Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland
The Three Peaks, for those of you who are unaware, is a cyclo-cross race. But then again, it isn’t a cyclo-cross race. It certainly bears no relation to any UCI-approved course regulations you might peruse at your leisure should you feel inclined.
Whilst yomping up the three biggest climbs in Yorkshire is not strictly forbidden by the powers that be, presumably they deemed the likelihood of anyone wishing to undertake such an idiotic and arduous mission as so far-flung that it was unnecessary to ban such behaviour. Yet just shy of 600 of us lined up in Helwith Bridge this year, including a healthy smattering of Spaniards, Italians and Americans. The lunacy is spreading…
And when it comes to rules and regulations, John Rawnsley, organiser for the past 49 editions of the race, says what goes and what doesn’t, which I rather like. Turn up on a machine with tyres that are too fat, straight handlebars or anything that does not resemble an old school ‘cross bike and you run the risk of being disqualified before you’ve even started. Bit of a purist, is John. Seeing as he won the first edition of the race in 1961 and, until recently, had finished (as well as organised) every one since, he’s every right to be.
This is truly a hard-man’s – and woman’s – race where being a sprightly young thing seems to give little advantage. Veteran Nick Craig won the men’s as expected, even without straight handlebars…
It was the women’s title that intrigued me. Louise Robinson’s time of 3:44-49 was phenomenal. I am normally pretty close to the top woman’s finishing position – Isla Rowntree kept me company on the finishing road stretch after Pen-y-ghent a few years back; this time it was Renee Saxton, winner for the last two years. I say they kept me company: truth is they both dropped me unceremoniously. Ms Robinson, meanwhile, had crossed the line an astonishing 26 minutes earlier, missing her own course record by just five minutes on what was by general consensus a slow year due to the boggy conditions on top of the peaks.
Louise, if you are not aware, won a silver medal at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships back in 2000 – a rare British success at the discipline. Her father, Brian Robinson, was the first pro from these shores to make a go of it on the Continent, paving the way for Tom Simpson and those that followed, culminating in Mark Cavendish’s rainbow jersey-winning ride last weekend. And her nephew, Jake Womersley, featured in Rouleur issue 25: another of the Robinson clan making a mark.
And if you’re wondering what it takes to be a Three Peaks winner and a member of the Robinson cycling dynasty, I think this quote from Louise says much.
“My first club run was 114 miles into the Yorkshire Dales, and as seems a regular story, I got left to my own devices when I blew my doors off and had to grovel home where my Mum had to help me off my bike and ply me with sweet tea and biscuits while I lay on the drive. Surprisingly I went on the club run again the week after, although anybody in their right mind would have been put off I think.”
There you go. Who said we Three Peaks-ists were in our right minds?