Posts Tagged ‘rob jebb’

Peak Conditions

October 10, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly

I was chatting to Nick Craig this morning, telling him how, due to the cold, wet and windy weather at the recent Three Peaks, I’d had an awful day and a miserable ride. 

Not to rub it in or anything, he says, but he actually removed his vest on the start line for fear of overheating during the race. Shots of the leading riders indeed showed them sporting short sleeves, shorts and waterproofs tucked in their jersey pockets. Some of us backmarkers, meanwhile, were so bitterly cold and sopping wet that even reaching for a handful of jelly babies became an impossibility.

It was the kind of cycling experience that ends in the words ‘Never again!’

Yet within a day I am mulling over with fellow Three Peak-ist and first timer, Paul, where we went wrong; how to improve; to keep dry; where the shortcuts are. Things can only get better, right?

Photographer Geoff Waugh swapped his Nikon for some GoPro’s to make this taster of what a savage day in the saddle it was. It’s rather good. Whether watching the film makes you want to ride the Peaks is rather down to your own personal enjoyment level of gruelling races and howling winds. Each to their own, I say.

The Dalesman, a profile of the Three Peaks and its organiser of all 50 editions, John Rawnsley, appears in issue 34


The Dalesman

September 26, 2012

Words: Claire Read  Photos: Sam Needham

On June 21, 1960, the letters page of Cycling magazine featured a letter from WH Paul. Mr Paul – William to his friends, Bill to close ones – was founder of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship, an organisation dedicated to off-road riding but strictly opposed to racing anywhere other than on tarmac. Turned out he’d got wind of the plan to run a cyclo-cross race over Yorkshire’s three highest peaks and was not impressed. Actually he was nothing short of “dismayed” that a route he regularly rode was to be turned into “another race route, possibly 100 riders riding, running, jumping and stumbling in a mad scramble to be the first across.”

A few weeks later, the magazine published a response to Mr Paul’s letter. It was from Mr John Rawnsley of Bradford RCC, the club planning to organise the event. In reassuring tones, he argues that there is absolutely no risk of 100 racing cyclists hitting the Peaks, in part because “we very much doubt if there are 30 riders in the country who will be prepared to climb three 2,500 foot mountains in just under four hours, with a total distance of 25 miles.”

John Rawnsley is a man of many talents but I guess clairvoyance isn’t one of them. To be fair, back in 1960 it was probably unimaginable that the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race would continue into the next century and attract 600 riders each year. But it did and it does and Sunday 30 September, 2012 will see the 50th edition of what has always (accurately) been billed as the toughest ‘cross race on the calendar.

The concept is simple enough: traverse the peaks of Ingleborough (723 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres). The execution is anything but, both for the organisers and for the competitors. Nowadays the route is 38 miles long – 17 of them on the road, 21 unsurfaced, three to five unrideable. Only ‘cross bikes with drop handlebars are permitted. WH Paul’s vision of hundreds of riders running, jumping and scrambling ultimately wasn’t far off the mark.

But for the first year at least, concerns of a mass of riders disturbing the peace of the Peaks were unfounded (though even then John had slightly underestimated – 35 competitors lined up rather than 30). One of those at the start line on Sunday 1 October, 1961, was a Martin ‘Ginger’ Garwood. A 27-year-old plumber, he hailed from Clapham in London and had made a 480 mile round trip to compete. It was the first time he had seen the Yorkshire Dales or taken part in a mountain race and it all came as a bit of a shock.

“We do a bit of riding down there you know, but this is different,” he told a journalist after the race. “It’s more of an endurance test.” Despite this and a few trips over the handlebars, Ginger finished third overall. He was asked whether he’d be back the following year. “It’ll need a bit of thinking about,” he said.

Extract from issue 34, coming soon.

Here’s to you, Ms Robinson

September 29, 2011

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?

The Three Peaks

September 14, 2011

Words: Matt Seaton Photos: Geoff Waugh (

For some of us here at Rouleur, the Three Peaks cyclo-cross is the highlight of the year, not to be missed. For Matt Seaton, once was enough. In this extract from issue 11, Matt tackles the final climb of the day…

The only encouraging thing about Pen-y-ghent is that you can pretty much see the summit from the bottom, so you know how far you have to go and that once you’ve made the turn, it is downhill, more or less, to the finish. The opening section is deceptively easy: of all the peaks, this is the most rideable, a broad track mutating into a stony path. This makes it also the easiest descent, and it is where mere mortals are passed by the gods on their way back down. On cue, Rob Jebb comes flying by, practically airborne and looking unfeasibly fresh.

I try to stay on the bike as long as I can, but make a mistake and fall for a final time. It’s more a clumsy dismount than a tumble, but I twist an ankle as I go over. Just disentangling myself from the bike and getting back up seems to take ages.

My mind is so clouded I only dimly perceive how tired I am. In fact, I am in a state of fatigue-narcosis – and like a helpless old drunk lying in the gutter, I actually giggle as Chris Young twiddles past. He knew to use a smaller gear for this climb, and he had paced himself better than me all day; so now I can only watch him disappear up the mountain as I trudge wearily, dehydrated and running on empty.

Running back down, I have to tell myself consciously to concentrate: mistakes always come when you are tired. My thumb is throbbing, my ankle hurts, there are muscles in my legs I didn’t even know I had which are now threatening industrial action. I just want to get off that last hill. I remount and try to pick my way through the outcrops on the rough upper section of the path. Better descenders shoot past me. The temptation to relax my grip on the cross-top levers and follow them is powerful. But even if I had the skills and courage, it’s a vain thought – because that’s when I flat.

Cursing, I pull over and swap a new tube in. With a gas canister, I lose maybe three minutes, though it feels much longer with riders passing all the time. I set off again. Another minute down the slope, the rear goes soft again. So much for my Michelin Jets. This time, a spectator tells me there’s someone with spare wheels 150 metres further down. Rather than try to mend another puncture, I carry and run. Five hundred metres later, with no spare wheel in sight, I have to change strategy and start working the mini-pump. I feel as though I’ve lost half an hour with this messing about; in reality, it is perhaps another eight to ten minutes. But without high pressure in my rear, and down to my last tube, I have to complete the descent almost as slowly as I went up it.

On the road back to Helwith, I’m overhauled by a big lad in a Sigma Sport skinsuit. It’s all I can do to suck his wheel to the finish. Four falls, two minor injuries, two punctures, 54th overall in 3:44:38 – I’m just glad to get there. Even after the hardest road race, or the longest day in the saddle for a cyclosportive, you eat something, have a drink and soon feel better. This is different: I have never felt so totally spent as after the Peaks. For a week afterwards, my whole body feels as though I had climbed up Pen-y-ghent on my hands and knees and then rolled down it.

The Peaks is a humbling experience. If you think you know where your limits are, the Peaks administers some brutal re-education. I can understand the desire to go back again and again: to trim minutes with better training and race strategy, the right choice of tyres and gears, more support, careful pacing, more experience and local knowledge… that’s the desire to master the Peaks. I’m not sure I have it.