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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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More than 1,500 riders take part in Lake District's Fred Whitton Challenge

Cumbrian cyclists showed the way as a record-breaking 1,500-plus riders stormed the Lake District’s high passes in scenes reminiscent of the Tour de France.

Fred Whitton Challenge photo
Battling it out on Hardknott in the Fred Whitton Challenge

Never before have so many riders from different cycling clubs in and around Carlisle, Keswick and west Cumbria taken part in the gruelling annual Fred Whitton Challenge.

They included Allerdale’s Honister 92 cycling club, Carlisle’s Border City Wheelers and Keswick Bikes and helped create stunning sights on some of the county’s most challenging routes yesterday.

Spectators watched the ribbon of Lycra clad riders funnel their way up the zig zags of steep passes, rattle their way noisily over cattle grids past impervious fell ponies grazing by open fell roads and cope with the flow of traffic in good-humoured “stride”.

On Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Whinlatter passes spectators as well as riders had to battle against strong winds.

There were – as usual with a massed cycle event – bumps and spills.

Some were caused by minor collisions, others when riders found the angle too steep and had to dismount.

Cleated cycling shoes skidded on tyre-scrubbed roads and riders and bikes toppled over with a clatter.

It was an occurrence that happened especially on the one-in-three gradients of Hardknott.

Riders found Cold Fell between Ennerdale Bridge and Calderbridge the toughest section as they fought against a head-on wind, sometimes almost slowing to a standstill. William Wordsworth’s father died on this wild moor from hypothermia, and at least one rider succumbed to this ailment at Calderbridge and had to be wrapped in a tinfoil blanket.

Now in its 14th year, this annual ‘sportive event’ is rated as the most popular of the hundred or so sportives in Britain.

Places were booked within 12 hours when the entry forms first appeared online.

Paul Loftus, organiser of ‘the Fred’, said more than twice as many riders applied as were accommodated.

Times have been trimmed below six hours in recent years for the 112 mile-event, which begins and ends at Coniston and takes a circuit through the hills.

Once again, Rob Jebb from Staveley, near Kendal, had the leading time of five hours 59 minutes, a very similar time he has achieved previously.

Both Alistair Robinson (second) and Robert Glaister (fifth) of, respectively, Keswick Bikes and Keswick Mountain Bikes, ran him close.

The respective times of these riders – six hours 01 minutes; and six hours 12 mins.

Mark Greenbank, a Keswick joiner, achieved a time of under seven hours, highly commendable on his first ‘Fred’ outing.

The Challenge is run in memory of Fred Whitton, who was the Lakes Road Club racing secretary and died of cancer aged 50.

It was the first ‘sportive’ in England. Now there are over 100 such events.

Mr Loftus, of Foxfield, said: “This was an incredible day given the high winds. These helped riders on Hardknott but on Cold Fell they were head-on and every rider’s nightmare.

“It was an absolutely special day, marred only by a couple of small accidents. No one had to go to hospital.

“The members of the Lakes Road Club deserve an accolade for all the work they have put in to make things run smoothly, and it is all voluntary work.“

Received opinion was that yesterday’s was been best Fred Whitton Challenge yet.

“Sportive events are tremendously popular on the Continent, and their appeal has now caught on in the UK.”

“But the Fred Whitton is easily the toughest with its exacting climbs and descents of the passes.”

“The standard of riding is improving year by year. Riders are becoming more aware of how to get the best out of their gears, and their skill is much higher.”

Last year, the event raised a record £80,000 for charity. Two main charities will benefit from this year’s event, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Dave Raynor Fund.

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