We ride with the much-trophied Cwmcarn Paragon Cycling Club from South Wales
- Words: Dave Nash | Photos: Huw Fairclough
Based: Cwmcarn, Ebbw Valley, South Wales
Meets: Club rides from the clubhouse in Cwmcarn on Saturday and Sunday. Club 10 every Thursday evening during the season. Regular events and trips to the Newport Velodrome.
Contact: Richard Hopkins
Website: www.cwmcarnparagon.com | Twitter: @cwmcarnparagon
There must be something in the water in Cwmcarn. Tucked away in the Ebbw Valley in South Wales, Cwmcarn Paragon CC has been churning out talented cyclists since its foundation in the early 1930s.
The mining industry may have disappeared from these famous hills, but the club remains one of the strongest in the area and as Huw, our photographer (and Paragon member) shuttles me to the rendezvous point in the town of Caerleon, he talks passionately about a club that is rightly proud of its working-class heritage and achievements.
Over the last 50 years, Cwmcarn riders have pursued professional careers and competed in the Commonwealth Games and World Championships, including Sam Harrison, currently with Team Wiggins.
“We could have become a very elitist club, but there has never been a ‘them and us’ mentality,” says Pete McDonnell, a member for 40 years. “I’ve always been treated as an equal. I remember Julian Winn, just back from the Worlds, praising my climbing in a local road race.”
It’s a midweek ride, but a large group awaits us. Several work in local factories and have taken early shifts so they could join us, including Richie Harris, the club captain, who sweeps to a halt beside me and immediately starts chatting about the club. His friendly welcome is somewhat at odds with his reputation on a bike. “He’s made of granite,” McDonnell tells me later.
Now in his early forties and described as the “driving force” behind Cwmcarn, Harris has been with the club since his teens. He still races regularly and is committed to the Welsh racing scene. “A lot of cyclists around here are just chasing Strava KOMs. What’s all that about?” he adds, with undisguised disdain.
Club secretary Richard Hopkins agrees: “We’re one of the clubs who still enthusiastically promote road races, including our Noel Jones Memorial Road Race every April.”
The competitive spirit of the club is reflected in the make-up of the large group weaving its way through the rolling, lush hills of the Usk Valley. Seventy-seven-year-old John Hatfield is a club legend. He represented GB in the 1970 World Championships and picked up a bronze track medal at the Commonwealth Games the same year: “I
carried the flag for Wales in the 1974 Games,” he says, with obvious pride.
If Hatfield represents the past, then 21-year-old Ryan Brain is the future. Having just finished university,
Brain is looking to secure a pro contract.
In recent years, club rides have increasingly become the focus and every weekend members congregate at the clubhouse — the social hub of Cwmcarn Paragon — before setting off on rides that range from the relatively sedate, to challenging 100-mile loops towards the Brecon Beacons and beyond.
Hopkins, who organises the Junior Tour of Wales, is keen to increase the number of younger riders and women. “South Wales has a couple of youth development clubs in Newport and Cardiff,” he says. “As we’re a little further out, it’s been difficult to recruit younger members.”
He remains upbeat for the future and wants to establish a core women’s section.
After a coffee stop outside Monmouth, a hard core of riders continue west to the English border before turning homewards. I suspected things might get feisty and so they do — the run-in to the clubhouse is enlivened by several attacks off the front, with Harris claiming the spoils. I just about manage to hang on, but I’m quickly brought back down to earth. “It usually kicks off 20 miles before that,” he grins, barely out of breath.
Founded in 1932, Cwmcarn Paragon CC provided an escape from the often arduous work in the mines and local factories of the area, but a competitive streak quickly emerged and members were soon competing in both local and national events.
Post-war, Cwmcarn chalked up some notable successes, winning several Welsh Championships and gaining Welsh records on road and track. In 1970, John Hatfield represented Wales at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games and rode for Great Britain at the World Championships.
The late 80s and 90s heralded one of the club’s strongest periods of growth and success, with members consistently winning on the road, track and trail. It was also a period that cemented Cwmcarn’s reputation for nurturing the talents of young riders, with several successfully pursuing professional careers and representing Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
Members regularly volunteer at cycling events, both locally and nationally, and several have held influential positions in both British and Welsh cycling. The annual club road race, the Noel Jones Memorial, is a National B event and in June, Cwmcarn organised two crits in Llandow, as part of a series run in conjunction with other local clubs.
The walls of Cwmcarn’s clubhouse chart the Paragon’s illustrious history. Always looking to recruit new members, especially women and juniors, Cwmcarn offers a range of social rides and mentoring initiatives.
- In 1970, John Hatfield was the first Cwmcarn Paragon member to compete in the World Champs. Tim Williams, Julian Winn, Simon Jenkins, Andrew Williams, Andy Haines, Annaliese Heard and Megan Hughes have since followed and several former and current members have represented Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
- Julian Winn rode for the short-lived Linda McCartney Racing Team. He won the National Championship in 2002 and post-retirement has held roles with the now disbanded Endura Racing and British Cycling.
- Dave Povall guided UK Youth to Tour Series victory in 2013 and has been DS for NFTO and Madison-Genesis.
- Sam Harrison cut his teeth with the Paragon and has since pursued a career on the track and road. He still regularly turns up to ride with the club and contest the club 10.
- Sweden’s 2004 Paris-Roubaix winner, Magnus Backstedt, is an honorary member, having married former Cwmcarn rider Megan Hughes.
Cwmcarn Paragon club run
The picturesque market town, sitting on the banks of the River Usk, is famous for its flower displays and has plenty of options if you are in need of refreshment.
Located on an undulating plateau that overlooks the Usk Valley to the west and the Wye Valley to the east, the village can be reached via several snaking climbs.
Having climbed up from the Wye Valley, the sweeping descent just north of this small village is memorable for the panoramic and enticing views of the Black Mountains.
The Red Door Deli and Diner is a cycle-friendly cafe set in the grounds of the Millbrook Garden Centre with indoor seating, a raised terrace and great food. The Red Door Deli and Diner, Millbrook Garden Centre, Old Raglan Road, Monmouth, NP25 4BD, 01600 713770.