We know a number of number of our followers are training for the Fred Whitton Sportive that takes place on May 13th 2018. This is renowned to be Britain’s toughest sportive and takes in most of the lake-districts toughest passes, including the infamous Hardknott and Wrynose pass, which you eventually tackle with 100 miles already in the legs!
One of our riders who’s ridden the course a number of times shares his experience after a recce of the route, hopefully you’ll find some useful tips.
With the opportunity of a day off a work I set off early doors to get up to the lakes in good time to avoid the morning rush hour traffic. Rather then parking up at Grassmere which is the official start of the Fred Whitton, I decided to head over to Glenridding and park in public car park there as the plan was to bag the horse shoe route of Helvellyn afterwards, which would be following the Helvellyn triathlon run route… might as well make the most and utilise the full day!
I got there for around 7:30 and after getting my kit together I set off and heading North on the A592 followed the shores of Ullswater knowing that the first few kilometres would be nice and flat and allow me to get my legs spinning ready for the climbs. It doesn’t seem long before you turn off left and join the A5091 which is the first climb I came to that climbs up to Matterdale End, the climb is nice and steady can mostly be tackled in the saddle (depending on your gear ratio) . You eventually reach a nice flowing descent that takes you to the A66 where you turn left again and follow the main road to Keswick. This is probably one of the busiest roads you have to ride on for the route, but it’s a decent wide road with a solid white line to your left giving you a meter or so of clear tarmac most of the way and I found most cars gave me plenty of room. This section has a few drags, but equal number of descents so nothing to worry about.
At Keswick the route levels out for a good few miles while you follow the shores of Derwent water heading into Borrowdale. This is good opportunity to fuel up and I took the opportunity to eat a banana and some malt loaf (my fuel of choice on the bike). You eventually get to the bottom of Borrowdale and it soon becomes clear that the only way out of the valley is going to be up one serious climb, which is in the flavour of Honister pass! In my opinion this is one of the toughest climbs and within the first few hundred meters you’ll be down into your easy gears and really grinding those teeth! I was riding a compact with an 11×27 rear cassette and I needed the full range to get up, when you go over the first cattle grid it starts to ease off a little and the legs get chance to recover slightly but it soon kicks up again for a final struggle to the top. As soon as you see the Youth Hostel on the top you’re on the descent and this is very steep and on the day of the event there’ll be a mountain rescue team here prompting you to take care… every year someone comes off here, so take your time and descend cautiously as the road conditions are usually bad.
You’ll be pleased to know that after the descent the roads are rolling and when you start cycling down the side of Buttermere you’re not too far from the 1st feed station of the day on the Fred Whitton (unfortunately for me on a recce this wouldn’t be there and I’d have to rely on the supplies I was carrying). My advice at this feed station would be not to get giddy and stuff your face, as when you set off within a few hundred meters you’ll be into the next climb of the day. Instead have a light bite there, fill you bottles but take a few pieces in your pocket to have at the top of Newlands instead (that way you can be digesting it on the descent).
Newlands itself isn’t too bad overall and granted there are a couple of bits that are tough (the final push being one), overall it’s just a long climb with a short steep section at the top. However, you are rewarded with a nice descent of lovely rolling roads with stunning views all the way to Braithwaite. Usually on the day of the event there will be a good turn out of locals here to cheer you on, as you begin the log drag that takes you up Whinlatter pass. This ones not too bad, but there are sections that will zap the legs more so than others… however, it’s worth noting that at the top you’re over the half point in terms of distance, but there’s still a long way to go! If you are doing this a recce there’s a forestry visitors centre at the top so there is a chance to stop at a cafe and use the toilets here… even if you’re doing the event there’s not reason you can’t stop too if needed, so long as you’re keep a check on the time and cut off’s.
Descending from Whinlatter isn’t as technical as some of the others, but there is a couple of corners to be aware of. Eventually there is a sharp left turn into Lorton which will be signed posted on the day so just keep focused and don’t be the one who misses the turn!
From here there’s a good 10-15 miles of lumpy roads and I find this part the most mentally challenging as you’ll be starting to feel the distance in your legs. Make sure you keep fuelled up here and you can take onboard some solids knowing the climbs are only short lived.
Eventually you’ll reach Ennerdale Bridge and you’ll begin a tough climb up onto Cold Fell. It ends up being a tough climb and generally catches lost of riders out, as they’ve likely not heard of it before. You know you’re over the worst when you go over a cattle grid, but don’t drop the guard here as it can be very exposed on the top of Swarth Fell and you are still climbing steadily for a few miles from here so any form of head wind will really take it’s toll here.
