In case you hadn't noticed, at the heart of 'Belgian' identity is the winter discipline of cyclocross. If, as a new Belgian you aren't already riding cross, then you will be soon, by osmosis, peer pressure or sheer curiousity down to the fact that the rest of us bang on about it so much. As an old hand, then you know what you are in for already.
However, masquerading less as the Cinderella, and more the Ugly Sister of the cyclocross world is the 3 Peaks Cyclocross, a unique annual event occupying a very Northern (as in England) niche and representing a very different part of the cross world. It is staged in the Yorkshire Dales National Park every year at the end of September and so they say, is the toughest and biggest Cyclo-Cross event in the UK. I wouldn't argue with that as such.
Here are the stats:
Total distance: 61kms (38 miles)
Road: 28kms (45mins - 1hr 5mins)
Unsurfaced: 33kms (2hrs 15mins - 4hrs 40mins)
Unrideable: 6kms - 8kms (dependent on individual ability & prevailing conditions)
Total climbing: 1524m (5000ft)
Hidden in there is some scary and rocky terrain, an allegedly neutralised bunch start of 500 riders on narrow roads behind a car, and a whole world of pain. Oh and 3 bloody great mountains, not Peaks - Ingleborough, Whernside Penyghent.
Yes it is that steep! (Pic:Wig Worland)
There is of course a merry, nay select, band of Belgians competing this year - Alan (Crossjunkie), Winkie Thin, Richard Knowles, Richard Allen and Simon Fox. Jez Hastings is also riding as his Team Wiggle alter ego but we all know he is Belgian through and through.... Most have ridden before, none I suspect are undertaking it lightly. Spare a thought too for their pit crews who face a GB rally style driving experience hotfooting from rendezvous to rendezvous with spare bikes, wheels and bottles. This is a cross race after all......
Rich descending Penyghent, the big dark lump in the background (pic: Wig Worland)
Alan in original black kit ascending Simon Fell/Ingleborough (pic:Wig Worland)
Heightened anticipation, nervousness and obsession are common traits among all Peaks entrants at this time of year, with just a week and a half to go till what is usually for most the biggest race of the year. And probably the hardest too. Most do Peaks specific training which often involves variations on a theme of carrying a bike up rough 45 degree slopes for endless periods of time.
Friend and honorary Belgian, Dave Haygarth runs a great 3 Peaks blog with all things Peak related contained within. Check it out for more insights into this unique race even if you have no intention of riding, just marvelling at the stupidity of riding up and down mountains on cross bikes. Better still, come along on that last Sunday in September and support your intrepid band of Belgians at Ribblehead or even better, half way up Penyghent when a friendly shout or bottle of water won't go amiss. That said, by that point we will probably all be looking for a wandering Vetinary with a bolt gun to end our suffering........