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Rotary and Cycling - Living Heartbeats

by Roy Spilsbury

Prestatyn Criterium 1976: group photo after race
Prestatyn Criterium 1976: Mayor Cllr Hugh Irving (centre) and Pontin's Cup winner Les Fleetwood (Liverpool Mercury) (2nd R)

Elsewhere we have an account of how a Chester Rotarian, Rob Owen, raised funds for the charity 'Mercy Ships' by visiting many of the Rotary Clubs in North Wales and Merseyside by bicycle. As a keen cyclist and member of CTC it was a labour of love that took Rob on his journey. But we should not forget that Rotary Clubs serve the public in many ways, and as a former member of the Prestatyn club I was privileged in the 1970s to trigger a series of events which have resonated over the years.

It was in 1976 that many towns, villages and organisations throughout the country were using the celebration of the Queen's Jubilee to organise social events. As the club's community service chair, I proposed we should run a cycle race, seeing it as a way of bringing an exciting spectacle to the town, but also indulging a little personal pleasure at the same time. Having a background only in the touring side of cycling and knowing little of the finer points of organising racing on public roads, I had not a hint of what I was letting the club in for.

What followed was a decidedly vertical learning curve. We needed someone with a background in organising cycle races for advice. But there was no one local. Enquiries led to the Deeside Olympic club, which had a tradition of mass start road racing. A few telephone calls and Alan Belton and Andy Whitehead from Deeside hotfooted it up to Prestatyn to survey the scene. Without doubt a closed circuit criterium race with spectators having a clear view of the race's progress was what we were looking for.

Finding the circuit was not difficult. Between the seafront Grand Hotel and the Lido, or the Nova as it's now called, the promenade was sufficiently wide to permit echelon riding if there was a strong westerly blowing. And on the return leg Beach Road East provided a road of sufficient width to provide a good run-in for the lap prizes and high speed bunch sprints. As an extra bonus the raised land in the centre of the circuit provided a perfect view for spectators.

Once the circuit was identified, it was all systems go. Local householders were approached, and without hesitation they agreed to have their road closed to traffic for three hours. The bus company were happy to oblige, and the management of the Grand Hotel agreed with arrangements to restrict vehicles during the period of the race

My colleagues in Rotary were a dream. Crowd control barriers, hay bales, broadcasting equipment, all were transported and heaved into place. Generous sponsorship was received from Pontins and Prestatyn Town Council, and Ken Matthews, a top flight cycling commentator was enlisted from Liverpool. His report went out nationwide. For the Rotary Club, working alongside another organisation, which served the public in quite a different, way provided its members with yarns for many months to come.

But it was what happened locally for cycling that changed the lives of so many. Within days four local riders formed the Rhyl Road Club. But without the necessary expertise and contacts, they made little headway until Maurice Broadbent joined them. With his skill as an organiser, Maurice had already established himself as a respected road racer and time trialist, specializing in cyclo-cross during the winter months. He was a North West of England champion. Shortly afterwards a young Jon Harland joined together with Bill Twigg, who ran the Point of Ayr CTC section.

It was then that the club took off, attracting many to its warm hospitality. Over the years since, many events have been organised and champions have emerged. Jon proved himself not only an all round rider of talent, but also a skilled press officer, delivering regular reports to the press.

Sadly, it was as the next generation of riders was emerging that the club moved on to the world scene with the worst UK cycling tragedy of all time. On that bright frosty Sunday morning in January 2006, when many of us where either still in bed for a Sunday lie-in or considering where to go for a drive, a group comprising three generations of Rhyl cyclists were setting out on a 60 mile cycle ride for the sheer pleasure of being alive. We now know what happened, if not yet the nature of closure.

But it is worth considering the lessons to be learned from the social milieu of our roads, using rivers as an analogy. Healthy rivers are those rich in the products of nature, with an abundance of organic life. And healthy roads are those with mums pushing wheelchairs, and families out for a bike ride. When we see far more of the latter, we can truly say that we are well on the road to having a Living North Wales. Cycling is the litmus paper - the acid test.


Prestatyn Criterium 1977: leaders racing

Prestatyn Criterium 1977: won by Terry Dolan, Liverpool Mercury CC (photo Rhyl Journal)


Maurice Broadbent chatting to participants at Llandudno' Criteriums 2003

Maurice Broadbent Rhyl CC. Llandudno Cycling Criteriums, 14th September 2003

This article first appeared in the monthly magazine North Wales Living in March 2007