Saturday, 23 April 2011

Fred Whitton Challenge Sportive

Described as the toughest of the UK Sportives, the Fred Whitton Challenge takes place on Sunday the 8th of May, and I've managed to wangle myself a place on it, courtesy of the fine folk from Saddleback (much appreciated guys).

Covering 112 miles around the wonderful terrain of the Lake District, it's not for the faint hearted.  It covers all the mountain passes in the area and has an ascent profile of around 3000+ metres, just take a look at the profile here.

I rode the Tour of Britain Stoke stage last year, which nearly killed me.  That had a profile of around 2.5k metres, so the extra twelve miles and climbs in the Fred Whitton promises to be a real challenge.

I've decided to dump all the carbon bikes and take my Specialized Allez along with me.  Why?  Primarily, it has a triple chainset and is super comfortable.  I went out today and did a hilly 50 over Rivington and Belmont and definitely needed it on some of the sharp ascents, so I'm giving myself all the advantages I can.  This is about finishing.

Talking of which.  Saddleback are sponsoring the sportive this year.  They're generously kitting me out in Castelli bibs and top plus throwing in a set of Vredestein tyres - awesome.  I only hope I can do them justice!  (puts Race Face on).

If you're riding it too, drop me a comment and let me know what you're doing in preparation.  Or if you've already ridden it, drop me a tip or too.  All advice appreciated.


  1. John top tip's

    Ride at your own pace...NOT anybody else's All those that fly off at the start you WILL overtake them by half way!

    Use your gears!

    Save yourself for the biggies..Hardknott and wrynose are close to the end (around the 100 mile point) If you aren't worn out before you will be after!

    They are the ONLY hills I have ever had to walk down! 30% hairpins in the wet....either the back wheel was lifting or the front/back were skidding!

    The best prep is to get out and ride some mountains :-)

  2. Phil, are you sure you need to go back to the triple? I've recently got a new bike with a compact and thought I'd be loosing a lot compared to the triple.

    Having checked a gear ratio calculator online, turns out that my new bottom gear of 34x28 is only fractionally higher than the 30x27 I used to have available on the triple.

  3. Andy, that's an interesting comment. Which calculator did you use?
    Rivington's round the back of me, though I've not riden it, just driven. Quite loopy. I was discussing with my dad today my new house up in Clitheroe, there's some hills round there which compare with the Cheshire Cat ;-)

  4. Phil,
    I did the Wrynose or Bust last weekend and we were fortunate to have glorious weather. The ascents are very taxing and I thanked the groupset fairy that I had a triple. I would not have made it up Wrynose without a triple that's for sure.
    Don't overlook the challenge of the descents. If the weather is damp or worse these roads are treacherous and you need to have you brake set-up in tip top condition. Keeping the bike under control descending (remember you are just about exhausted from the ascent) is very tiring and there isn't much margin for error. However the sense of achievement at "surviving" is pretty overwhelming and I wish you good luck. If you want to get some practice in Nick O'Pendle isn't a bad place to start. I did that today on the Pendle Witches Vintage Velo. OK it's not the Wrynose but still a grind and it's on your doorstep.

  5. Well, you're certainly taking-on an ambitious undertaking as a novice cyclist who's only previous sportive experience is the super-easy Cheshire Cat and ToB Stoke events - the Fred is several leagues up !

    Don't be afraid to walk, I guess would be reasonable advice - you will be as fast as riding and will get to finish
    - Honister is 1:4/1:3
    - the top of Newlands is almost as steep
    - Hardknott is 1:3 and comes at 90-odd miles : if you walk on Hardknott, you won't be alone.
    - then there's the top bit of Wrynose.
    - on the other hand, Kirkstone is just a big drag to pace up
    - and Whinlatter is easy.

    Don't go off too fast at the start though, or Hawkshead Hill will have your breakfast !

    Of the descents
    - Kirkstone is a brilliant fast blast
    - Honister is seriously dangerous : keep the speed down at the top or you'll find yourself being bumped-about so much you can't brake and there's a chicane through drystone walls (paramedics scraping-up someone as I went past...)
    - Newlands again is a fast blast, but beware two hairpins - although you can see them coming
    - Hardknott will have your hands aching on the brakes all the way down, but is great fun if you're a good bike handler
    - and Wrynose is great if you're a confident descender : fast but bumpy, but beware that there's a another dangerous tight bend at the bottom and then a huge pothole at the farm.

    And be careful on the A66 - there is a 1yd hard-shoulder, but traffic will pass you very fast and very close.
    Beward of the cats eyes - I know someone who crashed from hitting one, and I got a puncture on one.

    Overall though, get round this and you'll be able to call yourself a sportif !

  6. What do you think?? with you Phil!

  7. In response to Andy on the gear ratios - great point. I started to look into this and you're right.

    If I put a 28 tooth cassette on the back of my compact, then the gear ratio is 1.212 vs. the triple with 30 tooth front and 25 rear = 1.2, so very close.

    Going to write a blog about this, as I think lots of people wonder about it.

    Thanks for the comment. This is what makes the blog so worthwhile!

  8. Lots of good advice there. Someone suggested that it is a good idea to have a motivational saying to help you along, mine is "grand day out", which worked well: its really a case of judging your pace, not crashing, eating well, and enjoying the scenery.
    And don't be afraid of having gears suitable for a one legged granny: I've got a 24t mtb inner ring and a 34t mtb cassette on the back, it gets me up Hardknott after 100 miles. Having said that, your feet are the ultimate low gear!

  9. DeathB4Dismount8 May 2011 at 15:17

    Awesome looking challenge! Sound very much like our Highlander Tour here in the fall ( if you want to check it out).
    Love these types of events, but haven't done it in 2yrs, as you well know it takes some extra and special training to pull off well... but I plan to kill it this year!
    I hope you are off the course at this point, basking in the painful afterglow of the accomplishment. Kudos!