Fred Whitton Challenge

Brian Phillips writes…

As it turned out I didn’t have to go to the USA on business which would have precluded my participation and so I duly traveled to the Lake District on the Saturday afternoon. A good meal and a reasonable nights kip in the Farmers Arms at Lowick Green saw me fit (?) and ready for the challenge the following morning.

Overnight rain had given way to a cool but overcast morning and the wind was fairly light too. Damn should have been on the Q10/19 instead! I aimed for a 7.30ish start as with the large number (800) of riders this year there were no formal group starts. So I set off solo and was soon using 42X23 before I even got the any of the major climbs. It just reminded me how flat Suffolk is.

Made good progress over the top of Kirkstone Pass and picked up a passenger in the valley and noticed he was there for a fair while. We turned onto the A66 for the run to Keswick and picked up a group of 6 or 8 riders which sat on all the way to the bottom of the first serious climb at Honnister. No messing around here, straight into 30×25. Soon blew the group off being relatively fresh. Used extreme care on the descent of Honnister which is very deceptive and where several fell off in the wet last year.
This year it was mainly dry but the headset was making alarming noises on the uneven surfaces.

Checked in promptly in at the Buttermere feed and managed to find one of the marshals who had some Allen keys. “Its alright lad, I work in a bike shop” as he invited me to go and eat some more jam rolls while he set too on the offending bike. I must admit I hung around there longer than I would have liked. He declared there was something quite wrong and we compromised by “over tightening” as it appeared that something was “missing”. I wound my way up over Newlands and down towards Braithwaite, and then began the climb of Whinlatter. Although I use the 30 ring up over Newlands the 42×23 and 25 was enough for Whinlatter and I used to descent to enjoy (?) a few elevenses bars it being not long after that time.

The next hour or so with winding through narrow lanes with multiple bergs which required more use of the biggest sprockets and then the long slog up to Coldfell. Descending into Calder Bridge at about 88 miles for the second feed and check point the headset had gone desperately loose again. The bike really wasn’t handling too good! I stuffed my face on more jam rolls and cakes and replenished the drinking bottles and a closer inspection revealed there was about 10mm of forward and backwards play in the headset!

Still about 30 mile to go but that was the only way back to the car and so I set off in the direction of Hardknott and Wrynose passes. These are killer climbs especially as they come after 100 miles. It had taken me about 5 hours to the second feed and I knew that the last section can be done under two hours if you’re feeling good. This wasn’t really the case!

Nevertheless despite a very noisy and wobbly bike I got to the bottom of Hardknott and looked up in awe at the road winding its way up towards the black sky. No messing, 30×25 straight away. Its actually very steep at the bottom (about 30%) and relatively flat only 1:7 or so in the middle before the evil finish to the summit. I managed for the first time last year to ride up (30×25) without getting off whereas I had failed previously with a 39×25. The forks made frightening noises as I heaved on the bars and hauled myself upwards and putting in a big effort so as not to fall off on the very steep part near the top. I was in severe oxygen debt over the summit.

The descent was pretty dodgy with the forks rattling around in the head tube and I was annoyed at being passed by one or two riders. I summoned up the last reserves to get over the 1:4 slopes of Wrynose and again was hoping to stay upright on the tortuous descent with the by now very wobbly steering arrangement. I finally had some rain in the last half hour, and got back to Conniston just 5 mins outside the 7 hour target which I had set for myself.

Making excuses like a good tester, I am sure I would have got near my 6 hour 50 previous best if it hadn’t been for……