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Having had to cancel my entry last year due to work commitments the FW was my main plan for this year. Coming from just south of the Lake District I am somewhat familiar with the area and planned this year to do it with Adrian a friend of mine who is from the Lakes. I felt somewhat unprepared with just the Hell of Ashdown under my belt this year (and that felt pretty tough at the time) plus a few Cowplain rides but took comfort in the fact that Adrian was in a similar situation albeit with a few rides in the Lakes to familiarise his legs. We set off with the plan of riding round more or less together and just seeing how it went but trying to resist the temptation of following any wheels that came past to protect ourselves from later in the ride. With 1700 riders entered I was expecting check-in carnage so opted for registering the day before and was introduced to a level of efficiency I have not yet experienced in a Sportive including photo ID checks and personally applied ’dibbers’. With a cut-off at 60 miles of 12.30pm and rain predicted to properly set in around that time we opted for an early start and were off very smoothly with no queues at 6.20am. The first few climbs of the day indicated the way of the rest of the ride with me pulling a gap out on the climbs and Adrian closing it rapidly on the descents . The weather for the first few hours was cool and slighty drizzly and we made good time to Keswick with having covered the first 2 passes of Kirkstone and Matterdale assisted by our inability to resist temptation and contour Ulswater with some fast moving riders. I rode a few miles with a couple of whippets who mentioned they were aiming for 7 hours so I realised that I would be best not to try to hang on for too long but it was good while it lasted. With a brief stop at Keswick we pushed on to Honister and the first brutally steep pitch of the day at 25% where my misgivings about my gearing choice became reality as I fought my way up on a 36/28. I had actually bought a triple chainset last year in order to give myself half a chance to get round but never got round to fitting it and ended up getting a new CX bike so decided to take a chance on it with standard gearing. I was under no illusion that this minor success would mean I would get up the big climbs after 95 miles but my legs were feeling good at this point. The first feed station came at Buttermere (42 miles) with a fantastic layout of 'real’ food (no gels here... ) including my personal favourites of tuna sandwiches and millionaires slice but then straight into Newlands before the first checkpoint at the foot of Whinlatter. True to the weather forecast the wind started to pick up and the rain set in properly on the descent from Whinlatter. I had (incorrectly) pictured Cold Fell as 'undulating’ and yet it proved to be the hardest section of the day with rain, wind, fog and many false flats and as I got colder and wetter I was forced to push on and leave Adrian in order to try and stay warm (I failed ). I was amazed at the number of people who even in this weather were out shouting encouragement. The many riders in shorts must have seriously regretted their clothing choice and as I arrived at the feed station I was greeted by a surreal scene of a car park full of abandonned bikes and a village hall full of foil blanketed cyclists attempting to handle hot drinks with shaky hands. Many had the look of wanting to abandon but without the means of getting home and so were forced to prepare for the hardest climbs still to come. At this point we were met by Adrian's wife and were able to get some dry clothes which I struggled to manipulate with frozen hands so it was some time before we readied ourselves to leave. It was an opportune moment to fit a spare back wheel for Adrian as he had broken a spoke (clearly putting some power down and nothing to do with the weight.... ). Even with dry shoes and overshoes plus thermal, fleece and two waterproofs along with winter gloves it took half an hour of riding to regain some warmth and stop shivering. It was a sheltered run in to Hardknott, the big climb of the day and still feeling good I felt capable of at least attempting to ride it all although approaching the foot it was possible to see many people walking already. Feeling more of a fight than a climb the gradient tipped from 25% to 30% and I struggled to turn the pedals around at all. I thought at one point I would manage to do it without stopping but was forced to catch my breath just before the final and steepest section but was pleased (even as a MTBer who doesn't mind walking ) to get to the top having ridden it all - not something I had expected when I set out in the morning. As I paused there on the outside of a hairpin I had the alarming experience of watching a car descending the inside of the bend on 3 wheels through the sheer steepness as it crept down at walking speed. It must have been even worse for the rider just behind me who had this coming towards him . The descent was sketchy negotiating the steep hairpins in the wind and rain with potholes and gravel and marshals posted to explicitely slow riders down.....but exciting with it . The final pass of Wrynose would normally feel a tough climb but was mentally in the bag after Hardknott and the descent into the Langdale valley was awesome as the road straightened out we could properly let our brakes off and the view opened up ahead. Throughout the day we lost count of the times we saw the technical support vehicles from Saddleback (the main sponsor) fixing bikes by the side of the road. The lakeland roads are tough and take their toll on bikes as well as riders. With the first rider in just under 6 hours I am amazed how that sort of pace can be maintained over those roads and hills. Probably because we were not chasing a time (and I luxuriated with some long and plentiful stops ) I managed for the first time to properly eat and drink and can vouch for the Nuun tablets that I found recommended on the I-team pages (Steve Smith was it?) as I suffered no cramping at all. This was a fantastic but tough event that fully lived up to my expectations and I cannot wait to do it again. I might even have the bravery to follow a few wheels next time....