As a keen cyclist since he was able to ride a trike, Virgin Money savings customer Charlie Kitson, 50, was thrilled when the bank took over the sponsorship of the UK’s biggest cycling festival.
The newly-named Virgin Money Cyclone, held in the North East of England, takes in some of the country’s most beautiful countryside in a weekend which offers something for everyone. The event takes place between 28 June and 1 July 2012.
Read on to see why Charlie, a software developer from Northumberland but based in Milton Keynes, takes part, and how you can get involved.
“I’m a member of my local cycling club and had heard about a new local sportive that was taking place in the summer of 2007. Being local, I decided to take part. I always like to support local activities. I’ve now taken part in every single Cyclone Challenge ride since then. It is a fantastic event.”
The Virgin Money Cyclone festival takes place over four days for the first time this year, and will see around 4,500 participants descend on the North East. It starts on Thursday evening with the Tyne Six Bridges Leisure Ride. New to the festival, this relaxed family event is aimed at less experienced riders. There is a choice of 9.5 or 14.5 mile courses devised by Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity. These take riders along the north and south banks of the River Tyne, passing six of its iconic bridges.
Friday evening’s Leazes Criteriums is a series of sprint events – a draw for hundreds of spectators. It starts with two youth races – U10/12 and U14/16. The supporting senior event is for regular racers who are not full time riders, and entrants must hold either a second, third or fourth category British Cycling licence. And the one-hour finale is a race for the best riders in the country, including medal winners such as world and Olympic champions.
Sunday sees The Beaumont Trophy Premier Calendar race, featuring professional riders. And a new addition to the Sunday programme for this year is the Curlew Cup. Following the success of the Women’s National Road Race Championships as part of last year’s Cyclone festival, the Curlew Cup will form part the women’s National Series.
But it is Saturday’s Virgin Money Cyclone Challenge Rides that make their way onto Charlie’s calendar year after year. There are three routes of differing distance and difficulty to choose from, all starting and ending at the home of Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club.
More than £500,000 has been raised for charity through Cyclone events. Virgin Money Giving is now the official not-for-profit sponsorship website for the Virgin Money Cyclone, offering fundraising support to Cyclone Challenge riders who raise money for charity. Virgin Money Giving also collects Gift Aid for free, so charities could receive £12.15 in total for every £10 in sponsorship received.* (*Based on donations made by Visa Debit card with Gift Aid reclaimed)
As Charlie was already a competent cyclist, he started with the 63-mile challenge: “Cycling has been something I’ve done since the 1970s. So for me, the Virgin Money Cyclone has been a wonderful addition to the sporting calendar – like an equivalent to the Great North Run.
“The 33-mile ride is flatter than the 63-mile, and I wanted to challenge myself. I teamed up with another guy and we helped each other through. It added a nice bit of company to the day. Cyclists are a friendly bunch!”
“It’s also very well run and marshalled. My nephew had a mechanical issue last year but the British Cycling Federation mechanic fixed the problem on route so we didn’t lose much time. You are very quickly out of the urban sprawl and it simply is a wonderful, fantastic day out in the beautiful countryside.”
Even viral meningitis couldn’t stop Charlie from taking part in his beloved Cyclone. Charlie explained “It was a late diagnosis in May 2009. I collapsed before kick off at a football match I had been due to referee.”
Despite four days in hospital with a lumbar puncture and drip, Charlie only spent two weeks off work, and took part in the 63-mile Cyclone Challenge just six weeks later.
“Six weeks away from cycling felt like long enough. My son Jacob and I took nearly eight hours to do it, but it was still a very enjoyable experience.”
Jacob, who will turn 17 the day after the Cyclone challenge, is one of the event’s younger riders. And he has now got the bug too, taking part in the event with his dad every year.
“We’ve been known to stop off for food at a lovely farmyard on the route at Kirkharle, to chat to other riders and break up the day, but this year, we are aiming to be more competitive.
Charlie also now uses the Cyclone as part of his training for other cycling events, using Virgin Money Giving to raise money for Scope: “The Cyclone is brilliant for people of all abilities. The 33-mile route is a great family ride, but achievable for almost anyone. It’s a good beginner’s event.
“The longer routes offer a good challenging ride for those who take it more seriously. The camaraderie is just wonderful for riders and spectators alike. It’s this that keeps me coming back, year after year.
“No matter what distance you choose, you’ll be struck by the friendly atmosphere.”
One man who agrees with Charlie is Virgin’s founder Sir Richard Branson, who has thrown his support behind this year’s event. He said: “When Virgin Money bought Northern Rock I felt it was important that we retained its links to the community.
“Our continuing support for the UK’s biggest festival of cycling is a great example of that commitment. The event itself is fantastic as it caters for cyclists of all abilities, from professionals to families, young and old. When I have been in Newcastle I have seen just how passionate the people are about their football, and they are no different when it comes to supporting and taking part in other sporting events on their doorstep.
“Such is the appeal of the Virgin Money Cyclone that it attracts people from all over the world and grows year on year. I believe that 2012 can be the biggest and best yet.”
Entries are still open for the Virgin Money Cyclone, and spectators and volunteers are also more than welcome at any of the four events (riders must pre-register before 25 June). Organiser Peter Harrison added: “Northern Rock has supported the event since the very beginning, and I am delighted that this relationship will carry on through Virgin Money.
“The event has firmly established itself on the cycling calendar and, with the backing of Virgin Money, I am sure that it can continue to go from strength to strength.”
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