Fred Whitton Challenges Banbridge CC.

13 May 2024
Posted in Events, News
13 May 2024 Aaron Wallace

Back in October 2023, there was chance discussion on a Banbridge CC club spin on who’d be interested in giving the Fred Whitton Challenge a go in 2024, some hands went up (willingly or not), a WhatsApp group was created, and as Richard McBride’s rules go, once you are in the WhatsApp group there’s no backing out. Five were committed JP Rice, Richard McBride, Mark Stewart, Brian Hannon, and Mark Kendall; with Brian and Mark K having previously completed this event, they were well aware of the challenge ahead.

The Fred Whitton Challenge is a renowned cycling event named after Fred Whitton, a legendary cyclist from the Lake District, England. It’s a gruelling 112-mile circuit through some of England’s most picturesque (and thigh-burning) landscapes that attracts cyclists from around the world. The event started in 1999 as a tribute to Fred Whitton, a popular member of the Lakes Road Club who tragically passed away from cancer. Since then, it has grown into one of the toughest one-day cycling challenges in the UK and this year it celebrated its 25th anniversary. Despite the gruelling nature of the event, cyclists keep coming back year after year to test their endurance and push their limits.

So, with entries in place, ferry booked, accommodation organised, new dinner plate cassettes purchased, the club car set up for action, Rice Krispie bars purchased, towels left behind, the wheels were in motion.

Travelling over on Saturday morning, we’d an early start for the Cairnryan ferry. Whilst gathering up the bikes to load the team car JP noted he’d a mechanical issue with his Di2 battery which would need diagnosed and resolving. As we all know ‘an army marches on its stomach’ so whilst munching bacon baps, carrot cake and a bit of googling, coming off the ferry, the first action was to find a bike shop and after some scrolling and with google maps locked in, JP navigated us by back roads and lanes to a bike shop in Kiroughtree Visitor and MTB Trail Centre. This centre is well worth a visit if ever heading south on the A75, with amazing views and awesome pastries. With the battery replaced and new one installed and more food in our tummies we headed for the M6, Grasmere and the registration.

The contagious friendliness and enthusiasm of everyone involved in this event was evident right from the off; from the car parking marshals’ warmth of welcome, the efficiency of the registration teams was simply great with lots of people having a particular interest in the Banbridge CC team car.  We returned to the accommodation and planned a short spin, but poor JP had another tricky mechanical which required an intervention with the excellent Wheelbase mechanics at the registration who thankfully where able to triage and remediate the problem.

As we all know, nutrition strategies, pre-event fuelling and hydration are a key part of planning and with that in mind, dinner location was the Badger Bar in the Glen Rothay Hotel in Ambleside. Richie held court on many topics including declaring his love and passion for tan wall tyres; why would non-vegetarian eat vegetarian food, ensuring he approved of people’s food choices before being allowed to order, and finally his assertion that it is a mandatory requirement that everyone orders a side order of onion rings with their main course.  After being fed, we retired to the Britannia Inn to sample some local beverages and after five too many “one for the road” statements, we bedded down for the evening in a dormitory room of sweet aromas and little concern for the next day’s task of 112 miles and around 11,500 ft of climbing and an event that many have claimed to be the hardest sportive in the UK.

The Fred Whitton route reads like a who’s who of brutal Lakeland climbs: Kirkstone Pass, Honister Pass, Newlands Pass, Whinlatter Pass, Hardknott Pass, Wrynose…. you get the idea. It’s like they decided to throw every hill in the Lake District into one sadistic course and each climb presents its own unique set of challenges, with steep gradients and breath-taking scenery.

The event has a rolling start from 6am to 8am and with the forecast looking good and temperatures in the mid-teens we set off at 6.45am, and from the gun, the Banbridge train was moving at a high speed and were averaging over 20mph for the first 45 miles, this definitely wasn’t going to be sustainable so after the first food stop (again the food stops on this event are top class) we decided to wind our necks in accordingly, as the next 65 miles includes five difficult climbs and increase with steeper gradients as you progress through them.

Unfortunately, Brian wasn’t feeling well and decided to do the alternative shorter Lion and Lamb route. The remainder finished the Fred Whitton Challenge event with massive amounts of effort, sweat, energy expended, and gels consumed with lots of pain endured with bodies and visages reflecting accordingly.

Until you experience this event, it’s hard to explain and articulate how difficult, steep and brutal the climbs are, but the Fred Whitton Challenge has become a rite of passage for many cyclists, offering not only physical challenges but also the camaraderie and a sense of achievement for those who conquer its climbs combined with the amazing support of people on the route is inspiring.

A great weekend.


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