Prepping for 3 Peaks

“I’m quite out of my depth. I’m excited to jump in and see what it’s about.”

– Lachlan Morton

With plenty of road and mountain bike riding under his belt in 2019, Lachlan MortonLachlan Morton is getting ready for a brand new adventure in what is, for him, uncharted territory. EF Education First’s alternative racing calendar rolls on this Sunday at the 3 Peaks Cyclo-cross race.

A 61-kilometer journey through England’s iconic Yorkshire Dales traversing the three peaks of Ingleborough, Whernside, and Pen-y-ghent, the event pits riders agains a wide variety of terrain – with a requirement that they use a cyclocross bike. After all, riding with drop bars and no suspension was good enough for racers in the event’s first editions in the 1960s, and to this day, organizers embrace the heritage those early racers established.

“For them, cross-country mountain biking as it is today wasn’t really a discipline. It didn’t really exist back in the 60s,” says Mark Richmond, the race secretary. “When the idea to take on the Peaks came around, the cyclocross bike was the tool of choice. That’s how we’ve ended up with a race over this kind of terrain as a cyclocross race.”

That terrain is a mixture of paved and unpaved stretches on anything from grass to gravel to stone, with several kilometers requiring riders to shoulder their bikes and continue on foot. Taking on such a wide array of surfaces comes with plenty of tech challenges. Morton and EF Education First alternative racing director and mechanic Tom Hopper have been hard at work preparing for Sunday’s race.

Morton will ride Cannondale’s SuperX cyclocross bike at 3 Peaks. It’s plenty fast, so it’s up to Morton and Hopper to adapt to the diversity of surfaces it will have to traverse. Having the right tires will make a big difference.

“We’re planning to use the Vittoria Terreno Mix, their mixed terrain tire, and we’re bringing the Terreno Wet too just in case the weather is really bad,” Hopper says. “I think no matter what you would want a faster, drier tire even if it is wet. It looks like the terrain drains well. If it’s going to be a section where you just bomb through a bit of mud and then you’re back on a faster gravelly section, the less tread the better. And given that there are paved sections, you don’t want to be riding on a big mud tire.”

Those Vittoria tires will be 33 millimeters wide and set up tubeless on FSA AGX wheels. Hopper is expecting to go for tire pressures in the range of 40 to 50 PSI, with time yet to tweak that number in the days before the race.

Having the right gearing options will be critical as well as Morton faces some steep ups and downs.

“We’re doing a double in the front, 30-46,” Hopper says. “It’s a smaller small chainring than you might normally see on a ‘cross bike. We’re riding a 30 because supposedly the third peak has a section that is rideable if you have a low enough gear to ride it.

“In the rear we’re going to go with a lighter 11-30 Dura-Ace cassette and that should give us the gear ratio for anything that he is going to actually be riding.”

As for the sections he won’t be riding, Morton’s recent journey on the Colorado Trail gave him plenty of time to get comfortable logging miles on foot, but without any ‘cross races under his belt, his past experience with shouldering a bike is limited. That will make a ‘cross race requiring so much time spent unclipped from his Shimano XTR pedals an even more difficult undertaking.

“This week was really the first time I was really properly shouldering a bike and running up a hill, which was fun,” Morton says.

“I’ve got a sore shoulder now so I’ve got to reconcile the fact that I’ll probably be running with the bike on my shoulder for an hour and might go with a bit of padding.”

Hopper is exploring his options on that front, with plans to pad the handlebars with either gel padding or double-wrapped bar tape as well to take some of the sting out of the bumpy descents.

With his bike and gear setup dialed in, Morton is hoping he’ll be starting on the right track as he takes on a race unlike any other he has tackled before. Once he and the rest of the 3 Peaks racers are out on the course, Morton isn’t quite sure what to expect, but he’s looking forward to taking on a fresh challenge.

“I’m quite out of my depth,” Morton acknowledges. “I’m excited to jump in and see what it’s about.”