Team JMC’s Adam Critchley tackles the Fred Whitton Challenge, read on for his full race report.
The Fred Whitton Challenge is a very hilly 112 mile charity bike ride around the Lake District which is held in memory of Fred Whitton, who was the former secretary of the Lakes Road Club. The ride starts and finishes in Coniston and includes the climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes, along with some other slightly smaller ‘bumps’.
Having read about the event several times over the last couple of years I thought the ride sounded like a good challenge and with the distance being the same asthe Ironman bike leg, I thought it would provide a great training session.
This year’s event was held on 13th May and the 1700 entrants were able to leave the sports centre in Coniston anytime between 6:00 and 9:00 am. A dibber was provided to all rides to accurately record their times therefore it made sense to avoid the masses who were trying to set off very early at 6am. I’d been keeping an eye on the weather forecast over the previous couple of weeks and had resigned myself to the fact that I was going to get wet and so I packed my kit accordingly. However the local weather forecast the night before did cheer me up a bit as, although rain was forecast, it was coming down from Scotland and wouldn’t hit the Lakes until around mid-afternoon. The forecasts for the strengthening winds however, and I quote ‘inland gales’ weren’t quite as promising!
Having registered at the sports centre at 7.20am, I left Coniston to confront the first major climb of the day, Kirkstone Pass. The climb started at about 11 miles into the ride and consisted of about 3 miles of climbing to the summit at 454m (1,490 ft). Being early in the ride it didn’t feel too bad, and although it was actually the biggest climb of the day I felt pretty good by the time I’d got to the top. Following the fairly manic descent there was then a comparatively long flat section to the next climb at Matterdale End (343m/1,125ft).
The next big climb was Honister Pass, which was at around 45 miles. On the way to Honister an ambulance came speeding past and the air ambulance flying overhead indicated that something serious had happened. We all rode silently and prayed that the individual involved in the accident was going to be ok. The start of the climb at Seatoller was ridiculously steep and really hard going. In hindsight it was probably the hardest climb of the day. A very strong head wind at the summit made it very dangerous and difficult descending off Honister and a number of ambulance crew were in attendance as we carefully negotiated the descent.
The first feed station soon arrived at Buttermere at 52 miles. Two litres of fluid had been consumed on the bike up to this point and it was time to refuel on the great selection of cakes and sandwiches which were available.
The headwinds continued to make the riding very difficult, Newlands came almost immediately after the food stop which was fun, climbing to 333m (1,093ft). It was then on to the Whinlatter Pass which at 318m (1,043), this was one of the smaller climbs but again made a lot more difficult with a headwind constantly pushing against the bike.
Although there was Fangs Brow, Kelton Fell, Cold Fell and Irton Pike still to navigate, the highest of which rises to 295m (968ft), it was the final big climbs of the day that were at the forefront of my mind at this stage. The notorious Hardknott and Wrynose passes would provide a challenge at the best of times let alone nearly 100 miles into the ride having ridden over several of the highest climbs in the Lakes already.
Fangs Brow, Kelton Fell, Cold Fell and Irton Pike was the hardest section of the ride. The landscape is very open and the gale force wind coming in off the coast was making riding extremely difficult. I was extremely glad to see the second food stop of the day at Calder Bridge, 87 miles in. By this time I knew that I needed to eat plenty before the final big push so I took my time and enjoyed numerous cakes, scones and sarnies washed down with the free Torq power drink that was available and a cup of tea which tasted so good you wouldn’t believe it! I topped up the bottles for the final time and set off towards the final two monster hills, Hardknott and Wrynose,,
At this point it’s probably worth mentioning that I had set myself two main goals for this ride, the first being to actually complete it and the second being to ride the whole course especially Hardknott (393m/1,289ft) and Wrynose (393m/1,289ft) without walking.
I’d ridden Hardknott and Wrynose twice before on the Lakeland Loop sportive but this was different. This time I had more climbing and 100 miles of riding in the legs.
The ride to Hardknott is like marching into the ‘valley of death’. All the riders around me were quiet and looked sick with worry as the long twisting road came into view. I arrived at the foot of Hardknott to be greeted by the very steep warning sign indicating a 33% gradient. At this stage people were already pushing their bikes. The thought of climbing such a massive hill had them beaten before it even started. The start of the climb is very steep, the middle of the climb in ridiculously steep and the end of the climb is…STEEP. In short, it’s a monster of a hill, the toughest road climb in the UK.
Without shame I admit to having a triple chainset and boy did I need it! I dropped it into the ‘granny gear’ and proceeded to climb. Fortunately there was a tail wind going up Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass and I managed to ride both passes without any problems.
Once over Wrynose I knew I’d made it, there were a few more hills to get back to Coniston but nothing compared to the beasts I’d already ridden over. The final ride in was a proud moment, with the crowds cheering all the riders in at the finish line.
My final official time was 08:41, although I wasn’t really bothered about chasing a ‘fast’ time. The main goal was to complete the ride without having to walk any of the climbs, enjoy the feed stops and have a great day out. My Garmin had logged 114 miles and over 12,500ft of climbing,
To anyone thinking of doing the ride I can highly recommend it. The organisation is first class, from the pre-ride information and website to the registration process and the food stops. The support along the ride on the way is also great and the general sense of camaraderie really helps to get you through. I will definitely be doing this one again.