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Fourmidable! Fred Whitton sportive

Ric Chapman writes:

Leaving the start at Grasmere our feelings are a mixture of excitement and fear. Excitement for a day cycling together, fear of the climbs to come.

A short downhill to Ambleside steadies any nerves. On our right Lake Windermere, still and silent in the morning light, before a sharp left takes us up Holbeck Lane immediately climbing a tough little hill that warms our muscles and prepares our legs.

Kirkstone Pass follows, a 3 mile climb with ramps of 15%. We climb cautiously, saving energy and descend even more so.

A lovely road winds past Lake Ullswater, with mist rising to meet the surrounding hills and sun glinting off the water, we realise this would be a day of spectacular scenery.

All romantic thoughts are soon banished as a left turn takes us up Park Brow, the sounds of gears changing into large sprockets breaking the tranquility. One of the North West's best climbs, although not as famous as others, it packs a punch. Our legs are still fresh, and we soon summit.

Rolling countryside and a left turn onto A66 takes us into Keswick, where another surprise awaits. The townsfolk are out in force to greet and spur us on, cheers and cowbells ring out. We feel like Tour de France riders, energised for the upcoming struggles.

The Honister climb from Seatoller is next. With starting gradients of 25%, this is our first real test. Our breathing is laboured as we pass other riders who are pushing their bikes. As the gradient eases slightly we see the road snaking up, the sun casts our shadows, and gives something to chase. The descent is treacherous with pot holes and switch backs, so we pick our way carefully down.

Newlands Pass is described as majestic, and as the initial 20% gradient smooths out, we see why. A long line of riders ascend a road cutting between a huge green valley, and a grey ominous rockface. We take in this awesome view, trying to recover, before the final 25% brings us to the summit, and a hair-raising descent.

Seemingly almost immediately we climb Whinlatter Pass out of Braithwaite. This tree-lined road is lined with spectators, shouting encouragement and ringing bells, reminding us of Alpine ascents. We arrive at the top, refreshed and euphoric in the warm sun.

However, the feeling quickly disappears as we climb Cold Fell. The sun has gone, and a feeling of foreboding replaces it. We are close to the sea here but mist covers the fell, so we can hardly see 100 metres. A cold descent takes us to the final food stop in Caulder Bridge, where the prospect of upcoming climbs looms large.

Bowerhouse Bank is next, a small but gnarly hill. We ascend saving every bit of energy, because there is only one thing on our minds, Hardknott Pass.

This is the climb we have dreaded since we signed up. As we roll towards it, the clouds break and the sun shows us this monster in all its dreadful glory. It looks angry today, riders forming a line snaking up to its crest, some riding, some broken and trudging up in cleats. An awful 20% start takes us over a cattle grid, and onto its lower slopes. We still cannot believe the task ahead, as all too soon we are onto a 25% switchback, legs dont fail us now. Looking up is to risk self doubt, so we concentrate on the road and the next pedal stroke.

A brief levelling off to 10% feels like a holiday, and a chance to lower heartrates, before the final 30% switchbacks. It is here that the body count is highest, but also where encouragement from those walking helps us somehow to keep turning the pedals. After that final vicious turn, we are past the worst and 300 metres remain. These tick down slowly but steadily, and we arrive at the summit, exhausted but jubilant and proud.

A really nasty descent, before we realise its not all over, Wrynose Pass is still to do. Although not as bad as the horror before, its not to be taken lightly. Steadily rising from the valley floor, riders can be seen cresting in the distance. Part of it does rise to 25% but it is mercifully short, and once over, we know the end is close.

Blea Tarn is the final climb of the day, and with the sun at its highest, we climb in earnest, urging our weary legs once more. After the descent we have a flatish 10 mile team time trial back to the start at Grasmere. Huge cheers as we cross the line in a four, our ride over.

Fred Whitton is a beautiful sportive. The Lake District scenery is breathtaking, the climbs range from tough to terrible. The marshalls and organisation were first class but best of all, and surprising for a UK ride, the wonderful support from the locals. We were cheered most of the way round, even car drivers, held up as we passed, shouted encouragement not insults. A ride we’ll never forget.

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