Virgin Money Cyclone: Peter Harrison - interview

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Virgin Money Cyclone: Peter Harrison – interview

When London halts again in August for two-wheeled action, a year on from the Olympic Games, it will do so for a ‘cycling festival’.

But regardless of the success that doubtless awaits Ride London, cycling’s ‘legacy’ event from last year’s Games, it will be playing catch-up.

The north east has played host to a mix of elite men’s and women’s road racing, criteriums, family-oriented fun rides, and a mass participation challenge ride since 2007.

Some 4,000 riders are expected to take part in the Virgin Money Cyclone Challenge rides this June

This year’s Virgin Money Cyclone is expected to draw some 4,000 riders to Newcastle to tackle one of three Challenge Rides from Leazes Park into the Northumberland countryside. The following day, the pros will take centre stage, with the nation’s elite women competing in the Curlew Cup, and some of Britain’s biggest teams, IG-Sigma Sport and Madison Genesis among them, set to contest the Beaumont Trophy.

The man who will make it happen, again, is Peter Harrison, chairman of the Gosforth Road Club, and promoter for nearly 40 years of one of Britain’s most prestigious road races.

“I’m intent on keeping the Cyclone on the same weekend next year,” Harrison says, a reference to the proximity the event will enjoy the Tour de France’s visit to Britain. “I want to keep raising the ante of the whole event.”

Bradley Wiggins won the Beaumont Trophy in 2011, when Harrison successfully tendered to pair the event with the British road race championship. The Tour de France champion began his year in the red, white, and blue stripes of national champion by becoming the 59th winner of the north east’s premier road race.

A further bid to make the Beaumont Trophy the parcours for the national championships could be made again this year, Harrison told RoadCyclingUK, and the possibility of a bid to gain UCI status has not been ruled out.

Harrison has a wealth of experience to draw upon. He first began organising professional road races in the 1980s, and was asked by the city council in 1995, as part of celebrations for a ‘year of sport’ in Newcastle, to stage a criterium. Leazes Park, behind the famed ground of the city’s Premier League football team, was Harrison’s chosen location, one he has retained as the focal point for the events of the Virgin Money Cyclone.

“This was in the very early days of the so-called sportive,” says Harrison. “As we know, there had already been audax events and reliability rides.”

Peter Harrison, centre, will stage another four-day ‘cycling festival’ in the north east this June with the return of the Virgin Money Cyclone

Inspired by the success of the Leazes criterium, Harrison approached the now-collapsed Northern Rock bank, at the time, a key backer of sporting endeavor in the North East, and gained support for an event that would offer something for amateur and professional riders.

“I thought let’s go for different routes for different abilities,” Harrison recalls, “devise a course that will suit all types of riders, all ages and abilities. That’s where it started from.”

In 2007, the event stepped up a gear. The Beaumont Trophy gained a place on British Cycling’s Premier Calendar, and, as Harrison puts it, “the whole festival thing kicked off.”

The event has remained true to his original concept, despite a change of sponsor, and growth that places it among Britain’s biggest mass participation cycling events. At its heart, is Harrison’s belief that the amateur riders should have the chance to experience the same terrain as the pros. The climb of the Ryals, a short, but selective ramp of 1.3 miles embodies this philosophy. All but those on the family rides will experience it first hand; the Challenge riders will face only one ascent, while the professionals competing for the Beaumont Trophy will climb it three times.

This year, riders from Roger Hammond’s Madison Genesis squad will ride throughout the weekend, joining families on the Tyne Six Bridges Ride on Thursday June 27, racing in the elite criterium the following day, and pedaling among the 4,000 riders expected to tackle the Challenge Rides on Saturday, June 28. The day after, they will find themselves among more familiar company, when they contest the Beaumont Trophy.

Harrison, owner of a bike shop, and a regional board member of British Cycling, as well as chairman of the Gosforth Road Club, is well-placed to assess the impact of last year’s Olympic Games and Bradley Wiggins’ historic Tour de France victory. Membership among all sections of the club increased significantly, he says, and while sales of new bikes have suffered with the broader economic downturn, sales of accessories have been strong.

Cycling is in a good place, he believes, for the year ahead. The Virgin Money Cyclone, offering a mix of ‘challenge’ and competitive events, and offering for the first time this year a chance to ride alongside the professionals, will continue to break new ground.

Click here for a chance to win free entry to anyone of the three Challenge Ride routes (33, 63, or 104 miles), accommodation in the same hotel as the pros, and the best seat in the house for the Beaumont Trophy – from a team or commissaire’s car.

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