GETTING TO KNOW A BIT ABOUT THE CYCLOCROSS ADDICT, 3 PEAKS SAGE AND GRIT.CX CONTRIBUTOR.
WORDS BY GREG MAY
PHOTOS BY JO ALLEN
It’s a bleak Monday evening in the north of England and I’m sitting in a quiet, not overly heated, locals-only pub waiting for Planet-X Dave Haygarth to make his appearance. It’s foggy, windy and wet. I drove. Unsurprisingly Dave has ridden here and on arrival is more jovial than a baby who’s just realised it has toes. It must be all that fresh air.
Getting Past the First Impression
I have one vivid memory from my first trip to race ’cross in the UK of a very tall, very talkative, very fast rider from Wheelbase who from my external view appeared to be making a joke of the whole thing. I thought he was a bit of a dick.
Only later did I find out that he’d not only crushed most of the field, but did so on a fairly regular basis, and was now helping out at the next race, cheering people on, washing bikes, handing warm kit to cold riders. It wasn’t until a few years later that I’d realised that the reason why he appeared as he did, was because he was having fun. Far too much fun. This is a man who just loves, breathes and lives ’cross in every way possible.
Dave is the model of an everyman cyclist in all ways bar his results. With a wife, kids and pets he has still managed to stay consistently at the front of ’cross races for the past few years. All the while being unbearably chirpy about it. Don’t get me wrong, this is a man who trains hard. One hundred per cent full gas, with little time available: “You need to make the most of it. Make it hard, ’cause ’cross is hard.”
After racing for the Wheelbase team in his native Cumbria, Dave now races for Planet-X and has been involved in the development of several of their bikes. But primarily one bike, for one race – the hallowed 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race. The idea of a dedicated bike for one race may seem ludicrous to some. Those people probably haven’t raced the Peaks. Not simply ‘ridden’ it, but ‘raced’ it. It dictates a certain type of bike, for a certain type of rider. Perhaps even one who will live on a diet of chilli flakes and beetroot, adding it to everything he eats based on some spurious scientific evidence. Think ‘obsessed’.
While I look at my notes I find it’s hard to put into words how much this race means to Dave. After years as a fell runner in the Lakes, Dave took it upon himself to have a go at the Peaks with a second-hand mountain bike that he’d converted over to look mostly like a ’cross bike. Now he’s been at the start of every 3 Peaks since 1995, and bar the cancelled year of foot and mouth, he’s only had one DNF. Some excuse about snapping a seatpost before the first climb and having no spare bike. For shame Dave, I expected more from a man who with a broken collarbone on the descent off Pen-Y-Ghent, walked down, then still finished ahead of most of the field. And me.
Over the years Dave has focused his year around this one day, the final Sunday in September, and has achieved what he wanted in a top ten result. Now he races for the pure fun of the race, the spectacle, and the community that it has. This community has led to Dave being involved more and more in the operational side of the NWCCA (North West Cyclocross Association: http://nwcca.org.uk).
It’s like punk rock.
But as a bicycle.
During our talk, Dave refers to ’cross as being punk. Being different, but at the same time adhering to a strict internal set of rules. Maybe a more Vivian Westwood impression of punk. It’s a sport that, at its heart, is grassroots. It focuses on the youth riders and builds up from there. It’s something Dave has real passion for, and it’s transferred to his own children with one of his kids winning the NWCCA Under 8 League – ironically as daddy wins the Veterans League.
We talk about how this passing of the flame from generation to generation may not seem very punk, but think of how many people you know whose musical influence, whether they like it or not, comes from their parents. Exposure begets understanding. “You just have to expose kids to ’cross and they’ll either want in, or they’ll move on to other bike disciplines. Either way, we win.” We get cyclists, ideally we get real ’cross riders too. I start to think Dave may have a point here. Maybe not about the beetroot, though.