On a sunny day – like we were lucky to have – the route is beautiful, but it is hard to compare with other events like L’Etape du Tour. The Alps are so big, so grand and so lush that the riding is the stuff of dreams. The Fred is, without doubt, the best of British, but its enjoyment depends upon our notoriously unpredictable weather.
At 182km and 3250m of climbing, it offers respectable numbers. But what the numbers obscure is the fact that you’re going over 12 notable hills, and while the longest one is less than 5km of ascent, the steepness is what really hits the legs. I’ve done it twice now and have been blessed with great weather on both occasions. In the cold, the wet and the wind, I don’t think there would be many rides as tough or as miserable.
In the Alps you can climb for 20km or more, and you’ll perhaps tackle three or four climbs. On this route you’ll do many climbs. Here’s a rundown of the highlights:
Kirkstone Pass: This is the first proper climb and coming only 14km into the ride, it’s fair to call it a heart starter. While not as steep as some ascents to follow, it does drag on for almost 5km, so it’s a case of settling in and grinding a way up. The height gain is only about 300m, but coming so early in the ride you will feel every last metre.
Honister Pass: This is where the Fred starts to live up to its reputation for taking riders by surprise and providing a proper fitness test. Honister is steep. Really steep. About 25% in places. When we tackled the road was still busy with riders, so there’s no chance to zig-zag across the road to make it easier. You have to hold your line and use all your strength. Proper fun!
Newlands Pass: At about 75km and immediately after the first official feeding station, this climb demands a bit of mental strength. It’s not the toughest incline that you’ll tackle on the Fred, but seeing it stretch out in front of you does mean you need to some mental fortitude to conquer it. This climb reminded me a little (just a little) of the Col de la Colombiere in 2018’s L’Etape du Tour with the way you can so clearly see where you are headed.
Whinlatter Pass: Without a doubt, this is the most enjoyable climb of the ride. It’s a bit longer, it snakes up the hill and going through a forest and reverberates to the sound of cowbell. It’s busy and a bit chaotic because it gets turned into an unofficial feeding station, but it makes for a satisfying and fun climb.
Fangs Brow and Cold Fell: On the top-tube route guide provided these climbs miss out on the mountain icon next to them, which is a real shame. They’re not as challenging as others, but the road between Whinlatter at 88km and Hardnott at 150km is never simply flat. You are in constant up and down motion on an undulating road, and this is where many riders start to suffer. Although the enthusiastic party and supporters on top of Cold Fell every year is a welcome distraction from the mounting leg pain.
Hardnott Pass: By the time I got here the road resembled a battlefield – discarded cleat covers, riders reduced to walking and others overbalancing as the gradient becomes too much. Putting such a vicious climb at 150km is plain cruel. There is no way to describe Hardnott without calling it brutal. It is long; it’s steep and has become the stuff of legend because so many riders (myself included) are forced to walk up chunks of the 2km length. And when I say steep, I really do mean it: the road hits 33% in places.
Wrynose Pass: Having conquered Hardnott, this becomes an inconvenience more than anything. It is a tough climb, but it’s less brutal and the knowledge that it’s the last proper test of the day propels riders over it with more energy than expected at this point. The relief of conquering it and its 25% gradient is immense.
Blea Tarn: This is a new addition to the route and is a final sting in the tail, with a short steep section of 25%. As if you hadn’t seen enough steep roads already by this point… Happily, after getting over this, there is a great downhill and a generally fast and flat route back to the start in Grasmere.
Image rights: Alpecin Cycling
Murray Cox from London (UK) was one of the 14 lucky ones who made into Team Alpecin 2018. He was one of the first UK team members ever since Team Alpecin went international.