The toughest cyclocross race in the world. Staged in the Yorkshire Dales National Park since 1961 the Three Peaks is a grandparent to every adventure race that’s come after. The first off-road event of its kind, it follows in the muddy footsteps and tyre tracks of a 14-year-old Yorkshire schoolboy who first completed the arduous route by bicycle in 1959. Since then the course and event have expanded to become the largest and most feared cyclocross in the UK.
Climbing the eponymous summits of Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-Ghent, some of these are so steep even the winner will struggle to jog up. Often beset by bleak weather the event is inseparable from the beautiful yet harsh landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Scrabbling up misty summits or racing downwards beside the epic Ribblehead Viaduct, the conditions and terrain are as responsible for the character of the race as the attitude of its hundreds of competitors.
With gradients so severe that those taking part will need the skills of a fell runner, as well as the talents of a bike racer, only standard issue cyclocross bikes using drop handlebars and thin tyres are allowed. Normally closed to riders, the route is opened just once a year for an event that’s remained largely unchanged over the course of its long existence.
Bombtrack rider Clem Shovel now has his own history with the race. Last year saw him returning for the sixth time in search of a sub-four hour ride, and a coveted first class categorisation. Like thousands before him, the Three Peaks has captured his imagination and monopolised his ambitions like no other race.
“The trail is beautiful” he explains. “It’s hilly, it’s savage, and it’s absolutely natural. That’s why it’s unique.” Now well acquainted with the agony of spending over an hour shouldering the bike up muddy hillsides and steep flagstone paths, Bombtrack’s latest film documents his ongoing love affair with the race and his most recent attempt to crack the four-hour limit. “It’s hard because it’s made to be hard,” says Clem.
We first met Clem at the European Singlespeed CX Championships in Mons-en-Pévèle back in 2015, not far from his home in Lille, northern France. Home to races like Paris-Roubaix and the Ardennes Classics as well as being close by the Tour of Flanders, it was instead the area’s rougher routes that drew Clem’s young eyes.
Now an accomplished ultra-racer with strong finishes at the Transcontinental Race, Highland Trail 550, Tuscany Trail, Trans Germany, and French Divide, he’s been instrumental in the design of our long-distance Audax rage.
Making it look easy, none of these efforts seems to have lined Clem’s baby-faced features. Perhaps older than you’d expect, he balances life as a father and husband with his riding.
Along with his gang, the Malteni Ultracross Bootleggers, Clem is also responsible for organising a 270km ultra-cyclocross that starts and finishes at the Brunehaut brewery in Rongy, Belgium. A regular competitor at Gogo Hellcross and the Singlespeed CX European Championships, he’s now ridden the Three Peaks six times and plans to be back for a seventh attempt in 2019.
Iain Francis / muddygorilla.com (Videothumbnail)
Emma Osenton / Smith Photography
Emma Osenton / Smith Photography
Iain Francis / muddygorilla.com
Jason Sellers / fwdbound.com
Many thanks to our friends at Bombtrack Bicycles for this contribution.