We hit the hills with the South Coast stalwarts who are back on the up
- Words: James West / Photos: Daniel Gould
Based: Brighton, East Sussex
Members: 223, with 15 per cent female members.
Meets: St Ann’s Well Gardens, Hove, BN3 1RS. Saturday social ride: normally 40-65 miles, meets 8.00am for 8.30am start. Come and try it: a gentle 25-30 mile route. First and third Sunday each month. Meet Saturday 9am for 9.30am start.
Website: www.brightonmitre.co.uk | Twitter: @brightonmitre
Oh, not again,” mutters Tony Milsom, one of Brighton Mitre CC’s social secretaries, on the steep ascent of Chilling Street, as he comes to a halt. As the rest of us regroup after suffering to the top of the climb, with the steam train of the Bluebell Railway chugging along in the distance, it becomes clear that Milsom’s crank has broken.
Before his ride-ending mechanical, Milsom had been telling me all about the activities the club are involved in organising. Day trips across to France are a regular occurrence, as are club runs followed by an afternoon in a cafe watching Tour de France stages, and every spring there is a training week in Denia, Spain.
“We also have the standard AGM and the club awards night — we’ll be having some cycling-themed Generation Game-style activities there, such as who can blow up the inner tube fastest. And a barrel of beer, of course!” says Milsom.
“Tony and Alex, our social secretaries, have done a great job of building the social side of the club. We all enjoy each other’s company, but unless someone organises something, the connections can easily be restricted to social rides,” confirms Martin Thomas, communications director for Brighton Mitre.
At the meeting point in Hove, I meet Robin Johnson, who’s been a member for 53 years: “I joined in 1964 — AD, not BC!” jokes Johnson. Katerina Avramides, who is heading out with the fast group, is keen to point out how much Johnson does for the club. “He organises all our time trials and puts up all the signage, whatever the weather,” she says. Respect for all club members, and an appreciation of what they put in, seems an integral part of the culture at Brighton Mitre.
With Alison Lewis in charge of women’s development, female membership has risen to 15 per cent. “Back in 2015, when I was elected as the first women’s rep on the Mitre Committee, there were just nine female members. There is now a strong community of women in the club. We are all supportive of each other and encourage each other to come out on Mitre rides and give racing a go.”
“The rest of the committee are in awe of Alison’s dedication, and the work she has done to get more women and new members into the club,” Thomas tells me.
Indeed, one of the groups that goes off is a largely female group, but there are women in all the groups that head out on the 65-mile Saturday social.
Rider development at all ages is a key focus of the club. And there is a close link with Preston Park Youth Cycle Club, with many of their members coming through to join BMCC once old enough.
Young riders are something the club is increasingly focusing on. Club treasurer Simon Dowling tells me about plans for a race team, under the tutelage of Mike Coyle, the current national road race champ for his age group. “He’s working on setting up a race team for next year that will also work as a youth development team.”
The racing club harks back to the club’s beginnings and seems a popular idea among members, as Thomas says. “This feels right for us — it’s great to have built such a vibrant social riding scene
but we don’t want to lose touch with our racing roots.”
When Kidd Hill arrives a short while after Tony’s mechanical, I’m quickly left wishing I was heading back with him — with gradients consistently in double figures, it comes as no surprise to learn that this climb is in the 100 Greatest Climbs book.
Despite the mechanicals suffered on the road, and some punishing acents (the route takes in almost 1,500m of climbing), Thomas succinctly sums up the club: “The Mitre feels as though it’s in rude health in its 124th year. As its current guardians, we’re proud and delighted to see the club doing so well.”
Formed in 1894, the same year as the Proms, Brighton Mitre has run continuously for over 120 years. Its name was derived from the club’s meeting place: the Mitre Hotel, Brighton. Not even the Second World War prevented the club continuing to operate and post-war there was a huge resurgence in bike racing in Brighton, with crowds of up to 10,000 attending the Bank Holiday race meets at Preston Park Velodrome.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the club was heavily involved in promoting track meetings at the track in Preston Park, Brighton. In the 2000s the focus shifted to promoting crits in Hove Park.
The club nearly disbanded in the late 80s and by the early 90s there were just five members, who would meet up for a ride on the weekend after a weekly social in a local community hall every Friday night.
Despite this, Brighton Mitre still managed to organise two 24-hour events — one in 1994 and the other in 1999. This small group then decided to build up some more interest and, after a couple of sponsors came on board, the club continued to grow to the current level. Membership today stands at 220.
Richard Smith was George Herbert Stancer Memorial (G.H.S.) 10-mile champion in 1974 when a member of Brighton Mitre CC. He was a student at Varndean, Brighton, at the time. Other notable past winners include Chris Boardman, Alex Dowsett and Steve Cummings.
Mike Coyle was over-50 LRVC national road race champion in 2014, and has been a first-cat. rider for some 30 years.
Mike Coyle became LVRC over-55 national champion in June 2017. He also came second at the Staplefield Race of the Surrey League in July.
Ben Huttly won the Lewes Critérium in June. A team comprising Will Taylor, Ben Huttly, Max Kingdon and Alex McLaren came fourth overall in this year’s L‘Etape de la Defonce two-day stage race in Wales.
Ed Raynard took third place at Preston Park in the Sussex Cycle Racing League (track) in the veterans’ category and a second at Herne Hill in 2017.
Rory Palmer took second place in the same Sussex Cycle Racing League event at Preston Park.
Brighton Mitre CC club run
1 Bluebell Railway
It’s not guaranteed that you’ll spot the steam trains running locally while cycling through the area, but you may see the steam rising on the horizon.
2 Kidds Hill
Known locally as ‘The Wall’, this climb features in the 100 Greatest Climbs book, and is brutal. But the view from the top is breathtaking — literally!
3 Ditchling Beacon
Famous for past appearances in the Tour de France (1994) and Tour of Britain (2014). Don’t expect a KOM as Lars Petter Nordhaug, then of Sky, took it in 2014 (3.57).
Stan’s Bike Shack is a rest-stop and meeting place for cyclists and ramblers (not visited on this ride), located in West Sussex. It has a great range of tea, speciality coffee, hot chocolate and cake. Bike spares are available and at times there is even live music. The Old Farm Shop, Bines Road, Horsham, RH13 8EQ