At the start line on a wet Sunday morning, someone joked 'this is not cyclo-cross race, it’s a walking race carrying your bike up three big hills'. I tend to agree.
Leaving Helworth Bridge I managed to be in the top 60 or so riders, quite important to be near or at the front when approaching Craig Gath, trying to squeeze a few hundred riders into a narrow track causes bottlenecks, chaos and a lot of swearing. I was held up briefly by someone unshipping their chain, but not to bad a start.
It has been raining in the Dales over the last few months, making the ascent of Ingleborough very muddy, it left many of the early sections unrideable, which in previous years has not been the case. This made it tough going to the top. A mixture of walking and riding before the real steep section starts, I found it tiring getting on and off the bike just to cycle a few yards but its where I could rest before the real action started.
At the steepest part I was using the fence to pull me up, my calves’ and lower back screaming at me to stop. Getting to Rawnsleys Leap is a strange experience, one minute there are a number of riders around you, then the next minute over the stile you are on your own, just the odd rider disappearing into the mist surrounding the top of Ingleborough. Reached the first check point in 75th place.
The descent was a little trickier, I am not good at this, crashed once and lost a few places, and I arrived at Cold Cotes in 84th position and in one piece. That was as bad as it got.
Just a rolling road section to Bruntscar, picked up a few riders on the way, we worked well together before the ascent of Whernside, this was not a bad climb, paving slabs have been placed over the years, saving on the usual scrambling up any way you can. Got there in 65th place.
A take your brain out descent followed. There are paving slabs to the stile about halfway down and I had real problems negotiating them, basically my nerve had gone. Louise Robinson looked impressive as she whizzed passed. I crashed once. I wore two jerseys, providing with extra pockets. I kept my food and water in the under jersey and spare tubes on the outer one. The point is I landed on my back and squashed the 500ml water bottle causing the bottle cap to come off and empty the contents down my back, I hadn't opened it yet.
I was running, walking and riding just before the stile, after which its case of picking my line and avoiding the rocks. Reached Ribble Head in 65th place.
A headwind on the road section to Horton, I was in a group of five riders we were all sharing the load, making short work of the 5 miles to Horton, then the start of the last ascent, Pen-y-Gent, most of this is rideable and suits the cyclist rather than the runner, made up a lot of places on this hill, passed Louise Robinson. When I got to the walking stage I caught up Keith Murray, he was just about to start riding but it was little bit steep for him to get started, so I gave him the push he required, he thanked me and peddled off.
Many spectators, helpers and walkers cheered you on, I heard several cry’s of 'c'mon the RAF' and 'you should be flying up here', that was shouted quite a few times; still any encouragement spurs you on. On nearing the summit, a rider coming down did a spectacular crash, he had a front tyre blow out it and it came off his wheel, he was riding tubs, he went straight over the handlebars, luckily he landed on grass.
I reached the last check point in 50th place. This descent is the easiest of the three, many parts of it are point and go, not that technical, which suited me, just avoid the riders coming up the hill. Steep in places, I was glad when it levelled off as my hands were aching from the constant braking. I passed Keith Murray, who looked to be carrying an injury. I passed the unfortunate rider who had had a blow out. It would be a long run for him to the finish.
It is quick near the bottom and you are riding on a path made up of big pebbles, I felt like my eye sockets were going to pop out, you just need to hold your nerve and avoid the riders coming up the hill, pinch punctures are frequent here. I passed one other rider who was with us on the road to Pen-y-Gent. Approaching the final road section, Keith Murray and a Yorkshire Velo rider flew past me, which was a surprise as I was not hanging about.
Two miles to the finish from Horton to Helwith, I was closing in on the two riders in front, (Keith Murray and Yorkshire Velo rider) I managed to bridge the gap just before the final rise and sat in for about 30 seconds, as soon as I saw Helwith Bridge on my right, I went for a long one, sprinting on a cross bike is funny, its like its in slow motion, Keith responded and passed me, I was able to react then went again just before the right turn and then it was over the bridge then another right to the finish. I came close to catching another rider but it was not to be and finished in 45th place.
My time of 3hrs 42mins 34seconds was 6 minutes quicker than last year, but 10 minutes off my best. I am content with my performance; I was after a top 50 place. I had no punctures which is always a bonus.
I have competed in this race on numerous occasions and this is the first time that I have not eaten any food or taken on any fluids, only through circumstance regarding drinks. I was quite thirsty at the finish. Next year is the 50th anniversary, one I shall hope to ride.