Ride for Life

cycling and food in aid of cancer research in association with FORCE

The 1st Nello Memorial Century Cycle Challenge

'official' report by

Marc and Kim Millon

Topsham, Devon July 2, 2000 After months of dreaming, training, planning, organising, cajoling, borrowing, and (in the last few days) medal making, baking and cooking, it was finally the day of the 1st Nello Memorial Century Cycle Challenge, an event, indeed an occasion, which would be a fitting way to remember and honour a very special friend by encompassing Nello’s passions in life: his love of shared collective physical endeavour and challenge, of cycling, and of course of food and wine.
I have to be perfectly honest: to begin with, it had not been easy to get people to commit to taking the Nello challenge. Of course there was the hard core of our cycling group who I could depend on from the outset, many of whom had in previous years ridden the route with me and Nello — Ben (who fell by the wayside early on with an unfortunate cycling accident), Pete, Barrie, Phil, Martin, Geoff, Mad Dog Turner, John (Brandon), and John (Woolner). Kevin Fitzpatrick, recovering from an achilles tendon rupture, always planned to come down from London to ride. David Lynn I knew I could count on, too — though not an experienced cyclist, I knew David would manage to get around somehow, out of sheer dogged determination and affection for Nello. Karen of course would ride, that was never in doubt. And Kim, who had completed the circuit previously before with me on our Dawes tandem, but this time would be riding her own Bianchi.
But not everybody was so immediately enthusiastic: for some months, the Topsham Old Gits cycling group (all good friends of both me and Nello, and neither old nor gittish) had been quietly cursing me, genuinely pissed off, I sensed that I expected them to ride the whole way. Of course I did! My feeling at this early stage was that if we had 20 cyclists or more on the day, then it would be a great success and a brilliant start to a possible regular commemorative event.
Gradually the entries began to come in, never in a flood, more a regular but gentle trickle. I had a great response from fellow members of The Guild of Food Writers, some of whom wanted to ride, others to assist with the pasta feast. My sister Michele and her friend Laura decided to come over for the event from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and they would ride with Kim as a trio. Some entries came from unexpected quarters. Indeed, after articles in the local papers, we received enquiries from many people we didn’t know. Some had known Nello or visited his restaurant and were inspired to ride in his memory. Others simply wanted to experience the challenge of ‘doing a century’. Still others were inspired by the magnificent route over Exmoor, a course which Nello and I had mapped out and ridden a number of times together, and which we considered ‘probably the best century ride in the world’. Others wanted to support cancer research in general or FORCE in particular. Perhaps, who knows, some wanted to ride simply in order to be able to enjoy the Nello pasta feast, a perfectly understandable motive (see menu).
In a fit of optimism, therefore, we ordered 50 medals, which were themselves a collective work: Karen sourced the Italian red, white and green ribbon; John Spree, bespoke tailor, sewed them neatly and expertly; Kim and Bella meanwhile stuck on the pasta stars by hand (five to a medal) then nail varnished each bit; and Catherine sewed each medal by hand to its ribbon. As the entries continued to come in, we went back to the trophy shop for more medals, first 60, then 70, finally, just to be on the safe side, 90!
Just as well we did, too: on the day, some 86 cyclists lined up on Topsham Quay, a marvellous turn-out, and a tribute to the affection with which Nello was and still is held in our community. I went over the route details (in conjunction with Pete’s hand-coloured maps that had been given to all cyclists), and said a few words before we set off: reminding that this ride is a legacy of Nello, of bringing friends and new friends together to share physical endeavour and challenges not in a spirit of competition but of companionship, and afterwards to get together and recollect our experiences while enjoying ample and delicious foods and wines. A century ride is always a challenge, even for experienced cyclists, and in hard times or difficult moments, I urged riders to dig deep and take courage and inspiration by remembering Nello, his tireless energy, his constant good cheer, his passion for and love of life.
Nello’s main Topsham cycling mates had the honour of leading out the whole peleton from Topsham. The Mayor of Exeter, Mary Evans, was very kindly on hand to start the ride and we set out at 8:22, myself, Pete and Pete’s friend Colin Lewis, ex-Tour de France rider, bringing up the rear. It was indeed a wonderful sight to see so many cyclists of all ages and abilities and on such a variety of bicycles — racing bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, tandems, children’s bikes (magnificent ride, Vicki!), and yes even shopping bikes (well done, Pat and Liz!) — all taking part, moving down Holman Way in a seemingly endless line, individuals certainly yet pushing forward with a common purpose and collective energy. As we moved up through the field, it was lovely to have a little chat as we passed by, knowing that we’d meet again, perhaps on the top of Exmoor, or in the Welcome Café in South Molton, or back here on the Topsham Quay, or else at the Recreation Ground for the evening Nello pasta feast.
