Fred Whitton 2014 – In Numbers


With 10 major climbs, including the gear-shattering Honister and Hardknott passes, almost 4000m of climbing, and 180km of beautiful lake country roads, Fred Whitton is the hardest cycle sportive in the UK. To add to the route, the early May date practically guarantees an (un?)healthy mix of constant rain, strong winds and cold weather.

I had registered for, and won, a ballot entry for the 2014 event, but chickened out had to pull out because of logistical+financial reasons.

While checking if registrations for FW2015 had opened yet, I came across the results data from 2014 event. Here’s a quick look at those numbers.
(Data source:

Time & Speed Distribution

Average time taken to finish the course was 8 hours 51 mins (avg speed: 20.69 km/h), close to the median of times taken at 8 hours 49 min (median speed was 20.4 km/h).

The fastest rider flew around in a time of just 6 hours 8 mins, with an average speed of 29.35 km/h.
The slowest rider bravely hung on to finish in a time of 13 hours 28 mins, averaging 13.37 km/h.

cumuRidersUnderHoursThe surprising bit for me here was that more than 80% of the riders finished in under 10 hours. Must be some light and fast riders taking on this challenge!

My planned time of 11 hours would’ve put me in the bottom 5% of finishers. If I’d finished at all.


Fred Whitton Section1Looking at the three segments, the first one, from Grasmere to Braithwaite had the most climbing – 1607m – including the Kirkstone, Honister, and Newlands passes.

Fred Whitton Section2Segment 2 started with Whinlatter Pass, but the only other key climb on it was the smallest of them all – Cold Fell. In total climbing (725m) and ascent-ratio (17.26m/km), it sure looks like the easiest segment.

Fred Whitton Section3Segment 3 looks mostly flat but comes at end of a long day. And has the hardest climb of them all – the Hardknott pass! Combined with an ascent of Wrynose, this gives this segment 947m of climbing with the highest ascent-ratio at 18.94 m/km. That ascent ratio doesn’t matter much (as visible on profile graph) since all of it is clustered in those 2 climbs with flat miles before and after.

My assumption was that the 2nd section would be the fastest, with 1st and 3rd close together in avg speed. There was a surprise in the results:
The fastest segment was the first, the hilliest one – averaging 22.61 km/h.
The middle segment, the supposedly easiest one, was the slowest of the three – averaging just 18.10 km/h!! Experienced Fred Whitton riders warn about this segment all the time. The timing results showed the warnings were not off!

In fact, there were just 63 riders, out of 1738 finishers, who were faster in the 2nd segment than either of the other two. 96%+ riders were slowest in the middle segment!

Age Group & Gender

The data also helpfully provides the age group & gender of riders. So, next looking at the participation ratios, and speeds across these divides.
Gender-ParticipantsAG-ParticipationAs with most cycle sportives around the country, an overwhelming majority of participants in this sportive as well are men.

Surprisingly, the M40-59 age group outnumbers the M20-39 AG. I had expected it to be the other way around. For women, the rate declines with age (though the numbers are too small to be taken as a trend).

AG-Gender-SpeedComparing speeds, the fastest group is, as expected, M20-39, though M40-49 isn’t far behind. Those two AGs also constituted ~73% of riders, thus pushing the average speed to above 20km/h, despite all other AGs being slower than that mark.

Standout performers for me were 4 tandem finishers – faster than 3 other AGs despite lugging 2 people’s weight and those heavy bikes around. They mustn’t have ridden them the way some couples do, right? #freeriding

Gender-SpeedAverage speed for female riders was more than 2km/h slower than that for males. However, the slowest rider defied both gender and age stereotypes – it was someone from M50-59 AG.

Mountain goats

We also have timing data for the Newlands pass climb. The easiest thing to do with this is to calculate VAMs (using a roughly estimated vertical ascent of 210m).

Don’t you love it when real life data actually fits closely to a bell curve? I do! :)

Average VAM was 989 Vm/h (median: 985.66 Vm/h). Fastest climber had a Vm/h comparable to a top pro at 1,521 Vm/h, while the slowest climber (apart from me, if I’d ridden) went at 448.6 Vm/h. Both were from the M40-49 AG.

Stretching the reality a bit further, and comparing the VAMs to those of professional cyclists, we have:

  • 2 riders who’d rank in top 20 of an average TdF mountain stage,
  • 38 who’d finish in the peloton on that stage,
  • 392 who’d finish in the grupetto, and
  • 1331 who’d get relegated for finishing outside the time cut-off :)

This wayward classification is based on these estimates.

Wherever you rank on that VAM calculation, I’m sure the long descent into the beautiful Newlands valley made the pain worth it!

Back to the start

This post happened because I got hold of that data. I got hold of the data because I was on the Fred Whitton website looking for 2015 entries. I was on the website, because I intend to successfully ride the challenge in May 2015 (and hopefully finish closer to middle of the pack). So, getting back to the start – training for FW2015.

After 3 years of enjoying the medium route at the Ronde, I’d planned to ride the full, 250km route in 2015. However, as things stand right now, I may end up skipping the Ronde completely this year*. This gives me an opportunity to base my (cycling) season completely around training for the Fred. However, it also removes the 2 months of enforced training before the Ronde – spring sportives in Feb & March, combined with weekend rides. So, need to get back to the drawing board and start preparing a new training plan. Current, broad thoughts are kind of like this:

  • Medium rides in Nov-Dec (sub 100K),
  • Long rides in Jan & Feb (building to 200K), and
  • Long & hilly rides in Mar & Apr (100 mile+ & 3000Vm+)

Will post anew once I have some more details on that training plan.


  • I’m already missing the cold, damp air, the cobbles, the crowd on Paterberg, pasta the night before and steak the night of, and more than the rest – frites with mayo and ketchup. I love Flanders in spring :)
Fred Whitton 2014 – In Numbers

Leave a Reply