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    Three Peaks CX by Christina Wiejak

       Words by Joseph Cowell

       on 29/09/2017 16:31:03

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    I decided to do a bit of a ‘write up’ of my day, mainly because I don’t work Tuesdays, and so it’s bike day. However, I'll be honest, to win the women’s title at the 3 Peaks CX this year, I had to dig very very deep; consequently, I was broken. Typing seemed more appealing! If anyone enjoys reading this, brilliant. Otherwise, it will be like a diary for me next year, when I’m panicking about my 2018 performance!

    In last year’s 3PCX, I was underprepared, but with a respectable level of running and riding fitness, I surprisingly finished as 4th lady, and the Highest Placed First Timer. I was pleased with how the race went, given that I was riding a demo bike and had little idea of what to expect, but nobody likes 4th place do they?! I left the event, promising myself that I’d buy a CX bike, and train to win the year after…. Working in a bike shop, I managed to invest in a Scott Addict CX 20 frame, a Shimano Ultegra Hydraulic CX groupset, and some Hope CX wheels, along with a few finishing bits.
    By the time that I’d got it built (OK, I didn’t build it, but my long suffering colleagues/on call mechanics Matt and Ian did), the CX season was almost over, but I managed one race, and finished 3rd. Not what I was after, but a good starting point. Winter was spent doing long, cold and often miserable miles in preparation for the Fred Whitton Challenge in May. I’d set my sights on sub 7 hours, so when the day finally arrived and I finished in 6 hours 46 minutes, it felt like the hard miles had been worth it, and importantly, I had gained a good base fitness for the summer. 

    After that, other than a couple of local TTs on my road bike, I found myself drifting along a bit. I go through big peaks and troughs in motivation; whilst I force myself to go out riding through the 'troughs', on a ‘peak’, I cannot wait to get out riding, and no matter how hard I am trying, it’s still enjoyable. I’d love to know if others go through such undulations, and how they put up with them?! In June, I finally entered the 2017 3PCX event, and started riding my CX bike more and more. I’m blessed to live in Cumbria, and have some of the UKs best riding (in my opinion!). I spent a lot of time just getting myself more confident on the bike, although in hindsight, I should have kept up my running a little more, as this would have paid off on the steep climbs of Simon Fell and Whernside. With the weather absolutely rubbish, and tired of getting drowned on my bike, myself and a friend Phil booked a week at the Serre Des Ormes Cycling Retreat in Provence in August, for a solid week of hills and sunny miles. The week more than delivered, with a ride up Mt Ventoux being the highlight…
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    Photo: Griffe Photo

    I came back to Cumbria a little bit fitter, a lot browner (now faded!) and with a new sense of motivation for the result that I wanted in the 3PCX. At the end of August, I rode in the Hope Pre Peaks event-it was a fantastic chance to do a hard ride, on an unfamiliar route. The week after, I did the #rideforCharlie Scott MTB Marathon in the Peak District. Whilst a lack of recent MTBing definitely showed, I enjoyed the day, with a 65km route to rival the Lake District, amazing atmosphere, and a highly worthwhile cause. What’s more, it was nice to have a break from the CX bike, doing an event for the enjoyment, rather than a result.

    That left me with 3 weeks to go, so I entered my panicking, fitness-doubting, stage. I suddenly felt sluggish and worried that I hadn’t done enough training, yet I was tired and so couldn’t possibly achieve what I had set out to achieve. On my ride home from work a couple of weeks before the event, on a rainy, windy evening, I rode via the start of the last of the Barrow Central Wheelers (my club) hill climbs. Despite vowing a few years ago at a university event never to do a hill climb again, I found myself handing over my £3 and lining up. It felt so awful that I nearly unclipped half way up and packed in, but I somehow reached the top. It hurt…a lot. To my astonishment, I’d won the ladies race, taken over a minute off the ladies record, and placed 6th overall. This was a big boost to my confidence, realising that I was just feeling fatigued from working hard, and there was strength in my legs afterall!

