Idiot’s guide to The 3 Peaks Cyclocross

The fundamentals of this fun-but-mental event. Includes top secret information about how to win it.

logo_3pcxWhat is it?

A mass start cyclocross race taking in one 61 km lap of some of the Yorkshire Dales’ biggest hills: Ingleborough, Whernisde and Pen-y-ghent (this is the order in which the riders do the hills by the way).

The route is a gruelling mix of trails, access roads, tarmac and various “unrideable” slopes and bogs.

Why is it so (in)famous?

The 3 Peaks Cyclocross race is a unique bike race. It’s not like a normal cyclocross race (lots of laps of a small course somewhere not very remote).

It most closely resembles a mountain bike marathon race, but one where mountain bikes are not allowed. So it really is in a class and field of its own.

It’s a bit like a fell running race brutally mixed together with a time trial.

How did it come about?

In September 1959 a 14 year old Skipton lad called Kevin Watson used his bike to complete the already existing hiking/running route ‘The Three Peaks’. He did it in 6 hours 45 mins and got himself into the local press.

Inspired by young Kev, a week later three riders from Leeds CTC had a crack at it. One of them did it in 6 hours 30 mins.

At the end of September one of the Leeds riders (Malcom Renshaw) did the route as a soloist and set a time of 4 hours 45 mins.

On October 4th ten riders from Bradford Racing Cycling Club had something more along the lines of a proper race on the route. Only six of them finished. The winning time was 4 hours 33 mins.

It was a very dry summer in 1959 interestingly enough. If it wasn’t for that weather would there even be a 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross..?

The 1st edition of the race proper

On October 1st 1961 the first proper official version of The 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross race took place. A local businessman funded the event. It was organised by the Bradford Racing Cycling Club.

In the race itself, the race organiser John Rawnsley duked it out with British CX Champion Harry Bond with Rawnsley taking the win.

Bradford Racing Cycling Club and John Rawnsley remain the organisers of the event to this day.

How has it changed over the years?

The course has got longer. It was originally 40 km long. It’s now 61 km.

The 1980s arguably saw the most change. The course was extended numerous times. Riders and bikes got a bit more ‘pro’. There was even use of multiple bikes (switching to time trial bikes for the road sections etc) and mountain bikes were allowed for a time too.

The most significant recent change was the ban on flat handlebars in 2011. Drop bars are now compulsory.

Disc brakes are allowed.

The amount of competitors has increased. The 1961 event had 40 riders. The 2015 entry list has 650 entrants.

Essentially though the basic premise of the event remains true to the 1961 one. It’s still bonkers stuff on inappropriate bikes.

What are the course’s vital stats?

Length: 61 km

Ascent: 1,524 metres

Fastest time: 2:52.22 by Rob Jebb in 2008

There’s 28 km of road, 33 km of off-road and 6-8 km of what the organisers call “unrideable”.

Is there a women’s category?

Yep. Since 1979 there have been women competitors.

The fastest female was 3:39:33 by Louise Robinson in 2003.

How do you win it?

Be massively fit.

Run firm tyre pressures. No, firmer.

Be lucky.

Have a good pit crew.

Have a screw loose.

British Cycling’s video about The 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross

Official website:

Shop for cyclocross bikes on Merlin Cycles

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