Location: Helwith BridgeHorton-In-Ribblesdale, BD24 0EH
Event: 30 September 2012
Source: Pete Sutton – British Cycling Regional Events Officer - Yorkshire
Behind every great race, there is a great man and for the 3 Peaks it has only ever been John Rawnsley. Now in his 75th year, John is going out with a big bang as he completes 50 versions of the iconic event that at 38 miles saps the legs of even the world class athletes that take it on.
This year is no exception as one Thomas Frishknecht, the Swiss Cyclo Cross & MTB legend tries his hand to win in a field that will hit 700. John then moves into November and the quirky bike versus harrier event on Baildon Moor and a round of the Yorkshire Points Series at Myrtle Park, Bingley before his final event as an organiser as the National Cyclo Cross Championships return to the twin levels of Peel Park, Bradford.
You could be forgiven in thinking that Cyclo Cross goes through John Rawnsley like a stick of rock but that would be only part of what he has done. Starting cycling in 1954 at the junior age of 17 with the Bradford Elite Cycling Club, he quickly found his mark in road racing and moved on to what was to become a major team in races, namely Yorkshire Road Club. Here he teamed up with Vin Denson and Geoff Salter to race in the major classics of the day. Few will know that he raced against major riders like Barry Hoban and Tom Simpson as they started on their way to continental contracts. But by the end of the 50’s Cyclo Cross was calling as was a move to his current club, Bradford RCC. As with most things, more than one person was looking at the 3 Peaks on a bike and whilst John was not the first to attempt it prior to the races, it was the man and his club that started it going in 1961. 35 hardy souls took to the line, John included and by the end, John was the winner of the 23 that survived. The rest they say is history and many famous names in cycling have entered the event and become the favourite of that year to win and found out the hard way that this race doesn’t take prisoners and being a star in one discipline of cycling can in no way prepare you for what you are about to receive. I well remember Gethin Butler being one such rider and by Ribblehead he was well down and looked more like a punch drunk boxer than a cyclist. He finished and lived to tell the tale to those who contemplate this annual event.
Other little known facts about John are his lifelong membership of the Bingley Harriers which has seen him running a race called the 3 Peaks! and bringing across to Cyclo Cross, some of the major stars of the Cross Country & Fell Running community at both local and international level. The love of both sports saw him become the ‘trainer’ of many current and past stars of our sport as they went from youth to vet on a diet of Wednesday & Sunday trips into the Dales, following their Pied Piper. This continues to this year as the popular 3 Peaks training day gives new riders an idea of what is to come, a short 4 weeks beforehand. Ever meticulous, I can say with accuracy that John has ridden, run and walked the 3 Peaks a total of 152 times, which at a notional 30-35 miles a time is pushing 5000 miles on the 3 hills. John joined the Yorkshire Cyclo Cross Association in 1959 and has been its President for the last 35 years. From a winter of Cyclo Cross followed by 2 months running training and a summer of Fell Running, John has eased back to a more relaxed life via 4 London Marathons and his annual Candlelighters ride(110m) to major on the Vets National Champs, Inter Area, National Trophies and National Champs as an alternative! No wonder he was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame last year as one of its first entrants. Truly an amazing person and what the sport is all about.
P.S. Never fear, John has already got two volunteers lined up to take over the 3 Peaks for 2013 onwards.