NEARLY 1,500 cyclists took part in the biggest fundraising event of the year for Exeter based cancer charity FORCE on Sunday (June 29).
The Nello bike ride is expected to raise more than £90,000 for the charity, which works locally to support anyone affected by cancer.
The riders tackled either 100 or 55 mile routes.
Event veterans Steve Norman from Axminster and Shane Johnston from Exeter opted for the longer ride to complete an epic charity challenge.
On June 9 they set out from Venice to cycle 1,150 miles to Topsham, arriving to a heroes’ welcome on the eve of The Nello.
After just a few hours sleep, they were back in the saddle and glad to ditch the panniers that had carried their kit over the Alps and across Europe.
Steve, who lost his partner to cancer, said: “We had our ups and downs in all aspects and the temperature was very variable but it was brilliant.”
The pair have already raised nearly £4,000 for FORCE and Shane joined his biking buddy in paying tribute to the work of the charity.
“It’s great to give something back to a charity that does so much and I know it means a lot to Steve,” he said.
By contrast, Nello novices Jules Nicholson and Wendy Richards from Exeter each tackled the 55 miler for the first time.
“It was very good but I didn’t realise Devon had so many hills, even though I’ve lived here all my life,” joked Jules. “The atmosphere was fantastic and we were looked after really well. FORCE is close to my heart because of some family issues with my beloved husband so I thought I’d support them as much as they’ve supported me this year.”
Wendy added: “It was tough but the crowd really take you along and the camaraderie was brilliant. Everybody was cheering each other on – it was very emotional.“ The event started and finished at Topsham Rugby Club with everyone pedalling to Tiverton where the course split.
The 100-mile challenge climbed on to Exmoor via Dulverton and Simonsbath before the turn for home, passing through South Molton and Crediton.
The shorter route was no easy ride either, taking riders up the aptly named Long Drag towards Nomansland then heading across country to Morchard Road where the two routes converged again.
Formerly known as the Century Cycle Challenge, the ride changed its name for 2014 to reflect the history of this special event.
The Challenge started in 2000, in memory of Topsham restaurateur Nello Ghezzo. In 1997, he and a group of friends cycled from Topsham to St Mark’s Square in Venice to raise money for cancer research.
When Nello died of cancer in 1999, his friends decided to organise a cycle ride to raise money in his memory. They chose one of his favourite training routes around the Devon countryside, offering challenging hills, fantastic downhill sections and stunning scenery.
The first ride saw a group of 20 take on the 100-mile challenge, rising to 200 cyclists in the second year and by the fourth year it had grown to 400.
That’s when the organisation was handed over to FORCE and last year entries peaked at 1,500 cyclists, showing not only how support for the event has grown massively but also how popular cycling is across Devon.
Food and wine writer Mark Millon from Topsham took part in the original ride with Nello Ghezzo and said after completing his latest 100 miler: “It’s absolutely wonderful to see how it’s both grown but also kept the original spirit.
"It’s always been very much a community event and everybody at FORCE has understood and appreciated that and kept it entirely in that spirit. It’s run so professionally and we’re very proud. It really is a very special day.
"We’ve had the sun shining and it couldn’t be better. It’s just amazing to see so many people here, riding and raising so much important money for FORCE. ”
Event organiser Sarah Daniels, Head of Fundraising at FORCE Cancer Charity, summed up the day.
“The Nello is a day when old friends and new come together to take part in an exciting, enduring and enjoyable day out,” she said.
“Everybody has their own personal reason for taking part – but they are also all there to support FORCE and raise funds to support people affected by cancer in our area. It is a joy to be part of such a wonderful spectacle and to see the delight on the cyclists faces as they come across the finish line have succeeded in their challenge.
"A great many people support our ride and offer food, water, music and time – the event quite simply could not take place without their generous support, in particular Bike Shed who support so many riders on the route and ensure no-one gets lost and Exeter Physio who sort out all the aches and pains on the finish line! Thank you to everyone who has made 2014 our best year yet.”