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Fred Whitton Challenge 2007

by Adam Tranter

It's amazing how quickly the Fred comes round again.  After getting my entry in on the 1st of January, I've had a full four months to forget about last years horrors, but then with two weeks to go I started to have nightmares.

The Fred is probably the longest established cyclosportive on the UK scene and the one with the most fearsome reputation.  What makes it so hard is the combination of the distance (114 miles) and the near relentless and steep climbs right from the start.  Throw in the unpredictable early season Lakes weather and an anti-clockwise route which offers no bail out options and you get a recipe for physical and mental torture.

So let's get the excuses over first!  My combination of height and weight means I'm far from being a born climber.  On top of this I'm nursing a sore knee, which is a reminder of Belgium pave, having ridden the Tour of Flanders sportive just a few weeks previously.  Finally my best bike is still at the menders in Italy, so I'm forced to resort to my trust, but heavy and over geared winter trainer.

Big Simon Training - On the Koppenburg!

Big Simon Training - On the Koppenburg!

This will be my second time riding the Fred and the third time I've ridden the route, so no surprises and no chance of self deception about what I'm in for.  I'm riding with two other riders, Simon Oliver and Mark Shannon. When I say "riding with", I know it's going to be more like "starting at the same time as", because both these guys are better climbers than me.  With a 12am cut-off time at the first feed stop (50 miles in), we opt for a 6:30am start time, with some of us more likely to need this safety margin than others.  Despite dreadful weather forecasts the day before, come the start, the gods are smiling on us and it is dry and windless.

Kirkstone Pass

Kirkstone Pass Out Of Ambleside, The First Big Climb

Immediately we start climbing and we are up and over Hawkshead, before heading in to Ambleside, then over Troutbeck for the climb up the Kirkstone.  At this point I've already lost touch with Messrs Oliver and Shannon and I console myself with playing catch up with a couple on a tandem.  We drop down off Kirkstone and skirt a lake before climbing once again over Matterdale and on to the A66 for the drag in to Keswick.  I manage to jump on the back of a couple of passing groups and get the chance to rest and catch my breath.  On the run down from Keswick to Seatoller, the road has a Flandrian quality and I start wondering how anyone can make tarmac so rough. 

Seatoller means the start of the climb up Honister.  Honister is just one of those climbs that doesn't so much have a sting it the tail but rather a slap in the face at the start.  I know what it coming and dump all my gears at the start; this is not the sort of climb to be worrying about anything except keeping the pedals turning.  With a gradient of 20% in places, for me it's a battle to keep the front wheel on the ground and I find myself in an acrobatic balancing act, fighting to push down on the pedals whilst not pulling up on the bars.  I console myself with the thought that it is quicker than walking and just soon enough find I'm already past the steepest section.  The descent of Honister should be a pleasure, but the gradient, the narrow, twisting, stone walled sides and the memory of the poor unfortunate that came a cropper last year, make it a challenge in its own right.

At Buttermere I quickly refuel and head off up Newland Pass, where a strange ethereal sight greets me.  The climb stretches out in front of me.  The road is dotted with cyclists, whose rhythmic bobbing and breathing in unison, is like some ballet performance played out in slow motion and the silence is only broken by the creak of chains under load.

Newlands leads on to Whinlatter whose top is swarming with friends and family cheering the riders on, before the drop in to the navigationally confusing Lorton triangle (many enter, but not all leave!).

Then there's the drag up to the aptly named Fangs, before another descent and the climb up to Cold  Fell.  Today it fails to live up to its moniker and there is glorious sunshine and panoramic views out across the nuclear reprocessing facility at Seascale.  It's a section of the ride where the climbs aren't so steep, but they are sufficient to just grind you down.  It's also here that the though of the Hardknott and Wrynose start to loom in your mind.  Or in my case the pain in the knee starts to kick in, as the prescription pain-killers wear off.

Another quick food stop and you're back on the road, ready to face your demons.  The drag to the bottom of Hardknott seems interminable, with only the climb of Cockley Beck to remind you of the reality of what's to come.  By now my mind was already playing tricks on me and I'd forgotten how long and lumpy it really was between the Beck and Hardknott.

The Start of Hardknott

The start of the infamous Hardknot climb after 90 miles ...

At the bottom of Hardknott you see the telephone box and sign for the 30% gradient, but it might as well say abandon hope all ye who pass by here!  I make it up the first section and over the cattle grid and grind towards the first steep section, before giving up on the fight to keep the front wheel on the ground and stepping off.  At least this year I've got cyclo-cross shoes on, so no sliding on cleats for me as I trudge upwards.  With the first killer section behind me I re-mount and spin on towards the next steep pitch and another prompt dismount. 

Hardknotts 33

Lots Of Riders Dismount On the 33pc Gradients On Hardknott

As I get to the top of this pitch, a blood curdling scream echoes' up the valley and those of us on foot stop and look downwards.  It's easy enough to see the source; a body still clipped to his bike is lying prostrate at the foot of the steep pitch, as spectators try to drag him and his bike out of the path of the on-coming cyclists.  Word soon reached us that it was "just" cramp, but the resultant loss of control and fall must have hurt.  The descent of Hardknott is every bit as bad as I remember it and I cling on to the brakes and hoods for dear life. 


Wrynose - Straight after Hardknott!

As I start the drag across to the foot of Wrynose, it begins to rain and the wind picks up, as if anything more was needed to crush my spirits.  Although I swear the road is flat, it is more than I'm capable to get out of the little chain ring.  When I hit the base of Wrynose I make a token attempt to pedal up it, before I'm walking again. 

Wrynose Looking Pass Towards Hardkott Pass

Wrynose - Looking Back Towards Hardkott Pass

Then there's the joys of the descent which is hard enough in the dry.  I'm conscious that I'm entering the danger zone, with the end nearly in sight it's all too easy to let the concentration wander and suffer the often painful consequences.  As I'm thinking this, there is someone in the road flagging down the traffic and as I round the next bend, there is a rider on the floor being tended to by the paramedics.  I manage to get by and warn on-coming cars of what lies ahead.  I hear the air ambulance overhead and shortly afterwards have to pull over to let the ambulance by. 

On the final climb up on to the main road in to Coniston, I meet up with a couple of guys I'd been chatting with in the restaurant the night before and we time-trial it in to the finish, exhausted and glad it's over for another year. At the start of the day I'd hoped to beat my previous time and was looking to finish in under 9 hours.  When I get my final time, I find out that not only have I not beaten my previous time, but I'm actually slower by a whole 18 seconds! Still there is always next year, NOT !

Simon Oliver, High Wycombe CC 7:50
Mark Shannon, Cyclosport UK 8:39
Simon Hughes, Cyclosport UK 9:17


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