Foyle Cycling Club has come a long way since a half dozen founder members first put the wheels in motion ten years ago.
With almost 140 members now swelling the ranks of the club, following an explosion of popularity in cycling, the red and white colours of groups of Foyle riders are a very common sight on the North West’s roads.
Saturday and Sunday mornings see club riders gather in their many dozens at Templemore Sports Complex. In all but the most harsh of Irish weather conditions, keen cyclists brave weekly runs to Inishowen, wider Co Donegal, Co Derry or Co Tyrone.
The club already has a rich and exciting history as it marks its tenth anniversary in 2013, members having displayed the club colours in some of Europe’s most famous cyclosportives including the tough Alpine challenge, La Marmotte in France and the historic Tour of Flanders in Belgium.
The club can also boast having among its members promising young elite cyclist Matthew Doyle, who is currently on a fast track to professional cycling in Belgium, while Belgian based professional, Sean Kelly’s An Post team member Ronan McLaughlin, is also listed as a former FCC member.
Although it is home to some very talented and hardened cyclists - as the growing number of members will testify - FCC’s door is open to peddlers of all abilities.
The relaxed and welcoming atmosphere at the club has ensured a boom in membership in recent years, says PRO Richie Sheerin. “Our membership has now doubled in two years and is fast approaching 140,” he explains.
Female cyclists now make up 25% of the club, with a sharp increase in members taking place over the last few years.
Founder member Ciaran Hampson said the club has become totally transformed in the ten years since its “humble beginnings”. Myself and a few others who were in Roe Valley Cycling Club decided it was time for a cycling club in the city so we had a meeting in around September 2003. There were only four of us first of all and we needed six people to register as a club with Cycling Ireland - but we managed to get few people together and that was that.”
By the end of the first year almost 40 cyclists had signed up, with 60 the following year and FCC ranks built gradually until the boom of the last two years.
“Now we have almost 140 members and last Saturday morning there were 70-80 members leaving from Templemore Sports Complex. That’s a new high, there were times at the beginning when we were lucky to get four on a Saturday morning.”
In 2004, the club enjoyed its first cycling foray on foreign soil and members now regularly take on some of Europe’s more famous cycling routes.
Ciaran says: “This year we’re doing the Raid Alpine or Randonnée Alpine which will involve six stages and 4000m climb every day. By the time we’ve finished we’ll have crossed some of the highest passes in the Alps and climbed the equivalent of two and half times the height of Mount Everest.”
In recent years FCC members have taken on mountain sportive challenges including La Marmotte and the Raid Pyrénéen, and taken part in the Tour of Flanders sportive in the birthplace of road racing in Belgium.
“Riding in big European sportives is fantastic,” Ciaran says. “Last year four of us took part in the Tour of Flanders sportive the day before the professional race, one of the oldest races in cycling. Twenty thousand people took part and thousands of people lined parts of the route and clapped us on, it was a great experience.”
That’s not to say that the events aren’t tough. He explains: “La Marmotte is the toughest cyclosportive in the world. The last time I went up the Alpe D’Huez route it was so hot there were boys lying at the side of the road throwing up.”
However, it’s not all about long distance travelling for the club - there’s plenty going on locally on top of the ‘bread and butter’ weekend runs. FCC has a packed calendar of events for the coming months to mark the City of Culture year.
Richie Sheerin explains: “Foyle Cycling Club has a very exciting year ahead to get involved. Our flagship annual event ‘The Inishowen 100’ attracts cyclists from all over the world to come and tackle the mammoth task of climbing some of Inishowen’s toughest climbs (Mamore Gap known to be one if not the toughest in Ireland) as well as seeing some of the most beautiful scenery the North West of Ireland has to offer.”
He adds: “Also this year the club will play a major part in the City of Culture 2013 Cycle week events. The Maiden City Criterium is an intense road race on closed-off city streets. Both speed and adrenaline will be high as riders must battle not only each other but the steep hills and narrow streets of the historic walled city for cash prizes and the honour of being crowned Derry’s fastest cyclist. The ‘Crit’ will attract some of the best cyclists from all over Ireland and further a field.”
In the North West Cross-Border Sportive, novice and experienced cyclists will cover routes in Derry, Tyrone and Donegal. The event will be organised by FCC with the help of other local clubs, Four Masters and Strabane-Lifford Cycle Club, and will be a sponsored charity event in aid of Foyle Hospice and Sustrans.
The club will also host its first Open Cycling Ireland Race which is expected to attract cycling clubs from all over the island to compete for Cycling Ireland points.
On top of all that, regular club runs continue to take place as usual, leaving from Templemore Sports Complex at 9am on Saturdays and Sundays. Due to a recent surge in demand the club has also started a beginner run from the complex at 10am every Sunday. New members or those new to cycling are very welcome to get involved.
For the full calendar of FCC events log on to www.foylecycling.net or check out the club on Facebook.