    Finally, the big day arrived, and I’d put so much pressure on myself that I felt horribly ill pulling into the carpark. Fortunately my friend Heidi appeared, and told me to snap out of it; I was being ridiculous! I went for a spin, and made sure I was back at the start in plenty of time. As we clipped in and rolled over the line, I was feeling better, and made up some places before the first climb. The fields between Selside and Simon Fell were frustratingly soft, and what should have been rideable, turned into a run, followed by the horror of Simon Fell which I remembered very vividly indeed-screaming calf muscles, face to the grass and praying that you don’t miss a step! With my running background, and brand new but mega-grippy Specialized Motodiva shoes, this is where I felt that I should have been strong, but no matter how hard I tried, my pace didn’t seem to increase. The succession of boggy ruts on the descent was worse than I could remember, but kept myself mildly entertained with the quantity of ‘OTBs’ (I had plenty of near misses!).

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    Photo:Approaching Ingleborough Summit. Steve Fleming

    Once back on the road, I felt strong and regained the lead that I had lost on the last descent; I even towed a train of chaps along to Chapel le Dale for a while! What was I thinking?! I had reccied Whernside the week before on foot with my dog Max, but there didn’t seem to be many sneaky lines on the climb, so I resigned myself to my position in the line of riders and tried to conserve as much energy as possible. Once again, whilst in a fell race, I make up all my time on the climbs, this wasn’t to be. I would just have to find some inner courage on the descent. I rode far more than I expected to, although admittedly I did some rather pathetic screeching as I gathered pace down the slab staircase, unable to stop, and somewhat relieved when the gradient eased! Unfortunately however, my descending still wasn’t good enough, and I was once again caught by Sarah Barber. I knew that I’d have to give it everything I had on the road and close the gap.

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    Photo: Whernside Summit. Racing Snakes

    Quickly swapping my bottle at Ribblehead and seeing a few familiar faces, I pedalled on. I found myself in a small group of riders and rode together to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. At this point, I realised that a win was actually possible, but if I wanted it, I’d have to put a huge effort in on the climb, to create a big enough gap to compensate for my wimpish descending. I really pushed on that last climb and gained a lead, but gearing and the daunting sight of Pen Y Ghent summit hurt. By the time I’d reached the top, I felt like I had nothing left, and with the summit detour, I had no idea where the others were. I descended Pen Y Ghent like I have never descended before, and I was amazed to find that whilst I’d gained 31 places overall between Ribblehead and Pen Y Ghent summit, I only lost 2 on the way down. Other than a dropped chain jamming behind my crank, I was amazed to reach the road with 3 problem-free descents behind me. A few people have said how lucky I am to complete two 3PCX races with no punctures; I’d agree up to a point, but to me, the event is one of compromises. I am a careful descender, partly because I am a wimp, but equally because I would rather lose 1 minute descending carefully, than 10 minutes fixing a puncture.  I rode the last 3kms like I was being chased by a herd of wilderbeast, and when I crossed the line as first lady, I was well and truly cream-crackered. It’s a horrible feeling finishing a race, knowing that you could have given it more, but there was no chance of that today. Sarah Barber finished only 1 minute 12 seconds behind me, so it was a close battle! I’d visualised crossing the line first for a few months, but more as a motivational goal, rather than a realistic expectation. I was genuinely shocked, delighted, and exhausted at the same time. I think this photo by Joolze Dymond pictures portrays this…

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    Photo: At the finish. Joolze Dymond

    I can take a lot away from this event, but mainly, a big confidence boost that if I put my mind to something, even if at the time it seems unrealistic, it can be achieved. With more experience and some focussed training, I hope to be back for another win next year, and a successful year in between!
    Thanks so much to the Velo gang for getting my trusty Scott sorted (and tolerating my nerves!), and Lee and Stu for carrying a spare wheelset around on E bikes. Thanks also to everyone who came along to support, offering food and bottles, and shouting at me to pedal faster. What a great day!

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    Photos by Griffe Photo, Steve Fleming, Racing Snakes, Joolze Dymond and Anne Fisher.

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