3Peaks Cyclocross 2015
After a gap year from my first attempt due to recovery needed from running the UTMB I decided that this year I would try and beat my previous time of 4:59 using the same bike but run with only a single gear, 39:18.
I came to single speed by way of budget rather than mindset, I kept dropping the chain on my 3rd hand bike at ‘cross races and decided that as I was using races to train for running then a single speed would maximise the impact and give me nowhere to hide on the course while at the same time minimising chain loss. Having come to it for those reasons I have endured it because it is strangely addictive. Just you, one gear and the course. Lap after lap after lap. Meditation has got nothing on this.
Anyway – The 3Peaks.
The day starts early and I set off after only managing to wake up one sleeping child – result!
I register early, as per usual, and chat to a few fellow competitors about times, gears, tyres – the usual stuff that everyone does slightly differently. On the start line I’m ready, I can’t really hear the start but we all start moving so that must be it. Soon I am flying down the road, my legs turning like an egg whisk – faster and faster until they can go no more without spinning out. Other single speeders are out in force today and I count another 4.
Then we hit Simon’s Fell. I get off early and straight line to the top, I’m going faster than a lot of people and this cheers me up no end. On top it’s far boggier than I imagined it would be and I have to run more than I thought. Still, I check my watch frequently and I am on track to beat my previous time by a good 15 minutes.
At the top I check in and then follow a good line to the steep drop off to the track. I end up running down more of the track than most but I’m still maintaining a good speed so when I jump on I’m still smiling. Lots of surprise peat puddles on the way down. Wheel stopping, frame shaking, leg wobbling peat puddles. It is hard work and slow going. For everyone. Someone has had a fall but there are 3 riders ahead and the first of these stops to make sure he is okay and sorts him out. I shout “ok?” And the reply I get is “I’ve got it.”
Down to Cold Cotes in 1:25, not bad going and still on track. Now the road section – I get up to speed and spin out on the first set of descents. There’s a big grin on my face , this is brilliant. The sun is out, I’m on my bike and I’m in the fells. Then a flapping sound from the front tyre. I brake carefully, I desperately want to slow down but it’s not going to happen quickly enough. If I can just hold the line – nope.
The tyre comes off the rim. The bike goes sideways. I hit the ground. Hard. I roll and hit my head but already my shoulder has taken the full impact so it is a glancing blow to the helmet rather than a substantial one.
As I am lying in the road I can hear wheels freewheeling past me. Someone shouts, “Are you ok?”. I can’t answer. Another shouts, “No he’s not.” And cycles by! Even lying in the road, dazed and yet to do an inventory of working body parts I am staggered by this act.
I reach out with my left arm and drag myself, still lying down, from the middle of the road to the edge. A couple more have cycled passed the scene now. Bike down, man down, large splash of liquid across the road where my water carrier has burst. Not a word.
Then a cyclist stops. He asks me to sit down and says he’ll change my tyre for me in case I want to carry on (optimistic) or walk the bike to where I am going (more likely). I’m still reeling a bit from the crash. He says he’s not part of the race but here to support someone else so he’ll sort my bike out for me. I try and lift my right arm. It hurts. A lot. I’ve never not finished a race before and I’m struggling to come to terms with what’s unfolding before me. Then a motorbike arrives, closely followed by another. They kindly say they will go down to Ribblehead and see if they can find Sally so she can come and get me. One rider rides off and I chat to the other, Neil, for a while. He constructs a rather splendid makeshift sling from the inner tube that has been replaced. Perfect. And not dissimilar to the one the hospital use later on. Good work.
Neil then rides off after helping me move my bike to a small layby so I can sit and wait for Sally to arrive.
I replay the crash over and over. Is there anything I could have done differently? I was going so well then down I went. It is hard to describe just how quick it happened and just how hard I landed. It has always been a nagging fear going downhill on the road; what if I come off?
The thing I keep returning to is those first few riders cycling past. Before anyone else was there. While I was lying, prone, on the ground in the middle of the road unable to speak. Just cycling past.
I know we are responsible for ourselves. I know that. But surely we are all also the first point of contact for the rider immediately in front of us? I love the camaraderie of ultra runs, of fell races and of cyclocross races; of like minded people enduring together towards a common goal, each responsible for themselves but also looking out for each other.
Maybe I am naïve to think it exists in all who enter these events. I would never dream of cycling or running past a fallen competitor without checking they were ok. I don’t even think it matters where you are in the field – and let’s face it if you were behind me on a single speed you aren’t tearing up the race.
Another motorbike appears. “Ah, you’re the faller then, you’ve been waiting a while haven’t you, I’ll go and check – maybe you could walk down to the next junction and wait there in case Sally has gone past.” He’s right, I have been waiting a long time so I get up and slowly start to walk down the road as he rides off. Almost immediately a van pulls up and a voice says, “Get in, I’m taking you back to Helwith Bridge and Sally will meet us there. Which arm is it?”
It transpires that a photographer covering the race has also come off and is in a sling and as luck would have it it’s the opposite one so we can sit good shoulder to good shoulder in the van. While driving us back the organiser is thinking about logistics and race vehicles needed to support the race and how it changes over the years. I wonder. I wonder if the appearance of race vehicles to support takes even more onus off people to care for those around them. To focus on themselves to the exclusion of others. I don’t know. The pain is getting worse now and I am grateful when we pull in to Helwith Bridge and I can see Sally and our van pulled up.
I dib my dibber to make sure they know I am back and ok. 3rd person back to Helwith Bridge, only beaten by Paul Oldham and Rob Jebb – result! Rob looks at me and groans a little – “It’s not, is it?”
Then Sally appears with a can of gin and tonic – genius! Just what I need and it’s amazing the effect it has immediately. Now for the drive home and wait in the hospital to be seen.
I would have made it back to Helwith Bridge under my own steam, or with Sally, if required and dibbed to let them know I was safe. I understand the safety element and also the race organiser’s responsibilities to every single rider. I also understand my own responsibilities regarding the care of myself and of others. Having reflected it may be that the riders first on the scene saw the spectator coming down the road but in all honesty I know I am being too generous there. I could have been more seriously hurt, although a Grade 3 AC joint separation is serious enough it is not life threatening.
The Three Peaks Cyclocross is a majestic, jaw dropping, awe inspiring beast of a race and requires the respect of us all and we are in it together.
If you did ride past me, I’m ok – I’m still in a lot of pain but I will get back on my bike again. Accidents happen and there is nothing I could have done about this one.
But what if I had not been ok and your staggering disregard for your fellow competitors cost me my life? What if the difference between me living and dying hinged on those first few seconds after the crash? What then for you? What then for the race?
Am I being too dramatic? I don’t think so. I was lying in the middle of an open road having crashed at 35 mph as the result of a front tyre blow out. It could have been a lot worse for me and I know it.
I am thankful to the spectator who stopped and changed my wheel – I didn’t get your name but you were right, it was much easier to deal with my bike with a pumped up tyre.
Thank you to the motorbike riders for locating Sally and passing information to her, and to Neil for the makeshift sling that you were quite rightly very proud of – note the similarity to the one they gave me at the hospital!
Also thanks to the organiser for picking me up and driving me to Helwith Bridge and for letting me know that Sally knew I was ok. In and amongst all the other jobs you were doing I am grateful you took the time to make it a little easier for us all.
Together you made a painful experience more bearable. I don’t know how long it will be before I can ride my bike again but I will put my name in to the hat for next year’s race if I am able. And if not then I can always volunteer and offer to help, as those who helped me.
In the meantime even though there was no obvious damage to my bike in the crash (shh, don’t tell Sally!) perhaps I need a new one for when I recover...