Marketed as the Hardest Sportive in the country - The Fred Witton didn't fail at that title.
I left home at 4 in the morning to join the convey of 1700 mad cyclists, driving through the Lake district Villages to swamp Coniston Leisure Centre by 6am. It was an amazingly well organised event, with groups of riders heading over a well marshalled 112 miles, covering the toughest roads in the Lake District.
After seeing Phil Jones speak at an event recently he talked about when he rode the event, the terrible weather experienced and how his chain snapped causing all sorts of challenges for him. This played on my mind, so I acted, getting a new chain and block fitted before the event. Ha Ha... not going to happen to me.
That said 2 miles into the ride, my chain unshipped, snagged and bent in two places making it impossible to go round. I went straight into possibility mode, and thought sod it, i'm going home, but after consideration, set about removing the links, piecing together something shorter. Thankfully, Neutral Service came to my rescue and soon had my bike on a stand and a new chain fitted. After a few miles of challenges messing about with the chain stops and a sticky link, 40 minutes lost in total, I was back on the road, riding with caution, but onwards and upwards.
The event was so well supported, people were out cheering us on, marshall's on every road, and every descent, which i thought was a bit over the top until the first casualty was found on the drop down from Honister Pass. The descents were lethal. I'm normally a brakes off, drop like a stone on descents guy, but on this event, i've worn out my brake pads. It was so slippy, mainly due to the horrible weather which came in from about 11am.
The rain, wind and cold weather was extreme, especially over so aptly named, "Cold Fell". I thought it might be just me, but when I stopped at the checkpoint in Calder Bridge, it was like a war zone. Bikes were strewn all over the car park, a mass of riders shivering under silver rescue blankets. One room had all the heaters on, with riders stacking in there, to try and warm up. I have never seen so many cold and wet people in one place, actually some were in a real bad way, either not prepared enough, or just quite simply caught out by the extreme weather
I managed to get a couple of hot drinks down me, hammered the Jam sandwiches and flapjacks, and then took the decision to crack on. Its a horrible feeling when you sit in a warm environment in wet cycling clothes, to then have to face the outside elements again, so i didn't hang around too long, better to get out and do the last 30 miles. it certainly wasn't going to get itself done.
It was a steady plod along to what was facing us. Hardknott Pass and Wrynose Pass. I've ridden some steep hills before, but seeing Hardknott Pass, was a joke. Pictures wont do it justice - believe me its steep. Nearly all the riders had to walk. What surprised me was it was not just a short sharp climb, it was in fact damned long, winding up and over a big ridge and then dropping down a zig zag path with brakes on full most of the way down. Some were too scared to ride and were walking down it, and a car on one of the bends was stuck, just wheels spinning. Unbelievable road.
I thought it was all over until Wrynose pass then reared up, being fair not as bad as Hardknott, but still tough. Descending again needed a great amount of concentration and caution, with the wind and rain lashing us. Unfortunately a rider in front of me, lost control, crashed into a boulder at the side and rolled into the road. A couple of us, first to the scene helped and used the survival blankets to keep some warmth in him, before the marshalls soon got to him. You'll be glad to know he was OK, his helmet was smashed but saved him. He was taken to hospital for a check up. The key question though - the bikes actually alright, just needs some handlebar tape and brake lever.
Would i ride it again. For sure, but not in those weather conditions. Its a great route, but for me, i'll be picking a good day to head out there.
My time logged on the system was 8:59:30 Due to the chain issues and accident I lost a lot of time. Actual riding time on Strava was 7:40:02