A surreal sight caught my attention on the final run-in of the Three Peaks 2010, the ridiculously hard cyclocross race for people who don’t mind carrying bikes up mountains in Yorkshire.
I realise that any rider with serious intentions would have been chomping the bars, focused on the road ahead and squeezing out every drop of remaining energy after four gruelling hours in the saddle. (Come to think of it, the saddle was somewhere round my ears for half of that time.) But a string of five riders had just hammered past and, try as I might, there was absolutely no way of latching on the back. No gel could remedy the situation now. The legs were empty, the head gone.
Totally drained, facing one last road climb before the finish and wanting it all to end, my eyes drifted right to a guy walking – and occasionally running – on the verge, bike on his right shoulder, front wheel in the left hand.
Why shoulder the bike when you can push, I wondered, unless that front wheel was so hideously deformed it would no longer turn. Drawing level provided the answer: the wheel in his left hand was attached to forks. The forks, therefore, were no longer attached to the frame. The helter-skelter descent of Pen-y-ghent had claimed another casualty for its fearsome tally – not the first and certainly not the last.
Recollections of a photo from last year’s Peaks came to mind: a rider walking dejectedly in the mist on (I think) Whernside, holding two halves of what minutes earlier had been a rather fetching – and whole – ‘cross machine.
And a colleague who prepared thoroughly for his first attempt in 2009, only for his (porky) calf muscle to give way minutes after hitting the first climb of Ingleborough. Race over.
The Three Peaks will take your weaknesses and magnify them beyond belief. It will take the tiniest flaw in a piece of carbon and wreck a bike irreparably. Those hills are the wreckers of dreams and shatterers of ambition.
But, when you get it right… when you get it right, nothing comes close. Nothing.