The Fred Whitton Challenge is such a brilliant event. Daunting when you first hear about it, but possessing the allure of the highest mountains and toughest climbs that just makes you want to give it a go. And it really doesn’t disappoint. Briefly, the event was created in memory of Fred Whitton, secretary of the Lakes Road Club and by all accounts a hugely popular and enthusiastic organiser of many cycling events and meetings himself. Sadly Fred passed away aged just 50 in 1998 and it is a fantastic tribute to him that since the inception of this event 20 years ago over £1million has been raised for good causes in his name. The main charitable partner is MacMillan Cancer Support. The reason for the event’s fame/notoriety is due to its difficulty. The route is around 113 miles long, it takes in all of the major Lakeland passes (so gives around 12,000ft of ascent) and, particularly cruelly, it features Hard Knott Pass - the toughest of the lot - after you’ve already cycled 90+ miles. I’m a keen but far from elite cyclist and had to put in a lot of training through the winter just to get round the course. This I managed, but in a significantly slower time than the quickest riders who complete it in around 6 hours.
That’s not the point though (not for me anyway!). ‘The Fred’ was just such a joyous occasion to be a part of. 2000 cyclists all there to share the experience with each other in a good natured way. There were probably a further 2000 kind hearted volunteers, acting as safety marshalls on sharp bends, manning timing checkpoints or providing tea and jam and Philadelphia sandwiches (a new one on me) at feeding stations. There was pie and beer at the finish line and throughout the course, particularly on the climbs, there were cheering local residents clapping you on, ringing their cowbells and generally making this average Joe feel like he was competing in the Tour de France.  The event was refreshingly free of marketing and sponsorship. MacMillan Cancer Support was the dominant brand on display, quite rightly. Other than that, there was a subtle presence from Castelli who do a special edition jersey and I was very pleased to receive a bag of much needed Westlabs Epsom Salts in my rider’s goody bag.  Something I unearthed on the Fred Whitton blog which typifies the spirit of the day is that Tyson’s General Store in Broughton-in-Furness provide 2000 bananas free to the event (one for each rider) every year. As far as I can tell they don’t get any credit for this anywhere. They just do it because they are good people and the owner of the store, Ian Tyson, rides the event every year and loves it. So, here’s at least one column inch in recognition of their contribution - if ever you’re in the area make sure you call in and make a purchase.  The Fred Whitton. Good people, good exercise, stunning scenery. Give it a go if you get the chance.