Fred Whitton

Fred Whitton 2017
By Gary Jones

“Slow down!  Slow down!  STOP”.  The marshal stood before us with his hands out ready to hold us upright.

Kev and I gave each other a handshake trying not to look too pleased it’s over.

“Now gents, well done! You’ve finished.  Stop your Garmin, I’m afraid you’ll have to walk from here.   That way, past the bar to collect your recovery pint, and out of the finishing area.”

That’s quite an approach to recovery drinks, but this is quite a ride.  The Fred Whitton Challenge is billed as the hardest sportive in the UK.  You may or may not agree with that, but it is undoubtedly amongst the toughest.  We’d just ridden 112 miles and climbed 11,000ft on hills as steep as 30%.

After collecting our drinks and our Fred Whitton tankards we made our way to a clear patch of grass. The sun was shining.  It was warm.  We were amongst the spectacular scenery of the Lake District.  It couldn’t get much better than this.  Until we were given our recovery meal of pie and beans.  And then it certainly couldn’t get better.

The sports field slowly filled with bambi-legged cyclists, some wobbling to a halt and awkwardly lowering themselves to the ground whilst others were working through a series of twister-inspired moves to get back up again.

All this was unimaginable a few months before when I entered the ballot for a place on a bit of a whim as a training goal.  I couldn’t imagine what it would be like, in fact I avoided thinking about it as that always resulted in worrying about the climbs; what the weather might be like on the day; how I’d prepare for the ride from a hotel room; taking the right kit; and lots of other things.  It all seemed very worthwhile now.  The whole weekend had gone incredibly well and ‘The Fred’ had become one of the best Sportives I have ridden.

It turned out that Kev and Terry had also entered.  They’d got different accommodation to me, but we agreed to meet at the start and set off together.  At just after 6:30 in the morning we rolled out of the sports field and past the timing point.  This was it.  We’d decided to ride together until our individual pace and schedules broke up our group.  Unfortunately Terry got separated from Kev and I quite early on and we didn’t see him again until we met in the sports field at the finish.  Cycling through great scenery early in the morning is always enjoyable.  It certainly helped distract us from the first climb of the day.  Combined with fresh legs, worrying about what was to come and the banter of “not going too fast too early” the scenery kept us distracted until we were at the bottom of Honister Pass.  At that point there is nothing to think of except the tarmac in front of you, and occasionally looking up to where the road climbs and climbs and climbs out of sight.  On the plus side, there was only one more big hill after this and we were half way!

After half way we were in a bullish mood.  We were ahead of schedule.  So far ahead that we might’ve got too confident.  We sped past the second feed station, tagged onto a fast group that came past, predicted new finishing times we hadn’t previously dreamt of.  Then came Boot, the village at the base of Hardknott Pass, and the 30% gradient sign.  For the second time that day our distractions were stripped from us and we had nothing to do but face the reality of what we had to climb.  Or at least I did.  Kev’s brain retreated somewhere further and refused anything except several lines of an old Sussex song that I hadn’t heard of.  For a while his singing was the only sound, but gradually it was replaced by our exclamations of disbelief, our swearing, our puffing and panting and our search for lower gears than our bikes had.  We got over both Hardknott and Wrynose passes but I still don’t know the words to Kev’s song.

From there it’s all down hill.  At least that was the lie we were told by the marshal. The finish was 10 miles away and although the last 2000ft of climbing had ruled out our unrealistic finishing time, we were still in with a chance of A Very Good Time.  But ironically those last 10 miles were the sting in the tail of this ride.  The distance ticked by very slowly, making each mile seem many times longer than it was.  And they weren’t all down hill at all.

We’d reached the point where neither of us had any energy.  ‘The Fred’ had taken everything.  All that was left of our thoughts of a good finishing time was just finishing.  Kev suddenly shouted and pointed.  Somehow he sped up and we covered the last half mile to the sports field.

To the enjoyment of soaking up the atmosphere.

To the huge shared sense of accomplishment.

To the comfort of sitting on the grass.

A quick mental check of how I felt was surprisingly encouraging; aches but not pains.  But then it was my turn to get up to go to the bar… lets see what I remember from playing twister.


Do You Believe in the Westworld

Four weeks before the Tour of Wessex was the first bank holiday weekend of the month, perfect timing for my last big session, one last chance to prepare my mind and body for the rigours of riding three days in a row. The plan was to ride three centuries, one a day over the weekend. Day one was inked in as a ride out west to Hampshire, day two was a loop up to the Surrey Hills and day three, out east towards Kent and back. But it all went horribly wrong on day one…

Read the rest of this story in the book… My Tour of Wessex

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April Fools Double

Some people can’t resist coffee and walnut cake; some people can’t resist chocolate biscuits, but me… I can’t resist century bike rides.

My original plan for the weekend was a short gentle ride on Saturday followed by the usual Sunday club run. However, there was a local sportive on Saturday, an eighty miler and if I included my commute, added a few extra miles… I could muster a century. But then I got thinking, Sunday’s club ride was pencilled in as a sixty-five miler at ‘social’ pace, if I included my commute, added a few extra miles, and yes, you know what’s coming… another century. It’d been several months since my last (and first) double century, so why not?