The cycling was great, and not even a prolonged and torrential thunderstorm on top of Exmoor could dampen the cyclists' spirits. I rode with old friends and met some new ones along the way. I particularly enjoyed cycling with young Simon Harris, 12 years old from Paignton who was riding with his mother and father, as well as his 9 year old brother Jamie and 11 year old sister Jennifer, all of whom completed the course. Simon and I rode together across probably the finest stretch of the route: the climb up from Dulverton, then across the moor to Simonsbath where we parted. Though a puncture meant that I had lost my main cycling group, when I descended later to South Molton in the rain, I found that my great mates Pete and John had waited for me at the Welcome Café so that we could cycle back together for the last forty hard miles. That was an epic ride, guys: you rode brilliantly and I’ll never forget it.
All along the way, the support stops were fantastic: plenty of water on hand, moral support and encouragement, (even inner thigh massages), and with the most delicious and ample range of homebaked flapjacks, cakes, Australian crunch, brownies and much else on hand to stoke up energy and keep spirits high. (Special thanks to Mrs. Hague for helping us with that first magnificent tea stop at Bolham.) The support vehicles that followed the route — Brother Ugo and Brother Harry, back in harness once more for the first time since our ride to Venice, were in the Force van; Roger and Lynn Onyett were on hand (complete with portable defibrilator) for any medical emergencies; and there was Crazy Colin, Ian Jay and Jane Cope in the motorcycle with sidecar, Ted and Hazel, Ben, Dave Newman and many others. We all greatly appreciated your efforts: you helped improve the safety of the event, and encouraged many to keep going. Jane Spree kept in touch with all (while managing to do a hundred other things) from her base on the Topsham Quay, and made sure that everyone was where they needed to be.
At the finish, the scenes on Topsham Quay were joyous: as riders came in, they were greeted with huge cheers and presented with their medals by Bella, Grace, Lydia, Vanessa, Gregory and other children as well as by Jane and Catherine, ably assisted by Guy, and many others. The sense of achievement that people clearly gained from doing the century challenge was immense, from the fastest riders to the most leisurely. One of the biggest cheers was when Karen cycled in with David Lynn. Well done, both of you!
Throughout the day, meanwhile, I was able to be relatively relaxed about the evening festivities because I knew that back in our kitchen some very good friends were hard at work on our behalf. Rosie, Emi, Christine, Paola, you were simply marvellous, and the foods that you prepared — a magnificent range of wonderfully fresh and delicious salads, as well as pasta, polenta, sausages and much else — were done with such style, expertise and enthusiasm — and in immense quantity! Your participation really ensured that the quality and level of food was of the highest calibre, and the hungry cyclists who gathered in the evening were stunned and overwhelmed by the delicious and appetising range of the foods on offer.
Other friends who made major contributions to the evening were Michael Caines (chef at Gidleigh Park, Chagford and newly opened Michael Caines at the Royal Clarence, Exeter), whose duck confit and fennel risotto was out of this world; David and Ondine Curley, who first caught, then grilled some incredible mackerel and scallops, as well as cooked sausages, chicken and lamb chops for the masses; John Brandon, who after cycling still had the energy to cook a brilliant risotto; Paola, up from London to first cook pots of polenta (which Nello adored — there had to be polenta on this meal), then grill it over charcoal; Jilly Phillips, who collected, hulled and prepared a massive 80 lbs of strawberries and raspberries from the Boyce Fruit Farm in Shillingford St. George; and winemaker Mario Fontana, who drove all the way from his wine estate in the heart of the Barolo vineyards to bring out the wine for the evening.
This incredible meal (see menu) is still the talk of town! Indeed, in many ways, the food WAS the main event, the century cycle merely an elaborate means of working up prodigious appetites — which is exactly what Nello would have wanted.
In spite of a dismal forecast and the constant threat of rain, we all sprawled about on the grass of the Topsham Recreation Ground, perhaps as many as 225-250 of us, gazing across to the river to the Haldon Hills beyond. What a lovely, beautiful, special corner of the world we are lucky to live in!
And what special people to share this occasion with. This was a cycling and food event, certainly. But ultimately it was mostly about friendship and community, and about the solidarity and companionship that comes from sharing physical challenges while working together for a worthwhile and meaningful cause — remembering a great friend while raising money for cancer research. (Though I don't yet have final figures, I'm happy to say that I'm certain the Ride for Life fund will be able to make a very substantial contribution to FORCE.)
So now it’s all over, Michele and Laura have flown back home, other friends have gone home too, and we’ve all returned to our normal lives. Kim and I would just like to say again a huge thank you to everyone for your magnificent support in every way! This was such a great community event that I have no doubt that it will have to be repeated. Please, however, just at the moment, don’t ask us when or how...

The Nello Pasta Feast Menu


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The 1st Nello Memorial Century Cycle Challenge

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