Friday 29 May 2009

Fred Whitton 10th May 2009

Photo courtesy Kirkstone Inn

I feel fortunate to have survived this year’s FWC. This feeling has nothing to do with hills or distances but to my misreading of the one-way system in Ambleside. It is also meant literally. Once over the bridge in Ambleside I thought it was a one way gyratory all the way around and spent the short time available, without slowing, looking to the left. Wrong. I emerged into the path of a car from the right. We all sometimes make mistakes and this was a serious wake-up call. It reinforces my belief in 20mph limits in built up areas to lessen the potential consequences of such folly.

The family came with me this year for a weekend in proper countryside. We enjoyed the usual fine food at the usual Staffordshire pub on the way up. It was a huge disappointment that the Lake Windermere Ferry was closed. By the time we got to the sign on, in Coniston, the heavy rain on the M6 had given way to late afternoon sunshine, ideal for playing hide and seek with my daughters in the grounds of the Hawkshead Youth Hostel and admiring the nearby lambs.

Those staying in the hotel with me included teammates Mike, Alan, Dan and our supporters, Paul and Joanne. Teammates Derwent and Ruth had made separate alternative arrangements as had our club coach and cheerleader Dave and Betty. Most of us got to the Queen’s Head in Hawkshead for pre-ride nosh, booze and merriment, reminiscing about Fred Whittons past and the days when club runs would go from the Maidenhead Pondhouse to the pier end at Weston-super-Mere.

One restless night later, my best hope of a drive to the start opted for a lie-in, dreamily pronouncing the route to the start to be all downhill. I therefore set out for the warm up ride at 0715, aiming for the 0745 start that had been decided upon by Ruth, Mike and me at the Queen’s Head. It was thought we would get the 8 o’clock group without the risk of being dropped on the first hill.

It was sound logic as Mike’s chain misbehaved at the bottom of Hawkshead Hill, so Ruth and I twiddled up without him. He hadn’t quite caught us by the top so we relied upon his steely descending skills and, sure enough, he was back with us in good time to witness my near demise in Ambleside. We found a man in red and black to draft while we relaxed and enjoyed the views of Lake Windermere. Once we turned onto the climb on Holbeck Lane we opted for a lower pace and let him go, though I was reunited with him later as we rode in the same group to Honister. Not far into that climb a train came by powered by a team from Richmond CC. I suggested hopping on board but by the time I looked back neither Mike nor Ruth were with us. The guys from Richmond were strong – they went on to get cracking times- and we picked up a sizeable group, though quite a few dropped off on the upper reaches of Kirkstone. I struggled but (though it may not look it in the photo) just kept contact as we reached the summit Inn where Paul and Joanne shouted support and two Richmond riders stopped to collect drinks.

I only managed 36 mph descending Kirkstone, so lost the group, but was starting to gain when the terrain flattened. I was in luck as the two Richmond riders flew by and I stole a tow back to the bunch. We did a slightly shambolic through and off to the A66 where several groups coalesced for a 30mph run down to Keswick. I opted for the outside line as I deemed it madness to ride in the gutter dodging cats’ eyes at that speed.

The group stuck together through to Honister, the first steep climb and hairy descent. At the summit a chicken passed nonchalantly in front of my wheel and I couldn’t resist asking the marshal why. The group was blown apart but then the first feed at Buttermere was just round the corner anyway.

I headed up Newlands on my own. The day had started cool but dry and I was at Newlands when I got the first taste of things to come. The road had been wetted by some recent drizzle and was distinctly slippery. Over the top the weather brightened and Paul, Joanne, Dave and Betty were all there on Whinlatter to cheer us on. Both Paul and Dave ran alongside giving a frightening impression that they might push me up the hill.

I did the undulating stuff near the coast alone or in small groups, the sun came out and I felt quite warm. Coldfell however lived up to its name this year though we were cheered by the bagpipes. Shortly before the first feed I caught up with Dan. Soon afterwards Dan, Alan and I were all at the Calderbridge feed together. I left alone but soon caught up a group as we headed to Hardknott. As we got there one of them said he wouldn’t get past the cattle grid because of his cramp. I wish he hadn’t because I am convinced that in my case cramp is a largely psychosomatic condition. Thus far it had been a largely windless day but as I started the climb a sudden headwind came from nowhere. I managed the first hairpins just fine. Someone was standing by the side of the road on the less steep middle section offering cups of water. As I declined, I suffered an acute cramp in both calves. He largely broke my fall but I ended up with my left hip in the stream by the side of the road and my bike and legs lying across the road in the path of the frustrated Rover driver who had been pursuing me up the hill. I lay there, a helpless obstruction on the road for about 30 seconds, before I could even uncleat. I got up stretched my legs, walked a bit and somehow remounted but the cramp came back before the final steep hairpins so I got off and walked those rather than risk another fall. By now the road was starting to get wet and cars were spinning about. I found it an effort to walk those hairpins and was nearly mowed down by a backward slipping car. I hopped back on for the final section of the climb and felt a bit of a fraud as people clapped and cheered and said ‘well done’ as I reached the summit.

The storm clouds continued to gather and the hail started as I descended Hardknott making an already technical descent somewhat hairy. On the final hairpin I started to slide so just released the brakes and went for it. I managed Wrynose without sliding or cramping on the way up. For the descent the hailstones which had been falling had settled unmelted onto the road adding an additional challenge. Once I descended there was heavy rain from there to the finish.

Having dibbed my dibber I found my family sheltering under the Sports Centre eves looking a bit disconsolate. Concern was expressed about how we were going to get out of the mudfield so I was encouraged to collect my certificate smartly so we could go. I was soaked through and didn’t argue. A quick shower at the Youth Hostel and a pizza in Lancaster preceded the long drive home.

I had aimed for sub-8 hours and not to walk. I comfortably achieved the former target with a finish time of 07:27. That made up for the fact that I did not achieve the latter.

As always a terrifically organised event with cheerful marshals in all the right places and good food at the feeds. Definitely the top cyclosportive in the UK. At this time of year I always feel I may have done my last Fred Whitton, but is it conceivable that I could manage a better time and no walking? We’ll see.

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