September 16, 2013 3 min read
Stage 2 of this year's Tour of Britain undulates (!) through the Lake District, from Carlisle in the north, over to the coast at Whitehaven, back inland and over Honister Pass and then down to Kendal to finish. A good stage to stake a claim for the GC? Here's Dave's take on the Lake District from Great British Bike Rides:
Of all the classic rides in the UK, there’s one I’ve attempted more than any other. I’ve ridden it four times, with varying levels of success.
I’ve nearly abandoned it twice, once due to my own fatigue and once due to the state of another rider. It’s the single most iconic loop in England. Many have ridden it, many aspire to complete it and many have got off and walked because the climbs are simply too hard. It’s the Fred Whitton. Let’s not beat about the bush, the Fred is a desperately hard ride. It’s 112 miles long and features six huge Lakeland passes that must all be conquered before you can take the ‘tick’. Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose. The six biggest passes in the Lake District.
They vary in difficulty, but the scale starts at ‘very hard’ and continues all the way up to ‘Honister’ – which deserves its own grading due to the steepness and length.
‘The hardest climb in Britain’ is an emotive discussion. Many will argue for the Bealach na Ba in Scotland. The Welsh will chip in with the Bwlch y Groes, and others will plump for Hardknott. There’s no escaping the fact that Hardknott Pass is definitely in the top five, with the other Lakeland climbs following close behind.
The full route is known as the ‘Fred Whitton’ in memory of the Lakes Road Club’s secretary, who sadly passed away in 1998. The Club now runs an annual sportive which sells out within hours of opening. Hundreds of riders pit themselves against the hills and the clock, all trying to gain a respectable time. The route is even waymarked, so you can ride it on your own, away from the pressure of the evil cameramen who await those who dismount and walk as the passes steepen. And boy do they steepen. You’ll ride ramps that hit 33 per cent gradients and sections where the average is well in excess of 20 per cent for long periods.
Now I’ve terrified you, let’s raise the stakes. The ride you have here isn’t quite the Fred. It’s bigger and it’s better. It follows the vast majority of the full sportive,but with an altered start to use the ‘Struggle’ out of Ambleside. This is one of the greatest climbs in the country, and is a much tougher and more scenic climb than the Kirkstone Pass it replaces. It makes a great introduction to the pain to come! To compensate, the ending of the ride is curtailed so, ultimately, you’ll ride just as high but for not quite as long.
Now, on to the rest of the route.It truly is a showcase of Lakeland cycling, giving a full picture of the area in a single day. You’ll be astounded by the scenery through which you ride and you’ll salute the tenacity of the road builders who dragged tarmac across this wild English landscape and over these high passes. It’s not all hills either. While they feature heavily in most parts of the route, you’ll find forest, moorland and lakeside riding and even some town centre diversions to keep you on your toes.
Years ago I wrote an introduction for an article concerning this ride which went along the following lines:
‘A defining trait of any great cycle ride is that which drags the rider back again and again to repeat its majesty, savouring a rediscovered view or delivering an improved statistic. The passes of the English Lakes command many repeat performances and have an uncanny ability to fade that “never again” feeling almost as fast as the lactic acid has drained from weary calves.’
I stand by these words. Once you’ve done this loop you’ll hanker to return and have another go no matter how bad your experience was.
For full route information, and details of all 40 of Dave's routes, check out Great British Bike Rides – and save 20% at checkout with offer code TOUR2013
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