Fred Whitton Challenge
Ben Hardisty writes…
This was my first attempt at a “classic sportive ride” and it proved to be quite a challenge ! The event starts/finishes at Coniston, a beautiful village at the head of Coniston Water.
Although I was fairly confident about my fitness, I had no prior knowledge of the course so I opted for an early start (06:30) to ensure I made the midday cutoff at the first feed station at Buttermere (52 miles).
A mile or so out of Coniston the first climb, Hawkshead Hill, was a nice warm up for the rest of the ride. Then down to Ambleside at the top of Lake Windermere before turning left up to picturesque Troutbeck and then joining the climb to the Kirkstone pass, a long but not too steep ascent. At the summit the Kirkstone Inn was a welcome sight before a long, fast and exciting descent towards Ullswater.
A long flat section alongside Ullswater was abruptly interrupted by turning left up a long drag up to Matterdale End, then on to the A66 main road to Keswick. Through Keswick towards Borrowdale and alongside Derwent Water, I was now preparing myself for the next set of climbs, I had read that the Honister Pass was difficult.
Finally through Rossthwaite then Seatoller I then hit the Honister climb. Putting it simply this is a very steep climb, around 25% in places, it left me zigzagging to either side of the road to keep climbing. But I managed it and gave myself a mental pat on the back. However on the other side the very steep and twisting descent was made very difficult as heavy rain hit.
The Buttermere feed stop was a welcome sight – but after a long wet descent I was shivering and desperately needed a cup of tea – no teapot/kettle in view ! Buttermere even in the rain was quite a beautiful spot.
After registering with the time keeper it was back on the bike and turning right almost immediately I was on the Newlands Pass. This is a road cut into the side of a very steep sided valley, a dramatic climb. But after the Honister, this ascent was not difficult. On the descent I was caught by Brian Phillips who had given me a 30 minute head start ! We chatted for a few miles before Brian went ahead on the Whinlatter Pass.
The next 30 miles or so were fairly rolling as we passed through Lorton, Loweswater, Ennerdale Bridge, and then climbed Cold Fell and Swarth Fell. On the descent the coastline came into view and after all the beautiful scenery, Windscale (Sellafield ?) stuck out like a blot on the landscape. Luckily there was little or no wind coming off the Irish Sea, but my legs were getting tired now and my body was acheing.
Arriving at the 2nd feed station at Gosforth at 89 miles gave me a mental boost but still no cup of tea ! Now there was only 23 miles to go to the finish, but I was thinking about the Hardknott Pass just 12 miles away.
By now larger groups of riders had formed, the later starters catching the early riders. Eventually we reached the Eskdale valley and finally the Hardknott Pass came into view. What was startling was the fact that you could see the whole climb and it seemed to go straight up ! “Holy cow” I said to myself.
I then saw the famous telephone box at the bottom and then I was on the climb itself, It doesn’t take long before you hit the steep gradient. I kept going at a slow but even tempo. I had read there was a flatter section in the middle which I was trying to reach in order to get some respite.
I was within 50 metres of that section when I had to climb off as I couldn’t turn the pedals, I was exhausted. I walked the bike a little further and then cycled on to the 2nd part of the climb. This section was even steeper and here was the 1 in 3 gradient I had heard about, an absolutely savage set of switch backs. Again I was walking the bike. A lot encouragement and camararderie was exchanged between all riders on this climb.
After the summit the heavens opened once again although the Wrynose Summit was now in view. Another tortuous descent was negotiated and the final climb up the Wrynose attempted. I say attempted as I had to walk my bike up the steepest section, but as the summit approached got back on for a final effort.
Yet another difficult descent and it was down to Langdale and onto Coniston but not without encountering some small gradients which I was cursing to myself about. My body at this point was very tired, but once I knew the last 3/4 miles were downhill into Coniston I put everything into it.
After 112 miles and 4,100m of climbing I finished in 8 hours 26 minutes including 30 minutes at food stops. As my target was to get inside 9 hours I was pretty chuffed. Brian managed an excellent 7 hours 4 minutes, about 15 minutes outside his personal best.
I will definitely do the ride again one day, but this event may get increasingly difficult to get into. This year it was full within a couple of days of opening. Hats off to the organisers who did a great job and provided a very friendly atmosphere. And not forgetting the crowds of family and friends en route, all very supportive of all riders.
ps: I rode with a compact chainset 50-34 and 12-27 cassette. With hindsight I would have ridden with a triple chainset or put in a lot more hill training !