“Dave, I want to do the Fred!”, the statement from my brother Simon as I picked up the phone, “Nah, don’t fancy all that winter training its meant to be a real grind……………..oh, go on then!” was in keeping with my general attitude when someone gives me a bike related challenge (Scott is responsible for my racing adventure after a similar conversation). With that we signed up for the 112m, 13000ft Fred Whitton Challenge (Fred) via the charity entry to bypass the ballot.
It is impossible to write about the Fred without mentioning the training as it is a major commitment that in my mind will make or break your day. Without it the ride will break you or at best you will survive it rather than enjoy. The training itself was a torturous mix of turbo, commutes and wet weekends for me with racing and TT’s coming later. As all this is completed December-May it is not always easy disappearing into the conservatory for the turbo or venturing out into the winter. One particular wet early morning commute had me naming the strava upload; F*@k Fred, F*@k Racing, F*@k cycling! I don’t really think it matters what training you partake as long as it pushes you, Simon was forced into many hours on his smart trainer as the weather in Macclesfield was particular bad.
Finally all the training, weight loss and hours of watching utube videos of people not riding Hardknott Pass were completed and the weekend was finally here. We had managed to get in a hostel in Grassmere a mile from the start so I met Simon there to sign on the day before the ride before he drove us over to Keswick for a little warm up ride. This involved Honister as we did it the wrong way on the Fred to tick off on our 100 climbs list and much to my surprise riding up Newlands Pass for, I don’t really know why but I am going to pay more attention when Simon asks me to check a route! (25 miles, 2800ft approx). Tea and bed followed so we were ready for the 5:00am get up.
As it turns out stopping in a -5* hostel has its benefits for getting up at this time but not necessarily the sleeping part. Up we got and stomached as much porridge, lucozade and coffee as you can at that time to roll down to the start for 6:00. A few pictures, a broken saddle bag and off we set in the cold morning with the rest of the victims/riders. We didn’t really have a time in mind to complete the ride as we just wanted to enjoy the day and Iwould take this attitude again, after all the training it seems to be a waste to just smash round and not take it all in. With this in mind we were aiming to ride the ‘flats’ around 18-20mph and then take the climbs as they come and regroup as needed.
The first 40 miles are all relatively civilised with just the climb of Kirkstone Pass being of any real note and even this is just a steady grind with nothing too severe. You then head back down and take the A66 to Keswick, box clever here and draft a group that will be smashing along looking for a time. It is a major road but it’s worth keeping your head up to look around as the scenery is stunning. It’s also worth tagging a few faces for later. After you pass though Keswick and Seatoller things get serious with Honister Pass the ‘wrong way’! It might not be the pretty side to ride up but crikey the first section is tough with 25% for an age. People are walking, swerving and generally in a world of pain but it does make you smile when the dude shouting GO, GO, GO on the A66 is now pushing his £10k Dogma up the hill! After this first half a mile or so it ‘flattens’ to about 12% and you can grind your way to the top for the first treacherous descent of the day.
Unfortunately one fella missed the 9999 warnings before and during the event to end his day in an ambulance at this point so the ride was halted whilst he was sorted out and is now hopefully healing well. Once off again and after negotiating the 25% downhill (Nearly as hard as ascending) we then rode through the valley that is truly magnificent and onto the madness of the first feed station, it was rammed and it really isn’t that easy to eat cheese savoury sandwiches at 9:30 in the morning but the big lad I gave them to seemed to enjoy them.
Newlands followed straight after this and for my money is the best hill of the lot to climb. You hug the side of a hill with mighty drop one side and it never really gets over 20% so you don’t really suffer. There is still the dodging of gradient challenged riders to negotiate with Mr Dogma now shouting No, No, No but it is simply magnificent. It was also here I saw the biggest sprocket I have ever seen on a bike and think the bloke might still be spinning his way up!
After completing the double whammy of these my confidence soared and the North Western section of the ride was completed relatively pain free with the aid of a decent tail wind and the untouched beauty of the Western side of the Lake District. Spectacular views, no serious hills to contend with (I big ringed Cold Fell), good company and locals cheering you along. I cannot ever really remember being happier on a bike than I was at this stage. I even said to Simon, ‘I want Hardknott now, I am flying and if I don’t mess up my eating I am completely fine.” Simon was going well so the Cuthill train was well on track.
After another feed station it was now time to start thinking of Hardknott, there are a couple of smaller hills to contend with but nothing brutal so the training came through to despatch these pretty easily and then the distinctly uneasy feeling of the make or break climb of the ride. I must say my bottle went a little here and I asked Simon 30 times minimum how bad it is as he had already done it. You will be fine, you will fly up it was the constant response that really doesn’t lessen the pressure. After a few miles of twisting prettiness you suddenly take a turn past the phone box and think……………………Oh dear, what have I done! (That is my PG version anyway)
With nothing else for it I got out of the saddle and immediately got stuck behind the larger sprocket brigade, I am not knocking this as we all ride differently but it is hard when you keep getting knocked out of rhythm. I was feeling strong though and was clearing the way through the 25% twist and turns with nice shouts of hold your line, on your left etc. I get around a few corners and am now seriously feeling it and start thinking about this flat bit in the middle of Hardknott people talk about. It really hurts and all I can see is a mountain in front of me that doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer to being behind me. Finally as I reach that point I always do on a tough climb where putting your foot down doesn’t seem so bad Ithink about that wet Monday morning and ‘power’ on with a mental bollocking that I could not possibly put in here but let’s say I will be seeing myself next Tuesday. Thankfully the ‘flat’ 12% is now under the wheels and I pull myself together as the steeper part looms above me. Luckily here I had worked myself some space and just went for it. I attacked the 33% with a vengeance and even though it was ridiculously steep never thought this part would stop me as the worst is done with. Mentally this was massive. I had now caught up other riders and my nice shouts had changed to gasps of ‘MOVE’ whilst being buoyed with shouts of ‘He’s smashing it’ and ‘great climbing’ to finish the climb and literally collapse at the top. This encouragement was a theme of the day and Simon has a similar story of the largest cyclist in the world saying to him ‘You aint stopping now boy!’ when he was in the middle of his Hardknott hell! I saw this bloke at the finish and he was about 7 foot tall.
After grabbing a few pictures of Simon cresting Hardknott we descended on a truly terrifying section of road that I have no idea how they actually managed to Tarmac. It is so steep andone of those times your arms are in bits from pulling the breaks. At the bottom I had a little wobble so Simon managed to grab me some water and the contents of my pockets were devoured to get me back in the game, people who ride with me know how much I like to eat riding and I was soon back to normal. Thanks Simon!
We now cycled through the valley and with my renewed strength Wynrose and Blea Tarn were dispatched relatively pain free.
The descent of Wynrose is a monster and Simon had our only mechanical of the day with a heat induced puncture that took 2 tubes to fixed, why do valves need to be removable?