Interview: 3 Peaks legend Barry Davies

Interview: 3 Peaks legend Barry Davies

Another huge name in ‘cross in my mini-series of interviews, Barry Davies was the first ever person to take three consecutive wins in the event. Showing the type of domination seen in his 60s predecessor Harry Bond and contemporary John Atkins, Barry was someone well-suited to the hardest of ‘cross races.

I started by asking Barry which of his 3 wins (‘73, ’74, and ’75) was his particular one to cherish

“As always, your first win at the ‘Peaks is the most satisfying. In 1972 and the year before my first win, I had trained specially for the event and was well in the lead on the descent of Whernside when I misjudged where you ride and run and crashed smashing my front wheel. By the time I reached the bottom at Chapel le Dale I had lost some 6 minutes and all hope of the victory.

“Once I had won it once then all the stress had gone and the following victories were still hard, but stress-free. Becoming the first rider to win it three times on the trot was a great achievement and I even got a special trophy for it!

What was the team set-up like back then (Ron Kitching) – and did they see the race as significant or as a bit niche?

“Looking at the race results, Ron Kitching has five individual wins – three for me and two for Eric – and one team victory. Ron was a true Yorkshire gent and most weekends would walk the hills and fells around the 3 Peaks race route

“The support from Ron and the warehouse was fantastic –  My race frames were built by Harry Quinn in Liverpool and were works of art – built as light as possible and built from a mixture of the lightest tubing and lugs – he even modified centre pull brakes to use instead of cantilevers so I could use Zeus brakes as they did not make cantilevers. The frames were painted by Geoff Clarke cycles in Bradford. I used the same three framesets from 1970 to 1976. They were re-checked every year by Harry and then re-painted by Geoff.

“From 1970 – 1976 I used Zeus equipment – Vittoria/Milremo Tubulars and Milremo finishing equipment. I used to weigh everything and try and get the weight down.. Jack Conroy was the warehouse manager and used to build my wheels – Charlie Burton (Beryls husband) was also a great help when setting up parts.

“My team manager was a great character called Arthur Hart who was the local postman in the Dales and took us on great trips to Belgium to race !!”

How many bikes did you use in those races … any special prep for them?

“We were real dinosaurs regarding bikes compared to today’s riders… We just used our normal cross bikes – mine was fitted with 1 x 6 speed – 42T on the front 13-15-17-19-22-26 on the rear. Tubs were Vittoria file tread on the front, Barum block tread on the rear and tyres were always pumped up hard on all conditions(although when racing in Switzerland in the snow and ice I used to let some air out).  We never used a gauge to check the pressures!

“After the start of the race went from Horton to Ribblehead then road bikes were used – I used to change as soon as we left the main road and onto the track.  Now I know there are stories about various different kind of bikes being used – even a ‘cardboard ‘ one. This might be 3 Peaks folklore?!  But I do know that Eric used track bikes for going up Whernside and Ingleborough once. There were no rules concerning what constituted a ‘bike’ so anyone could use there own ideas on what was a bike!”
And how does the 3 Peaks Cyclocross stand up against all the other cyclocross success you had – in terms of personal pride and achievement?

“As a top runner who turned to riding cross everybody said that I should ride the ‘Peaks and that I and should do well. The first time I rode was 1969 and we went up Penyghent first before returning to Horton in Ribblesdale and on to Ribblehead and Whernside.. I ran away from the field, took the prime [at the summit] and then blew up on the road to Ribblehead. Having never been on the course before I didn’t know the route or, more importantly, where to ride and where to run.

“It took me a further three more attempts before I finally won the race, and after the bad luck in 1972 my first race win was a great delight as because it was also the first for Yorkshire’s Ron Kitching.

“But the ‘Peaks was just one race in a season which saw me riding 40 plus races from September to March and, because it was my profession then, two days after it was forgotten and on to the next ones. I think that the North of England Championship was regarded higher at the time as it brought together all the top riders – many of who did not ride the ‘Peaks. I rode lots of races on the continent and had lots of top 10 places in Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Did you do anything really specific each year for the race, or was it more just another race in your programme?

“The only time I really trained for the Peaks was 1972 , when I used to drive to Ribblehead Viaduct leave the car and run up Wernside down to Chapel and then up Ingleboro down to Selside and back up the road to Ribblehead. I guess it was about 12 miles in total and used to take 1 1/2 hours..  I think I did it 3 or 4 times in August and early September..
The only other ‘training’ that you needed was to remember where to ride and where to run . Especially down all of the 3 Peaks – Whernside you could ride off the top and then you had to get off before a steep rocky descent.. Off Ingleborough it was a case of remembering the route and where the deep bogs were!.  There was no path down Penyghent like there is today so it was a case of getting on and off over the bogs before reaching the lane.

“Otherwise summer training consisted of riding pro road races, running fell races in Yorkshire Fells and The Lakes which were run for professional runners. Also used to ride the Grass Track League in Leeds but they would not allow ‘Ron Kitching’ to be mention in the results!

“The problem with training for the ‘Peaks was that it was one race and the training did not suit the normal one-hour cross races for the next 5 months.”

Did the weather feature heavily in any of your races?

“Its much easier today if the weather is bad as there is a clearly defined path so you have something to follow.. In the early days there were very few marshalls and no markers so on a clear day you just followed the rider in front , or if you were the leader you had to be route-perfect!  But once the cloud came down it all changed.. I remember getting stuck and lost all sense of direction on the top of Ingleborough one day in summer when having a ride on the course, fortunately I was with Neil Orrell and he came back and found me it was very scary for sure !!!.

How was nutrition in a 70s 3 Peaks?  

“As I said before, compared with today’s cyclists, we were in the dark ages. There was no such things as pasta – energy bars – before race drinks – after race drinks – Gels … I have still never had a gel!

“I was always told that you raced on the food you ate the night before – so it was a large meal of chips, vegs and pies. Breakfast was always porridge then scrambled eggs on toast..The race did not start till noon then so a tin of cold rice pudding was eaten on the way to the race. Mars bars were the racers No 1 choice – Hugh Porter gave me some fig biscuits in one race when I was away with him (in the |National Road Race).

“The first real signs of sports nutrition was in 1972 when I was one of the riders used by Glaxo who had decided to develop a sports drink.. It was nothing like what you have today . the first sample was like a thick sweet syrup – just the thing to take after a ride to exhaustion in the lab! It also played havoc with your digestive system.

“I came up with the idea of diluting it 50/50 with water which helped both the taste and one’s digestion. So we now had energy drinks of some sort, but we never carried any kind of drinks or food on the Peaks.. as Eric said ‘ We never had time to eat or drink’ ”

What about the clothing you wore in those days… much different to today’s techno kit?

“There was no lycra until 1979, so it was wool jerseys and shorts . Wool loves water, so in a wet race you were carrying an extra 5 or 6 lbs of weight.

“Also you couldn’t go into your local bike shop and buy a pair of shoes. Yes, they had lovely leather cycling shoes for the road, but cross shoes were a no no. It was down to the rider and all sorts were used / made/ invented . I was lucky that I knew Ron Hill (the famous runner) and he used to supply me with running shoes – but something more advanced was needed , so I designed a shoe made from super light football boots and fitted shoe plates with spikes and then fitted the sole on the front from a running shoe..

“The arrival of lycra and skinsuits was a great step forward – no more extra weight being carried. I wore the first skinsuit in a cross in December 1979 … and coloured shorts in 1980 – even though I was threatened with a ban by the BCF at the time!”

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