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Fred Whitton Challenge

Same place, same challenge, but with new friends to experience this. I’m not sure how many ‘official’ Freds I’ve done now, but it must be about five, but all pretty much ridden solo just joining the occasional group for a while before it breaks up. This year was to be different. Even before the clouds and rain of the Lakes were first glimpsed on Saturday afternoon, the emails were talking up the aspirations and the prospects of PB’s . And not without substance or intent either.

The convivial pre event meal at the Church House Inn, Torver and a few hours sleep soon passed and the UBS A group and ‘friends’ were ready for the off at 0700hrs under grey skies and cool, almost cold temperatures. A forecast of showers ‘from lunchtime’ and light winds gave some hope and encouragement to ‘get on with it’. My fellow group riders, I soon found, could be characterised as ‘super grimpeurs’ setting a brisk tempo on the gradients and thus the scene was set as we crested the Kirkstone.

I did not take a time check there, or at any point for that matter, being content in the fact that I was not able to climb any quicker and would indeed have been pacing myself somewhat more conservatively if I’d been solo as in previous years. A swoop down Kirkstone, a few intermediate ‘Bergs’ and we were soon lining it out on the A66 towards Keswick. Hoovering up slower riders, with the occasional one joining in or sitting on for a bit, we made good ground through Keswick and along the lakeside twists towards Seatoller and the first dreaded H of the day. Some say Honister is tougher than Hardknott, others that the descent is worse than the climb, but all we found out is that the apprehension as we approached the climb keeps everyone quiet!

First chance to try the 34X27 in earnest for a year. Seems a silly low gear around Suffolk, but it’s tough up north lad, and this is beyond ‘north’!! Super grimpeurs to the fore and up we go. What goes up etc… and the first feed was taken at a leisurely pace except for Marc who lost us (an unshipped chain on Honister descent splitting him from us by a half minute or so) and believing we had gone on ahead, set off up Newlands with the intent of rejoining the rest of us (Andrew, Hal and me). Meanwhile we (rather Andrew and Hal that is) were enjoying the ascent of Newlands, and then Whinlatter regrouping on the run in to Lorton at the far NW corner of the course.

There is then a kind of no mans (or womans) land for about an hour until the next main climb of Cold Fell, and Andrew, Hal and I refound Marc in this wilderness zone shortly before Cold Fell. So then there were four, all valiantly trying to keep the tempo up, ever conscious of the biggest challenges yet to come. So far, weather still dry and wind light, and good work sharing ensured a ‘quicker than solo’ pace was being maintained. I was by now used to seeing the super grimpeurs from behind (but still in sight!!), and now with Marc to pace me too, was spurred to greater efforts up the climbs and motivated to help the pace setting on the ‘normal’ roads. Down some interesting twists to the next feed, with a leisurely stretch and refill of bottles etc, no one seemingly in a hurry to meet their H and W fate. But time was ticking and so we set off with a good tempo along the main road towards Gosforth, and the ever narrowing lanes taking us to the iconic road signs at the foot of Hardknott warning of the perils ahead!

I’ve been here before, in this approach to the finale, and knew that there is nothing which can help overcome the struggle which awaits or the abject sense of helplessness which fills all mere mortals. Ride soft to conserve energy? Gear down to ease the legs? Roll a bigger gear ready for the effort which awaits. Forget it. Just keep the tempo and hit it!! Sooner you start the sooner it’s over. So 34X27 from the start, no messing, and just try to keep the gear turning without going into the red. Hal and Andrew, the super grimpeurs were soon into their stride, and away up the wall picking off the ‘slower’ climbers, with Marc not far behind . Forcing around the 1:3 hairpin, then the final push and the view of tarmac, in your face for the last 15 minutes, gives way to a spectacular view to a moonscape and Wrynose beyond.

A helter skelter, bumpy, almost evil descent to the valley floor shakes the senses from your arms and hands which are trying desperately to keep enough pressure on the brakes to save you from oblivion. Dry roads at least for us guys, and I’ve been down there in the wet a few times, and once with a shattered headset bearing and 6mm of play in the head tube!! Ummm, interesting!!

Wrynose then teases you, gradually getting steeper till the top 50m, and again the descent is evil, and the following run towards Coniston and home not flat but mercifully easier than the last five miles or so.

I never saw Hal and Andy beyond the top of Hardknott, so their story of the final miles is left for another time. Suffice it to say that all four of us were within a handful of minutes time wise, and no doubt benefitted from each others commitment and efforts throughout the day in achieving PB’s by some margin. Only one question; where’s the next twenty minutes coming from??!!

Thanks guys for the opportunity to be part of this epic, and hope you can look back and smile about a few moments during the day. I certainly can….

Brian Phillips
East Grinstead CC

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