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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Kirkby cyclists take up the Fred Whitton challenge

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PEDAL POWER: Sue Bennett preparing for the Fred Whitton Challenge JOE RILEY REF: 0483937

TRAIL blazing cycle challenge organisers have attracted participants from across the world to the Lake District this Sunday.

The 10th anniversary Fred Whitton Challenge has entrants from Dubai, Australia, Switzerland, northern Europe and the full length and breadth of the British Isles.

The Fred Whitton Challenge is described as a 112 mile ultra hilly (mountainous) challenge ride over all five of the famous Lake District passes in a single day – Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Hardknott and Wrynose.

It’s become so sought-after that the maximum number of riders allowed – 1,000 – was reached just seven hours after the website entry page was put online.

Among participants are two from the hamlet of Soutergate, Kirkby.

Sue and Keith Bennett are looking forward to Sunday, but not without a few nerves.

Sue, who has done the challenge twice before, said the most daunting part was fitting in the training.

She said: “You have to get your name down quickly and then from January onwards it’s trying to fit in the training to cycle all that way. We’ve three children so the training is quite hard to fit in.

“It’s one of the hardest cycling challenges in England: it’s just completely daunting. And then Hardknott and Wrynose at the end when you’ve done 100 miles – it is quite difficult.”

But there is a bright side.

“Everyone is lovely and friendly and encouraging. People line the route and hand out cakes to you as you cycle past, and there’s children with cups of water for you.

“It’s the people that you meet as you are cycling along. On part of the route you could be cycling with people for an hour or so and you can have quite a conversation.

“And the organisation is superb. It’s well directed so you can’t get lost and you are never unsupported.”

Organisers point out showers, toilets and food and drink stops en route as well as advise on “killer” sections, danger points and traffic problems.

Keith, who has never done the ride before, didn’t even know he was entering until Sue told him.

“We’d been talking about it for a while,” Sue said.

“He’s up for it and looking forward to a good day out. We are going round together.”

The Challenge started life as a Lakes Road Club ride, with just 80 entrants.

For years now it’s reached the maximum the roads can cope with – 1,000 booked online both locally and from across the globe – and another 125 places for past marshalls, sponsors and premier volunteers.

The 112 mile ride was one of the first sportives – a run that never becomes a race but times and challenges the individual cyclist.

It begins at Coniston, heading north to take in Patterdale, Matterdale and Keswick, south past Derwentwater to Buttermere and north again over Whinlatter Pass to Lorton, Loweswater and Lamplugh.

Cyclists then head down to Calder Bridge and Gosforth to take in the hardest of the passes, Hardknott and Wrynose, before heading back to Coniston and the all-important showers and a meal provided by Wilf’s Cafe.

Organiser Paul Loftus has a team of around 100 helping him run the event.

Among them this year are 15 masseurs headed by a physiotherapist who is also a cycling enthusiast.

The group have been provided with a large tent at the Shepherds Bridge Road finish, where they will be waiting to relieve all those aching thigh muscles.

It’s one of five special 10th anniversary treats, laid on by Paul Loftus and the volunteers.

Treats include the closing of a narrow road – Shepherds Lane on the far side of Coniston – to give riders a pleasanter journey; police assistance to keep Hard Knott and Wrynose Passes reasonably clear of traffic; extra paramedics; and communication relay stations manned by Duddon and Furness Mountain Rescue Team for valleys and peaks where mobile phones are without a signal.

Among the 125 extras this year was Matthew Wilson, son of rally driver Malcolm Wilson and a British champion in his own right.

Matthew got the cycling bug after taking part in a Lands End to John O’Groats charity ride. He got places in the challenge for his four-member Scott Team with a sponsorship deal.

Paul said: “Scott UK mountain bikes are doing all our mechanics as sponsorship for the ride,”

Main sponsor is Biketreks of Ambleside, run by former Barrovian Andy Stephenson, who has helped the event since day one.

Paramedic Andy Cochrane, who normally does the route by motorbike to tend cyclists where needed, has been given the chance to bike it this year – to find what it is like to do the run for real.

The challenge is run in memory of Fred Whitton, the good-humoured and enthusiastic secretary of Lakes Road Club, who died aged 50 in 1998.

In his name the challenge supports two charities – The Dave Rayner Fund, which helps young riders gain international bike racing experience, and MacMillan Cancer Care, who nursed Fred when he had cancer.

Since starting the challenge riders have raised £240,000 for charity and Paul hopes on Sunday to match last year’s figure of £55,000.

Sue and Keith Bennett are joining in the fundraising.

Sue, a pharmacist, has collected sponsors from Cumbria Primary Care Trust where she works and Keith is collecting from his workplace Agrilek.

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