As our adventure through northern England’s Yorkshire Dales National Park continues, we shift our attention from the gravel and mixed-terrain paths cutting through the snowcapped hills and look upward, toward some of the most famed climbs in the area. A few peaks in particular have earned recognition among cyclists, in no small part thanks to an annual race called the 3 Peaks Cyclo-Cross, which has been a source of healthy competition almost every September since 1961—only canceled when foot-and-mouth disease or a viral pandemic hit the region.
This event is unlike any ’cross race you’ve been to at a local park or professional course. For one, it’s not a small loop repeated exhaustively. Instead, it’s a large loop ridden only once, stretching some 38 miles (not a distance to scoff at in cyclocross terrain!). And for another thing, there’s the location. It’s set in the beautiful Yorkshire Dales, always offering something stunning to look at while stitching together some of the region’s longest climbs. As the event’s name suggests, it visits three peaks—Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent—which together bring the course’s total elevation gain to a challenging 5,000 feet. The race is for drop-bar bikes only (sorry mountain bikers), and don’t think you’ll be able to ride your bike for the entire route. Race organizers estimate that even the best bike-handlers will be carrying their bikes for over 3 uphill miles.
We trace some of the challenging course as we ride our Specialized Diverge. But riding the entire course outside of the competition date is impossible because much of it takes place on private land over footpaths that otherwise restrict bikes. That’s part of what makes this event so special. Participants’ inability to train on much of the actual route rewards repeat racers, who learn the ins-and-outs of the course over the years. When UCI WorldTour rider Lachlan Morton of EF Education First rode the event in 2019, he came in third, showing just how stiff is the event and the competition. For the rest of us who can only dream about being competitive at the 3 Peaks, the charm of a route that can be ridden only one day a year is enough of a draw.
Whenever we can return for the actual race, the Diverge will easily be our weapon of choice. Its sub-1,000-gram frame and ample gear range means we can tackle most of the ultra-steep inclines on the race’s triad of peaks. And its slack handling is perfect for staying stable and upright on the bike when others have to dismount. From riding the parts of the course we had access to, we were more than happy to be riding the Diverge.
After exploring the area around the three peaks, it’s time for a rest. So we head to the quaint market town of Hawes for a much-deserved break and refreshments before continuing to explore the Yorkshire Dales, which has so much more to offer.