Read the rest of this story in the book… My Tour of Wessex

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Day Two: Strava | VeloViewer | Relive CC

Wet, Windy and Mucky

It’s Saturday lunchtime and I’m sitting on a spin bike in my local leisure centre, warming up for the first of two back-to-back spin classes. Out of the blue I received a text from one my cycling buddies, Malcolm. “If interested, a few of us are planning to do a century tomorrow, carrying on after the club ride?” It read. My reply would ordinarily be a straight forward and emphatic yes, but this morning’s events caused me to pause to consider the request. “I have to say I’m tempted. It depends on how I recover from today,” was my non-committal reply.

Read the rest of this story in the book… My Tour of Wessex

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New Forest at the Double

At the beginning of 2016, I set myself three century-based challenges. June saw me complete my longest ride… 125 miles through the undulations of the West Sussex countryside. July was my fastest century… inside four-and-a-half hours to complete Ride London. And, my final challenge for the year… ride a century on consecutive days… my first double!

Read the rest of this story in the book… My Tour of Wessex

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Day Two: Strava | VeloViewer

Accidental Century

Nomads Ride to Climping

Post London I set myself one final challenge for the year, to ride the New Forest 100… on both days.  My first venture into riding centuries on consecutive days.

I had little time to train, as my focus had been on Ride London and the various speed-endurance sessions that dominated my summer.  The plan was to cram in as many back-to-back sessions as my body could handle.  So on this particular weekend in late August… it was the club run today… and a double spin class tomorrow.

Today was meant to be a normal club run, albeit further than usual, down to the seaside and then back again along the coast.  Probably 70-80 miles, long enough to be a decent training ride, short enough to allow some recovery for tomorrow’s double bout of suffering.

It started with a ride down to Climping beach, which was fast and furious, partly because it was reasonably flat but mainly because Jason was driving the train… and the rest of us were just hanging on.  The first proper ascent did not arrive until 40 miles in, at which point we were averaging 20 mph.  The mile long ascent of Houghton Hill is steeper at the bottom but shallows somewhat to a reasonable 5% average as the climb unfolds.

The previous week I’d attacked early on a steep climb in attempt to catch Jason out.  It worked… but only for a short while… it was also a long climb and the attack had left me in the red, he cruised passed and pulled away.  So, my tactic today was to get onto his wheel and stay there… it was working while the gradient was in single figures, but as soon as it steepened to 15% I had to get out the saddle and inevitably slowed down… he just kept going at what seemed like the same pace… “bye bye Jason” I thought to myself as he disappeared into the distance… different scenario to last week… same outcome.

What goes up must come down…  in this case a glorious two mile descent down the other side into Arundel on smooth dry tarmac, no tricky corners and only light traffic… exhilaration!

The coffee stop soon arrived, 50 miles ticked off in a shade over two and half hours.  Time for a rest, a quick cuppa and a well deserved slice of cake.  Having a coffee with your chums next to the beach is fun, but we had some riding to do, this time along the coast before heading inland and then home.

Jason decided to split early and take a different route home.  “Phew” I thought (and I’m sure the others felt the same) maybe we can have a more sedate ride home now.  Our route was interesting, a ride up a pedestrianised street, a detour through a park and a one point we had to dismount to carry our bikes across a pebbly beach.  A kind of ‘don’t know where we’re going route’… club runs are never dull!

Things speeded up as we found the kind of surface we were more used to… in other words… roads.  We got back in the swing of things, taking turns on the front while winding our way back towards our Ditchling HQ.  As usual, as we got closer to home the group dwindled, with riders spinning off to their various different end destinations.

This left three of us as we neared the rides conclusion.  I was as about three miles from home, which would have been a healthy 80 mile ride for me, but… “Hey Dave” Gary called out to me “Alex and me are going for a century, are you with us?”.   My eyes would normally light up at this point and I’d reply with a resounding “Yes” before they’d finished their sentence.  But I had to consider my plans for tomorrow, I also had to consider that I was busting for a pee (I was holding on until I got home).

“OK” I thought “I’ve got just enough gels left and I can always make tomorrow a single spin class… without feeling too guilty”.  “Ok, this is the deal… we stop for a pee and then I’m in.”  I’m easily persuaded.

We spent the next few miles calculating, comparing and then re-calculating our routes, finally deciding on a loop that would deliver all three of us home with the number 100 on our bike computers.  After riding for another hour, Gary and Alex sped off on their homeward journeys to complete their centuries.

Despite all of those calculations, I found myself over four miles from home once I’d clinched my century.  I’d run out of gels and fluids by this stage and found myself limping (or the cycling equivalent) through the last few miles, eventually arriving home mid-afternoon.

So, with century no.13 in the bag, my thoughts turned to tomorrow… how… just how was I going get back on my bike in the morning and ride down to the leisure centre?… and then how was going to get through that spin class?

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