Monday 18 December 2023

Another cycling mission for 2024 - Fred Whitton Challenge

I have been successful in the ballot to take part in the 2024 Fred Whitton Challenge. My mission is to cycle 174km (112 miles) around the Lake District, taking in the mighty Honister, Hardknott and Wrynose Passes. It's gonna be a tough day out, but I say bring it on - sort of!

In my opinion this is the mother of all cyclosportives. There may be other challenge rides in the UK that are longer or hillier than the Fred Whitton Challenge, but what really bites about this event is that moment when you pass through Eskdale Green, with its quaint country pub, after 98miles of cycling and you look up high into the distance to see a long line of riders snaking skywards. That's the Hardknott Pass, with its infamous 30% gradients along the one-mile stretch - and that's where you're headed. You have a feeling of dread and your legs go even weaker than they were already feeling from riding over Kirkstone, Honister, Whinlatter, and Newlands Passes. How on earth will I get over that and the 25% gradient of Wrynose Pass straight afterwards?

Few sportives instil that feeling of dread. I have ridden the Fred Whitton Challenge in the past and gotten around it within the time cut (although once I didn't). I therefore know that I have it in me to complete the ride, and I also remember the feeling of elation as I crossed the finish line. So I really want to have that moment again. 

It will be less easy now than when I last did the full monty almost 15 years ago. By the time D-Day comes round I will be 55 years old. Age definitely has caught up with me. While I am still capable of doing lots of sport, I find that I need more recovery time, and am more prone to soft tissue injuries than when I was younger. So as well as the main job of training, there is the added dimension of monitoring energy levels and preventing injury.

Getting a place in one of the UK's toughest one-day cyclosportives is not easy. The ballot opens in early December and roughly 10 days later the draw is done to see who are the lucky (or some might say unlucky) 2,000 riders to suffer the steepest hills of the Lake District.

Hardknott Pass 

I had been in two minds about throwing my name into the hat. Having gotten a place in the Fred Whitton last year, I remember how tough it was to train for the event, how many miles I needed to get in as well as how much cycling uphill. When the big day came I didn't feel entirely ready, and in the end opted to ride the shorter version - the Lion and Lamb ride. I must say I felt quite relieved to have not had to do the ride feeling anxious about riding the most challenging climbs. I enjoyed being able to have my post-ride pasta in a room full of other riders and chat to people. Had I done the full distance it would have just been a survival ride to beat the cut-off and I am sure I would have been one of the last finishers, probably munching my post-race meal in an almost empty buffet tent as the organisers packed everything away. That's not what I wanted. Having said that, I also feel a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) at the fact that I only did 73 miles.

So I entered the ballot in the hope of having the chance to sort out this unfinished business. Many people enter this ballot multiple times without ever having their name drawn out of the hat. So I feel lucky to have gotten a place in the Fred Whitton Challenge. But now, I have to go out train properly, and ride the thing.

Training has already started, given that I also have the Etape du Tour to also prepare for. My 2024 calendar is already looking rather busy.

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