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Guide to cycling in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 10:39 20 September 2016

Racing at Ashwell Cycling Club

Racing at Ashwell Cycling Club

Archant

Cycling is having a resurgence in the UK thanks to the British superstars of the track. With Herts a fantastic place to ride and with clubs to suit the coaster to the racer, Neil Metcalfe got on his bike to find out more

Chris Froome’s triumphant ride to a third Tour de France title in four years this summer confirmed something we have known for some time – cycling is no longer a minority sport in Great Britain.

Froome’s wins, together with that of Sir Bradley Wiggins, have made Team Sky the number-one team in road cycling. And before the success on the road, the likes of Wiggo, Sir Chris Hoy, Stotfold’s Victoria Pendleton and Cheshunt-based Laura Trott had racked up medal after medal on the World, Commonwealth and Olympic track to thrust British cycling into the spotlight.

These superstars of the sport – along with huge leaps in bike technology – have made cycling exciting again and the knock-on effect has seen more and more of us now getting on our bikes and heading out on highways and byways all over the country. And Hertfordshire is no different, with dozens of clubs for cyclists of all ages and abilities.

Cycling events, such as the Women’s Tour of Britain coming through the county for its first two years, have also provided a big boost, as has the Tarmac Tour of Hertfordshire Series, which hosts its last ride of the summer this month.

Tarmac Tour of Hertfordshire Series 2015 (Photo: Herts Cycling)Tarmac Tour of Hertfordshire Series 2015 (Photo: Herts Cycling)

Tina Walker, Stevenage and North Herts CTC chairman, has no doubts what the main reason for the popularity of cycling in the county is.

‘I’ve ridden a lot all over the country,’ she said. ‘But in Hertfordshire we’ve got some great big trunk roads that run into London. Off those trunk roads, the lanes are little, windy, and not very busy with cars. So you can get off the beaten track within a few miles. And they are beautiful. I went up to Nottingham around the forests and thought that would be perfect for cycling. It was rubbish. All the roads were big and fast. They just weren’t as good as our little lanes.’

Stevenage with its miles of dedicated cycle tracks is also ‘wonderful for cycling’ ,Tina added. ‘But even though not all the towns are, we’ve got these lanes.’

Another reason Herts has seen its fair share of the cycling boom is its number of clubs, offering a wide variety of choice.

Elspeth GraceElspeth Grace

One of its longest standing, Stevenage & North Herts CTC, began life as part of the national Cycling Touring Club more than 100 years ago. Things have moved on, but it still retains the connection to the national club, rebranded Cycling UK in April.

Tina explained, ‘We’re a local group of a national body. Cycling UK is the national charity and anybody who is part of it is entitled to ride with any of the groups around the country. We at Stevenage are affiliated with the other Hertfordshire groups and we do co-ordinate. Once a year we all get together. There are lots of benefits and freebies, but the main one is insurance. Most of us do have insurance.’

The club also offers different ride types with short outings on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the summer and longer runs on Sundays.

‘We’re a very active group in Stevenage,’ Tina said. ‘On a Saturday afternoon we also have our starter rides, which are at 2pm from Fairlands Valley. They are a little bit shorter and a little bit slower and have a longer stop in a café.’

Lisa Brennauer wins stage 4 in StevenageLisa Brennauer wins stage 4 in Stevenage

While the club doesn’t cater specifically for the more adventurous racing cyclist, there are plenty of clubs in the county which do.

Francis Gallacher is club coach co-ordinator and development officer at Welwyn Wheelers, former home of Olympic Gold medalist Laura Trott and Team Sky rider Andy Fenn.

The club has more than 300 members from all demographics – male and female, young and old. The biggest group is aged between eight and 18 and offers all forms of cycling from road racing and time-trials to track cycling at their ‘hidden gem’ base of Gosling Stadium in Welwyn GC.

Francis pointed to work by the national body as a key driver of cycling’s growth in the UK.

Laura Trott. Picture: BRITISH CYCLINGLaura Trott. Picture: BRITISH CYCLING

‘Promotion of active cycling as a health benefit along with good media publicity and a continuous flow of positive role models has had a big effect,’ he stated.

‘But none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for a change in emphasis and focus from British Cycling about 12 years ago, where the aim from the start was to get more competitive active cyclists riding from the ground up.

‘Those seeds planted all those years ago have produced the fruit and success we see today. Through Go-Ride clubs like ours, across the country, we, with support from British Cycling, are helping to nurture young talented riders on a pathway to success, no matter how far they want to take their cycling careers – Olympic podium or just having fun.’

And the pastime’s supporters say the increase in cycling’s popularity doesn’t look set to stop any time soon.

Jim Brown. Photo: suppliedJim Brown. Photo: supplied

Both clubs are constantly looking at ways to help their burgeoning membership with various events and training sessions.

Schools as well have shown they are are keen to join in the trend, with coaches from the Wheelers working alongside British Cycling coaches to help to promote cycling as an alternative activity to traditional team sports in the county.

Bikeability schemes, the modern equivalent of the old cycling proficiency test, have seen the number of Year 5 and 6 pupils being given the skills to ride rise to around 5,000 in Hertfordshire each year.

All in all it’s a good time to be a cyclist in Hertfordshire.

And as a smiling Team Sky boss Sir Dave Brailsford said on the Champs-Élysées after Chris Froome’s magnificent Tour de France in July, ‘We weren’t a cycling nation not so long ago, but we are now.’

Find a cycling club near you

Welwyn Wheelers, Gosling Stadium, Welwyn GC welwynwheelers.org.uk

Stevenage & North Herts CTC, Stevenage stevenagectc.org.uk

Hertfordshire Wheelers, East Herts herts-wheelers.org.uk

North Road Cycling Club, Hertford northroadcc.org.uk

Cycle Club Ashwell (has a grass track in the village) ccashwell.com

South Herts Cyclists’ Touring Club, St Albans-Hatfield-Hertford southhertsctc.org.uk

Verulam CC, St Albans verulamcc.org.uk

South Herts Cyclists, Hatfield southhertsctc.org.uk

Windmill Cycling Club (montain biking), Hitchin windmillcc.co.uk

Over The Top Mountainbiking, Harpenden ottmountainbike.co.uk

Forty Plus Cycling Club, Hertfordshire fortypluscc.co.uk

The final Tarmac Tour of Hertfordshire Series 2016 event is the Hitchin Cobbled Classic on Sunday September 25. tourofhertfordshireseries.com has details, or follow @hertscycling on Twitter.

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