Sunday, 8 July 2012

Fred Witton Challenge - Howard's day

The Fred Whitton Challenge is a gruelling 112 mile sportive challenge ride for charity around the Lake District, run in memory of Fred Whitton. It starts & finishes at Coniston, and the route includes the climbs of Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott & Wrynose passes

This year my friend an colleague, Howard Gott, completed the event in difficult and unpleasant weather conditions. Howard has kindly passed me his report of the event to include in my blog. Here are Howard's own words:

The day didn’t look too bad at 5am - no rain, not too cold and the promised wind had not yet whipped up.

With a start pretty much straight up Hawkshead Hill from Coniston, I took this first climb easy and waited for the much bigger Kirkstone Pass, which was easier than its height suggested - gradual mostly, and a rising wind pushing us up. “Is this Kirkstone” someone said in passing. “I hope so” was my reply (thinking if the biggest is this easy it’ll be fine......). It was steeper near the top but nothing to stop steady climbing.

Down to Ullswater and up Matterdale, the one climb I’d seen recently, the wind must have been helping, because turning west onto the main A66, a side/head wind struck us. I hid in groups where I could but didn’t escape the wind.

Turning south at Keswick, we were in narrow tree lined roads which kept the wind off, and it all felt pretty good until Seatoller and Honister Pass. Honister rises at 25% from the flat, there is no gradual rise, so a third of the way up this steep part I joined many others, and walked up, or more accurately teetered on my toes to get some grip. The gradient eased to bearable and I rode the rest, realising as we climbed that the wind was getting stronger and partly in our faces. 

A sheltered valley into Buttermere led to a welcome food stop - all sweet stuff but I wasn’t picky at this point - then turned north east into the climb of Newlands. The wind helped as on Kirkstone, and even the steeper parts didn’t feel too hard (all that sugar probably).
Descending from Newlands and approaching Whinlatter, my shoulders and neck started aching, and this persisted the rest of the ride, helped a little by angling my head to one side for a few seconds - not recommended on twisty descents. Whinlatter was a variable gradient climb I remembered from riding the C2C route some years ago - it seemed longer, which was not a good sign. At the top the wind became a straight headwind, seemingly increasing, so even some downhills felt hard work. 

Around pretty Loweswater was fine, and some shelter from the wind came in the twisting lanes to Ennerdale Bridge. The first climb from there up to Cold Fell nearly made me walk, it was so steep at first. The wind blew down the hill and made the easier part seem as hard as the first - I tried to concentrate on recognising the landscape but the legs wouldn’t let me. Joining a few others sheltering from the wind for a snack break, I scanned the daunting road ahead - a slight gradient but a howling wind across the fell. The break helped and I joined other suffering riders over the top to Calder Bridge and the much needed food stop. Tea and tuna butties and now only 28 miles to go - wonderful. 

In theory the wind should have helped from here but it didn’t until beautiful Eskdale and the approach to Hardknott. The beauty and the welcome push from the wind became irrelevant as the scale and steepness of the pass came clearly into view. A car driver wished me good luck as I approached the climb, which I just made up the first 200m but then had to walk the 33% first part - the legs had nothing left. I slowly pedalled the middle section but just ground to a halt as it got steeper near the top, and took tiny steps to the summit. One rider was walking up in trainers, carrying his gripless cycling shoes - that’s planning for you. Only about one in ten riders pedalled the whole climb - at Honister it had been more like seven out of ten, which shows the effect of the accumulated miles and climbs.

Hardknott’s descent is a genuine white knuckle ride - you cannot let the speed get up because you won’t slow enough for the sharp bends if you do. Giving grateful thanks to new brake blocks, I teetered down descents that felt even steeper than the other side. At the base it was straight into Wrynose, shallow at first but the steeper sections stopped me, along with most other riders I could see (the route notes call it nothing like as hard as Hardknott - maybe if you’re thirty years younger). A final steep descent, then it was bound to be easy to do the last few miles - except the last five or six were back into the wind and by no means flat. I was so exhausted I nearly missed the turn into the finish, but I made it. Would I do it again? Probably not, but it was a great experience - and very well organised. With more savoury snacks to go with all the sugar, it would have been perfect!

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