cross Comes Calling

One particular member of Fluent in Cross has launched his niche acting career co-starring with team mate Dave Haygarth in this little film from Tom Richards of Planet X Bikes.

Cross just got weird…

For On-One/Planet X Bikes riders Dave Haygarth and Alan Dorrington, the Cyclocross season is fast approaching. The lure of mud and skinsuits is beckoning – literally – after a summer spent riding mountain and road bikes…

The Crossjunkie/FiC Mud Index

A Mud Index for Cyclocross Riders

The original idea for this index came from an article in about 2000 by Dave Carr, a stalwart of the Californian Norcal cross scene. I’ve adapted it for European and more specifically, North West England conditions and changed the classification a little.

For the purposes of this Index, mud is ranked on a scale of 0 to 10 according to moisture content, zero being hard and dry and 10 being liquid water. Other properties include material content, color, stickiness, and so on.

Grade 0 – Dry Dusty Trail. Rare and iconic, this grade almost doesn’t make the classification due to its hugely infrequent appearances, seen only at the occasional summer cross. When it does appear, the smugness of those who have held onto file treads in the forlorn hope they might get some use, is something to behold. Not really fit for purpose in a cross race…

Grade 1 – Damp Earth. Nice and soft, tacky. Makes a pleasant sound as tires roll over it. Fun and effortless to ride on. Ultimate traction. Never separates from the ground, or if it does it doesn’t stick to the bike. Your bike won’t need cleaning which is nice, but because of that you forget that your tyres will drop mud all over the house when you move them after it has dried.

Grade 2 – Crosser’s Clay. A bad kind of damp earth, with not much more moisture content but a high clay content, found in several regions of the North West. Soft and sticky, it sticks well enough to shoes, but doesn’t separate from the ground too easily. meaning it slows down the bike and drains a rider’s energy subtlety and mercilessly. Irritatingly too, it fills the pedal cleats on shoes, rendering them heavy and impossible to clip in. Following rain, this type quickly transforms into Grade 3, which is even worse.

Grade 3 – Play-Doh. Water content is up to about 20-30%, leading to major sticking action. Literally jumps from the earth to your bike. Clogs up all treads (clincher or tubular) period, except perhaps an FMB SuperMud tub. Or possibly and old original Green Michelin Mud, clincher or tub conversion. Fills up the spaces between the tyre and frame, and quickly renders your gears to jumping single speed status. Causes the bike to gain 5 kilos in a matter of minutes. Requires pressure sprayer and brush to remove. And a spare bike and pit monkey or 3.

Grade 3F: Frozen Play-Doh. Occasionally frozen conditions in January can give to rise to this living hell for crossers. Don’t even bother racing without a spare bike and pit crew…

Grade 4 – Peanut Butter. Less sticky than Play-doh; more likely to stay on the ground. Moisture content is up to 40% or so. This stuff is sticky enough that one can’t really plow through it, yet it’s slippery and makes it hard to control the bike. Ruts form which may yield to a tyre, or send the bike careening off in an unanticipated direction. Requires ferocious pedaling to keep momentum – think parts of Leverhulme Park, Bolton. Occasionally a piece sticks to the tire and is thrown into the air, subsequently landing on another rider’s face. Good for photographers.

Grade 5 – Goo. About as thick and sticky as the energy gel you eat during a race, only brown and slightly less tasty, and more likely to be lumpy. Like Peanut Butter, Goo stays on the ground, but is less resistant to the advancing tire. At the now defunct Scorton Cross, large sections of this often included some content of cow dung or rotting flesh. In more pleasant venues Goo may be found on the verge of a wet grassy area where a few tires have passed.

Grade 6 – Slime. This is the level of mud where a rider really begins to have fun. Slime is wet enough that it sticks to everything but doesn’t really build up on the bike. Sticks together well enough that it will fly through the air in large masses. Slime often is found in corners where it can wreak havoc with traction, leading to a slide on your butt on the wet ground. Think Avenham Park Sept 2012….

Grade 7 – Glop. This is the wettest consistency of mud that can still hold a shape. When tires pass through Glop, a furrow is left that heals up slowly over time to a smooth surface. Liquid water may come to the top. It’s better to have thin ‘cross tires to slice through this stuff – yep, old school 28s and 30s. Imparts a shiny appearance to bicycle and body parts but at least cleaning is not so bad if you don’t let it dry.

Grade 8 – Slop. The bottom of a very wet mud puddle that is not refreshed by a stream. Still retains some lumpy qualities, unlike Grade 9 – Soup. Splatters very nicely and stains clothing better than any other type. Those in white kit will moan and their washing machine will shudder. Renders your glasses completely opaque. Remember not to smile at your friends after a dunk in this stuff unless you want them to laugh hysterically at the mud between your teeth.

