Fred Whitton Challenge
Brian Phillips writes…
The Fred is certainly a ‘big day out’ on the bike. I’ve ridden this a number of times, and in the early 2000’s this was run as a traditional club reliability trial style event attracting about 100 to 200 riders, almost exclusively ‘local’ to the North West. In those days the riders were started in groups, with the really fast and keen known as the 9 oclock group.
Then came the Sportive boom and the event has flourished accordingly, raising large amounts for Charity in the process. In fact this event has become so popular that the numbers have now been limited (sensibly due to narrow steep roads) to about 1000 riders. Now you can start off anytime between six and nine oclock, in your own groups or ‘solo’ and you have to check in at the two intermediate feed/check points on route, as well as at the start and finish!
Getting a ride is also a challenge in itself. It used to be ‘on line’ entry in January, but the event was usually sold out within an hour or so. In recent years I’ve only been lucky to get in as part of a group, except this year they reserved a few places for historical big fund raisers, but I along with the majority got in on a ‘random selection’ card.
The course profile is well known as one of the toughest conceivable, and is on the web site of course. All the main climbs of the Cumbrian Mountains are included, with the toughest (Hardknott and Wrynose) saved for the end, from 100 miles onwards. That road is an East – West link across the Mountain, first built or forged by the Romans I believe. One can imagine and sympathise with the Roman soldiers cursing their way over that road centuries before.
Naturally, on foot rather than bike; so more leather than carbon, more basic than Specialized, more trekking than Trek.
This year the weather was good which for the Lakes means dry, even though it was colder than one might expect for May. I started rather later than usual this year, after 8.00am, and was not part of a group or team etc. Generally you can join a small groupetto but the hills are so frequent and steep that the groups are often split and reform into different ones. But you need to be a serious climber if you want to live with the best around here!!
Although not formally a race, it is timed so it is best described as friendly competitive! Fortunately, the riders come from all sorts of backgrounds, some serious club or triathlon competitors, others from fell running or Mountain biking, and a fair proportion of touring and ‘normal’ cyclists. Well balanced and making for the refreshingly lively supporters and general interest in the event around the course. Expertly organised and with good facilities, as one would expect from an event with a not insignificant budget, police help was present at some of the more ‘difficult’ junctions in the closing stages to help riders and traffic accommodate one another!
This is a great area of the UK for cycling, if you can manage the hills, with scenery and views which still amaze even after several visits. The wild, almost moonscape qualities of the valley between Hardknott and Wrynose for me define the ‘Fred’ and one day I intend to walk those few miles all the better to absorb the views. I’ll take the car or bike to the pub at Boot and put on ‘boots’ forsaking cleats and wheels for a day. And I’ll remember all the more vividly those Roman soldiers.
[Ed.] Brian managed to get round in 6 hours 45 minutes which is a fantastic time for this gruelling event.