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Friday, 29 August 2014

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Cumbria cyclists take on Fred Whitton Challenge

FURNESS cyclists stormed the Lake District passes on Sunday during the 15th annual Fred Whitton Challenge.

“Stormed” was the operative word as heavy squalls were the order of the day.

Never has England’s most densely populated national park been so congested on its narrowest roads, with traffic vying against an unprecedented entry of 1,750 Lycra-clad cyclists on Kirkstone, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Hardknott and Wrynose passes.

A bystander in the car park beneath Honister Quarry said: “It’s like watching the Tour de France”.

The Lakes Road Club, the biggest cycling club in the region, was well represented by members, resplendent in their yellow and red and black Lycra tops

Cumbria Fire and Rescue had nearly a dozen cyclists represented and, including freelance riders, there were scores more riders from Barrow, Ulverston, Millom, Coniston and Windermere.

Torrential rain and hailstones met cyclists on Hardknott, Kirkstone, Honister and Whinlatter passes, especially on the steep descent into Buttermere.

Three cyclists were airlifted to hospital with severe injuries following falls while competing in a gruelling challenge, and on separate Lake District passes.

The Great North Air Ambulance’s Pride of Cumbria helicopter was scrambled to help each of the cyclists and get them to hospitals.

Heavy rain and a greasy surface was the probable cause said a paramedic supervisor. Riders had to be extra careful descending as streams were running down the road surface.

Now in its 15th year, this annual “sportive event” is rated as the most popular of its kind in Britain with all 2,000 places booked within 12 hours when the entry forms first appeared on the internet.

It caters for cyclists of all persuasions, and is not classed as a race.

Thus year for instance entries included BAE Systems Maritime MD John Hudson and professional mountain biker who has twice represented GB at the Olympics, Liam Killeen.

Times have been trimmed below six hours over the years for the 112 mile event which began and ended this year for the first time at Grasmere Sports Field.

At the time of writing results are not yet completed, but Lakes Road Club’s Andy Sudell, an engineer for BNFL and Dave Relph, also an engineer but for Glaxo, notched a highly creditable six hours one minute time each.

The Challenge is run in memory of Fred Whitton, who was the Lakes Road Club racing secretary and sadly died of cancer aged 50.

It was the first “sportive” in England. Now there are over 100 such events.

Paul Loftus from Foxfield, who organises the Challenge, said: “It was a typical Lake Distinct day, with all kinds of contrasting weather affecting the cyclists, but all in all it was a marvellous day.

“Grasmere did us proud after our 14 years of using Coniston as a base, and which we were sorry to leave.

“The wet weather did contribute towards the accidents, unfortunately, but the casualties are in good hands. We have ambulances including the Air Ambulance, paramedics, first-aiders and the Duddon and Furness Mounatin Rescue Team on hand.

“There will always be accidents in an event like this. The riders accept that. Cycling is a high risk sport. Yet out of 2,000 riders these relatively few incidents show by far the majority of the cyclists survived in one piece.

“All in all, it was a great day, yes. It’s heartening to see so many riders here today who return again and again to do “the Fred”, quite apart from the all new faces who were doing the Challenge for the first time.”

The Fred Whitton Challenge is the biggest donator to Macmillan Cancer in Cumbria – also giving to North West Air Ambulance and Duddon and Furness Mountain-Rescue Team.

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