If the weather is favourable here, you will however get views of the coast as you start the descent and when you see a large power plant you’re not too far from Calder Bridge (aka second feed station, which you’ll be more than ready for!) Be careful on the final part of the descent (probably 1 mile from Calder Bridge) as there’s a really tight hairpin that catches me out every time and I know its there!
The feed station is in the village hall and this is an opportunity to fuel up. They usually have sandwiches, cakes, teas\coffees, etc so make the most of it… don’t forget you paid £65 for this so tuck in! You’re about 85 mile in to the route at this feed station and while you may think the end is close the last 20+ miles will be challenging to say the least.
You join the A595 from here briefly for a mile or so, it’s not a great road and there’ll likely be a bit of traffic on it by the time you get there, so keep your wits about you, but knowing you’ll soon be turning off into Gosforth and back to the quieter roads. If you were riding as a recce this is another good place to stop, there’s a small shop and public toilets in the car park. There’s another tough, but short climb up Irton Pike to be aware of, but this is quite short so hopefully you soon be at the top without too much trouble.
This next section almost feels like the calm before the storm, the roads are rolling as you head towards Eskdale Green but from here you get your fist gimps of Hardknott. As you start to approach it becomes more daunting, but by this point the only option is to get your head down and focus on the challenge you signed up for! On the flattish approach it’s the ideal opportunity to have a gel and good guzzle on the bike bottle, as when in the climb you’ll struggle to take on anything.
It all hits home when you see the gradient sign at the bottom of hardknott and soon after your well and truly committed. The bottom section is tough and to make matters worse there’s a cattle grid on quite a steep section so make sure you hit it square on and keep some weight on the back wheel if it’s wet as you don’t want to spin out at this stage. After the cattle grid it’s tough going for a hundred meters or so and you’ll need to choose your line on the corners. This can be easier said then done on the day as there are other riders to contend with and the possibility of cars (if only this was a closed road ride!). Once the first tough bit is out of the way it does ease off, so here’s your chance to take a drink and get the heart rate down, as it’s going to get tougher I’m afraid!
You’ll see the next section in front of you and it’s mainly climbing around hairpins, so again getting a clear line is crucial. The frustrating thing you will find on the day is that some people will choose to walk this section (which in it’s self is fine) but some will have no respect to the other riders who are trying to ride it, so keep focused here and really plan to dig in if you have to go towards the inside of the bends to avoid someone. If there wasn’t enough to worry about at this stage, there’s a photographer on these bends and as this photo will be you bragging rights for life you’ll want it to be a good one! After the hairpins there’s almost a false summit, so it does ease off for a bit with a final push at the end before you descend off. I find this descent very challenging, you’ll be exhausted by this point and the descent is very steep with some tight corners and rough tarmac. If it’s wet here and you have rim brakes you’ll need to take extreme care and you’ll find it hard to control the speed.
At the bottom in the valley it’s a nice quiet road with a mile or so of flat riding before you reach Wrynose, this is your opportunity to have a gel and fluids before the the next climb. If you managed to ride Hardkott you’ve nothing to worry about here as it is easier, but still a challenge towards the end. As with the descent off Harknott I can’t express enough that you need to take care descend off Wrynose, as there are some tight corners and it would be an awful thought ending your ride at this stage of the day.
For you you’ll have a nice ride down little Langdale and while there are a few short climbs your well on your way to the finish at Grassmere knowing there’s a good feed (usually pie and peas) waiting for you. For me my day wasn’t done yet as I still has Kirkstone Pass to tick off (which the sportive tackles first). There are two routes up here and I went slightly off route at this stage and opted for the slightly shorter (all be it steeper) option and headed into Ambleside and road up the struggle. I enjoy this route and have ridden it a few times as part of the Helvellyn triathlon route and there’s less traffic on it… it does live up to it’s name and it turns into a struggle and half at the top! It’s a nice ride down to Patterdale from here and steady riding back to my car.
I was by far from fresh by the time I’d got back to my car, but after a a quick change and sandwich I was up for the the challenge of Helvellyn, after all I’m a triathlete at heart! This in itself is another story on it’s own, but below are the Strava details to give you an idea.
If you feel like giving it a go the entries for 2018 is now closed but keep checking on the Fred Whitton home page for updates on this years challenge and for when entries open for next year.