Giles Belbin joins one of the Britain’s largest clubs on Jurassic coast - the Mid Devon Cycling Club
- Photos by Hugh Fairclough
It’s 9am on a Sunday morning and in a car park high above the famous Cobb, the curved stone pier that shields the small harbour in the Dorset town of Lyme Regis, I watch as a fully laden coach and three vans pull up and scores of Mid Devon CC members pour out. As bikes are readied for a ride along the lumpy Jurassic coast back to the club’s base at Kingsteignton, I introduce myself to organiser Jamie Horton.
“This is the fourth year we’ve done a ‘ride back’,” he tells me. “They are always well received — 60-70 miles with a couple of stops on the way. It offers some variation to our riding.”
Forty-one riders are split into three groups. The climbing starts immediately with a stiff ascent out of Lyme Regis. Soon everyone is scattered to the wind, but with three vans following, support is never far away. These are roller-coaster roads with a spectacular coastline for backdrop.
One member providing that support is Chris Yalland, who has been with the club for four years.
“I do like riding on my own, but it is so much better with a club,” he says. He tells me the club is hugely supportive. “Take today, the coach and the lunch stop is all paid for. But we give our time to pay it back. Today I’m here to support and while I’d rather be riding that’s all part of being in a club.”
After coffee and cake on Sidmouth seafront the climbing starts again as the route scales the narrow Peak Hill. The views are remarkable as the gradient begins to bite before the roller-coaster tips downwards towards the Exe Estuary and finally some flatter roads.
Talking to members a common theme emerges that this is a club that offers something for everyone, whatever your ability and goals. I meet Helen Anthony, who is riding with today’s fast group and who joined the club around three years ago.
“It is difficult being a woman if you become a fast cyclist,” she says. “There aren’t that many ladies that cycle fast but the club is really welcoming to women and the chaps are really good on the faster rides. The club is great because it will help take you to the level you want to be.”
The club hosts introductory sessions for potential members, lends equipment and organises maintenance courses. Social evenings and quiz nights are arranged throughout the year.
“Sometimes you turn up on a Sunday morning, especially in the winter when everyone is dressed up [in winter gear] and you don’t know who they are,” Jamie Horton says.
“The social evenings are really nice to get that camaraderie going and people can put a face to a name.”
At our second stop I talk with Linda Simpson and Carol Gibbs, both of whom have joined the club in the past couple of years. “It was friendly from day one,” says Simpson. “It is very inclusive and very proactive. I think the club’s commitment to cycling is extraordinary.”
“They cater for all abilities which is brilliant and has a great social side. I love it,” says Gibbs. Simpson agrees. “I’ve spoken to a few women who have told me about some clubs that have not been quite so friendly for women and for slower riders,” she says.
“A couple of times a friend of mine has told me she got ‘spat out the back’ on [other] club rides. That just doesn’t happen at Mid Devon. There’s an etiquette that is entrenched in the club where everyone is encouraged.”
Mid Devon CC was formed in 1930 with 17 members under the name Newton Abbot Wheelers, and is one of the largest and most active cycling clubs in the country. The club has a full and varied programme — on the day of the ride back from Lyme Regis a further eight rides headed out into the Devon countryside from the club’s base at Abbrook Park, Kingsteignton. There is a good mix of new and old members; Chris Ash tells me that four generations of his family have joined the club, starting with his father in the 1930s.
MDCC promotes a number of events including the Totnes-Vire stage race and six open time trials. In March, the club hosted the opening round of the 2018 Youth National Circuit Series in Torbay.
Every aspect of cycling is covered and youth development is particularly important to the club with a strong junior men’s section. To help promote youth cycling regular coaching sessions are organised at the Torbay Velopark, where MDCC is the host club.
Over the years five MDCC riders have claimed national titles in a variety of age groups and disciplines, including Colin Lewis, Jeremy Hunt and Yanto Barker. Achievements during the past year include double gold for Karl Allen-Dobson at the 2017 Invictus Games and world titles for Don Brooks (world age group triathlon champion) and Robin Delve (Masters cyclo-cross age group champion).
There were also National Championship podiums for Harrison Wood (junior 25 TT), Catherine Kilburn (age group MTB cross-country) and Matt Langworthy (senior 10 TT).
The Dartmoor Classic sportive has been organised by the club since 2007, the brainchild of the club’s former vice-president, Ron Keegan. Run by volunteers, the Classic has a reputation for professionalism with first-rate marshalling and well-stocked feeding stations. There is mechanical back-up, paramedic support and a welcome village at Newton Abbot Racecourse. The event regularly features in lists of the nation’s top sportives.
Colin Lewis, president
CW: Many readers will know that you had a successful career in the 1960 and 70s; when did you first become a member of MDCC?
CL: I was 17 years old. A friend and I got drunk one Saturday night and he came round the next day and said, “Colin, don’t you ever get fed up with this, smoking too much, drinking too much? I want to take up a sport.”
He bet me that he would get into the Torquay Utd colts team in two years; I doubled the bet and said I would go to the Tokyo Olympics in four years. So I started riding my fixed wheel bike. On a hill one day a guy caught me so I accelerated and dropped him. He got back to me on the descent, told me I was good, and arranged for me to meet the club. It went on from there… Four years later and I made it to Tokyo [in October 1964].
CW: When did you become president of the club?
CL: It was about 20 years ago. I am very proud because when I first joined the club was 48 members. We run the best sportive in the country and support all sorts of riders to do lots of different things. It’s amazing where the club has gone.
CW: How would you like to see the club develop?
CL: We have a lease on our headquarters in Abbrook. I think we need to develop it to provide a state-of-the-art building for club members.
Ride highlights: Mid Devon CC
1 Peak Hill, Sidmouth
A stiff climb out of Sidmouth that has featured in the Tour of Britain. With stretches at over 20 per cent it is narrow and painfully steep. Terrific views over the Jurassic coast.
2 Exe Estuary
Part of the trail that links Exmouth with Dawlish, this is an off-road section that skirts the eastern flank of the Exe Estuary. Birdlife is abundant in the marshes.
3 Teign Valley
The B3193 sweeps through the wooded valley with the river Teign never far from the eye. The wilds of Dartmoor lie to the west, making for a dramatic final stretch.
Woodleigh Coach House. Situated on the northern fringes of Dartmoor, this cafe is a firm club favourite, especially given its proximity to the Teign Valley road that leads to the club’s base at Kingsteignton. A Grade II Listed building built in the late 1890s out of local stone, and incorporating a guest house for longer stays, the cafe has seating for up to 100 customers, a sheltered terrace and glorious countryside views. If coffee and cake won’t suffice, there is hot food and local beers on offer too. Cheriton Bishop Exeter EX6 6JL. www.woodleigh-coach.com