A 5.30 start on Fred day did not dampen our spirits. We were soon dressed, packed and on the way to the start after staying in Hawkshead YHA and testing the pre-Fred sticky toffee pudding of course!
We arrive at Grasmere showground and were soon ready to depart, all a bit apprehensive of the challenge that lay ahead. For those who have not heard about ‘The Fred’ it’s a 112 mile epic in the Lakes taking in all the major climbs – not for the faint hearted.
We push off 6 strong, 5 team LFCC, Wayne ‘Bottle Thrower’ Henderson, Wayne ‘Descender’ Herbert, Phil ‘The Power’ Houldridge, Paul ‘The Climber’ Turner and Ricardo who is braving the challenge on a MTB. For the first 6 miles team LFCC stayed together anticipating the challenge that lay ahead.
Ground rules are set – every man for himself – well at least that means no getting cold for The Climber or The Power at the top of the climbs.
Soon we start Kirkstone pass – 6 miles uphill, peaking about 25% to the highest point of the ride. We soon split up with everyone finding their own pace up the hill. I see the first crash of the day about 2 min up the hill, rider 1 gears start slipping, stops and falls to the right bringing down rider 2 (who did not sound happy). Graciously I don’t run them over but ride around them and head after the rest of team LFCC.
Kirskstone is not too bad, we are fresh and I ride up most of the climb with Bottle Thrower. We eventually reach the summit to much applause only for BT to disappear into the distance on the descent as the heavens open. I think it was rain but it felt like hail as I hit 35 mph down the hill, so much for the waterproof I have in my pockets.
At the bottom I set about catching BT and the guys. Anyone who has ridden with them will know this is not as easy as it sounds but I hook up with a fast group and eventually catch BT at the start of the next climb (who has just stopped to pick up his bottle he’d thrown) which was not too bad, about twice the size of Beacon hill up to around 15%.
I stick with BT and we hit the A66 to Keswick and I sit behind the BT train – just like a Tuesday nights before Mallory. I’d promised myself I was going to take it easy but a plan is only valid until the first encounter! Man with pink shirt and backpack also helps out – I wonder what was in it but am happy of the tow. Into the wind but slightly downhill we are up over 30 mph and pass other Descender.
Into Keswick and BT throws his bottle again so I ease off and 2 minutes later become part of the fastest group of the day blasting along for the next 5 miles until BT lets another go (Moral – don’t use any new kit on Fred).
Headwind now and I hit the bottom of Honister, another big one with 25+ % climbs. After a few minutes I’m not sure what happened but my bike decided to jump into the ditch and I dab down – so much for riding all the hills. I decided not to start from the bottom of the hill again (apparently it’s the done thing) but carried on up the slope dodging the bus that insisted on overtaking the riders.
Chain comes off in the 2nd half of the climb which means both BT and Descender are now up ahead but as relief arrives as I hit the cheers at the top of the hill we are soon brought back down by the paramedics attending to a cyclist at the side of the road – hope he’s ok.
Buttermere appears – to me the most beautiful part of the lakes and we hit the first pit stop at 47 miles where I meet up with all team LFCC. Loads of food, sarnies, flapjack, bananas, biscuits – I stock up and realise I need the loo and miss the team LFCC restart, chase time again!
Straight away we are up Newlands and with a tail wind its an easy 25 % climb followed by a nice descent down to Braithwaite and I my worries of missing the cut off time disappear as I make it with an hour to spare.
The air ambulance passing overhead reminds us all to take it easy on the downhill.
Next is Whinlatter and I quite enjoy the tree lined ascent. Being the most accessible part of the route there are more people here cheering us on than anywhere else – it’s a great boost and I realise that I’ve overtaken about 50 people up this hill with no-one overtaking me – maybe I’m not as bad a climber as I think! It does drag on a bit but soon I’m descending to be reminded again of the danger of these road as I see the blue flashing lights of an ambulance with cyclist inside. Note to self – its not a race!
Next we turn south and have a cross wind off the sea. Lots of ups and downs and I see BT at the side of the road and give him a shout. A few miles company is good and eventually I start the ascent of Cold Fell, not one of the major climbs and wrongly names as I’m pretty warm going up!
The descent is quick and I think to myself the local club riders are taking it easy and 10 seconds later lock up my back wheel trying to slow for a bend, realise my bike handling skills need improving and just keep the brakes on. Off the road I go unclipping as I hit the nettles and somehow manage not to go over the top and not get stung! Maybe I need a bit more care.
I carry on and see Seascale in the distance and the bends open up and the descent becomes easier. Next thing I see the next feed station at about 80 miles and meet up with team LFCC, loads more food and a warm coffee. Within a minute or so Descender arrives and Team LFCC is back together again.
The Power announces we should now prepare for the hardest 30 miles of cycling we have ever done. Undaunted we set off in chain gang formation, wind behind blasting past the rest of the field until we approach the daddy of them all, Hardknott and then no-one wants to ride hard. I thought The Power was going to do a track stand at one point!
The phone box appears and its up up up, 33+ % hairpins and I dig in and push up. I see The Climber and BT are speeding ahead but decide to stick to slow and steady! Up again it goes – will it ever flatten out? Eventually it does and I catch my breath. Still up around 15 % and I can see the next hairpins looming, I do a couple and just run out of power and join the overwhelming majority i.e. walking up.
The Power passes me and I get back on after walking a few hundred metres and finish the daddy of them all. For those who have not done it there is nothing to compare – lots of 30+ % climbing that never seems to stop – for the record the other team LFCC guys all made it up without walking (BT did take the opportunity of a car blocking the road to have a quick rest).
The descent is no easier, hard on brakes down a hideous slope, lots of hairpins and my arms are bursting before it eventually flattens and the ascent of Wrynose begins.
No time to recover its up again and to be honest my head and legs were in the wrong place by now – 100 miles and 5 major passes and Hardknott just attempted I knew I’d be walking and so it proved as I went up the steepest bit.
At the top there was 10 seconds elation and then a sudden realisation that we were not all as lucky as a marshall informed us the road was closed due to another casualty. We get off the top and wait in a queue of a few hundred until we are cleared to go. Half a mile on and the Air Ambulance comes into view and a casualty is under a tent on the side of the hill – not good at all.
Again the descent is very difficult and physically demanding but eventually it levels and its 10 miles to go. I hitch a lift with a guy the same speed as me and I hit Grasmere 8 hours 7 minutes after I set off after riding 112 miles and climbing 4000 metres. A job well done!
The talk in team LFCC over a spud and sausage is about next year and no-one suggests they’ll be doing it – it’s a massive challenge, not to be under estimated, but through glorious countryside, not to be missed.
I hear Ricardo eventually arrived back on his MTB – fair play!
I the depart team LFCC – thanks chaps I really enjoyed(?) it!
UPDATE: The 2 cyclists air lifted to hospital are now discharged from hospital and home with their families