Grade 8a – Bog. Specific to 3 Peaks Cyclocross, this is mostly water but with enough organic matter to coat everything and stop forward progress in an instant – see ‘Go on Ian’ faceplant

Grade 9 – Soup. 80-90% water, heavily laden with sand, particulate and goo, but without the lumps characteristic of Slop. Scientists might classify this grade as a “Non-Newtonian Fluid.” Typical of a stream crossing where the stream flow isn’t fast enough to refresh the mud. Will soak your jersey completely, while leaving the particulate matter all over the front. Doesn’t stick to the bike, instead just runs off onto the ground. Aim for this if your bike is clogging with mud elsewhere on the course.

Grade 10 – River Water. Might feature some residual brown colour (peat) but doesn’t stick to anything. Just wet and cold without any redeeming qualities other than it may loosen up thicker grades of mud from your tires and shoes. Mainly confined to the 3 Peaks Cyclocross.

Training for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross part 3

Pic: Dave Haygarth

In this last part of the series on preparing for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race, Alan Dorrington will look at nutrition for the day and how to ride your race to get the best result you can.

Part 1 here and Part 2 here

In terms of nutrition, there’s the scientific theory and then there’s what you can do in practice. I’ll leave the theory to friend Dr Greg May from Stoic Focus Coaching who is one of those trained exercise physiologist folk:

“Your body can normally accept about 60g of carbohydrate (CHO) per hour. With training this can be bumped up to around 90g of CHO/hr, but the effect of taking in too much is… generally explosive on both ends. Aiming for around 75g of CHO is probably about right.

Just aim for carbhydrate, it’s 3.5 -5 hours – you won’t need protein or fat and they digest slower. Ideally look at a CHO supplement that has electrolytes in it as well if it is a warmer day, and perhaps a bottle for the road with a stronger electrolyte based drink.”

All of this is great but the 3 Peaks is not a flat, steady ride in ideal conditions for monitored eating and drinking. Instead it is a slightly wild rollercoaster of a race and often when you want to eat and drink, you can’t as the technical challenges are too great. And often when you can eat and drink, it’s when you least feel like it.

As Greg points out, either way you approach it you’re going to finish in negative energy. Just accept this from the start, you can eat afterwards.

Overall, fluid and gels are probably the easiest way to take in energy. They can also can be replaced easily at each of the support points if you have a helper and then the weight is ingested rather than carried. I always advise water bottles not a camelback type carrier. Crawling up Simon Fell with 3kg of water on your back is only to be recommended if you have no way of getting fresh supplies later on in the race.

At each support point take a big bottle for the road section which you need to finish before you go off-road again, and a smaller, lighter, more concentrated bottle for the climb. You won’t be able to eat or drink on the descents. Another thing to accept and move on with. Get things right, particularly with hydration and you should avoid too much cramp in the later stages. But, despite your best intentions you will still probably cramp on Penyghent – it’s a fact of 3 Peaks life. Sorry.

In terms of how you put everything together, the race has a rhythm of its own. It goes like this:

1. Mad dash in a huge peloton on the ‘neutralised’ road section. Don’t be intimidated by this, just relax, follow the wheel in front, and watch out for other riders and the sudden surges and stops in the bunch.

2. Turn left off the road, don’t drop your chain, enjoy the farm section and then get stuck into the fields and lower slopes before the steepest climb you’ve ever done carrying a bike (unless you’ve done the Peaks before). It’s horrible but it does pass so hold it together on the undulating moorland section before the final rocky climb up to Ingleborough itself. Descend quickly to Cold Cotes, hit the road and drink/eat everything you can whilst looking for a group to ride in.

3. Turn off-road again and wind your way up to the rocky and slabby slog up Whernside. Just switch off and plod. Ride the long whaleback, with short carries to the summit. Breathe deeply and dive off the other side. The slabs after the turn right are technical but rideable with concentration. Don’t lose it. The concentration, that is. The descent eases, bar some stream crossings and you see the haven of Ribblehead.

4. Onto the road and more eating and drinking. Keep it going here, but don’t bury yourself. Penyghent is still to come. Turn off onto the Lane in Horton and unless you are on for well under 4 hours, watch for other riders coming down. Look at them enviously. Get yourself up the Lane, and onto the upper slopes of Penyghent trying not to cramp. It’s a long slog still to the top but it does arrive eventually. Another deep breath and simply descend the same way back down, looking smugly at the riders still coming up.

5. Concentrate, concentrate to avoid a last minute puncture and then hit the left onto the road and the most glorious feeling in cycling – that particular section of smooth tarmac. A short blast takes you back to the finish. Congratulate yourself. You’ve done the hardest ‘cross race on the planet.