Northern Exposure

I want to tell you a story.

Fred Salmon, three-time winner of the Three Peaks, had promised Rob Jebb (seven wins and counting before the weekend) a big surprise at some point during the race.

Our local hero may have pondered briefly what the veteran had in mind before pressing on with the serious matter of being first across the line yet again in Helwith Bridge, but nothing can have prepared him for the sight awaiting on the slopes of Pen-y-ghent.

Emerging from behind a dry-stone wall, a shocking vision wearing a blond wig and nothing else ran alongside the leader offering encouragement. No half-arsed mankini nonsense for Salmon: he was butt-naked as no-one – least of all nature – intended, despite the stiff northeasterly.

A race such as the Three Peaks demands the competitor to prepare for every eventuality. Jebb famously has friends and family spread over the course, wheels and spare bikes at the ready. Mechanicals are common on such testing ground, breakages all too frequent.

But a naked Salmon, leaping and swinging in the breeze? I have scoured the race instructions and competitor’s advice, and nowhere does advice on how to deal with such an eventuality exist. Riders must carry a bivvy bag and whistle for emergencies, such as losing your way in fog on Whernside, but it seems the chances of a naked, platinum blond cyclist springing out from behind a rock are so remote as to fail to get a mention.

Needless to say, the meticulously laid plans of Jebb had not taken account of Salmon giving his own take on the sport of freerunning. The race leader lost concentration momentarily, went ass-over-tit and landed facedown in a peat bog. A few seconds were lost, but Jebb regained his composure to finish some five minutes clear of last year’s winner, Nick Craig.

So a record-breaking eighth victory for Rob Jebb and another gorgeous sunny day in the Yorkshire Dales to stash away in the memory bank, but the mental scars may well linger longer…

It should be pointed out that the details of this little episode many not be entirely accurate. Many pints were downed over the course of the afternoon and into the evening, tales growing taller on each telling, every rider with their own morning of triumph or disaster to relay, every one a gem.

My good friend Simon claims to see a woman sporting red hot pants by the stile on Ingleborough each year, an apparition the rest of us have singularly failed to share. It is too early in the race to be hallucinating, surely, yet he maintains she is always there.

But why let the facts spoil a good story? No naked men next year, though, please. Laughing was too painful after a day like that.

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