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Sportive Organiser Interview: Peter Harrison - Virgin Money Cyclone

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Virgin Money Cyclone
Event: 29 June 2013

As the challenge rides of the Virgin Money Cyclone commence on Saturday June 29, event organiser Pete Harrison will complete his customary waving off of all 4000 entrants, just because he likes to see the smile on their faces.

It’s a rare moment of calm for the event organiser who has introduced - alongside the challenge events - Thursday leisure rides while continuing to deliver a Cyclone weekend of spectator-friendly criterium racing in Leazes Park on Friday and men’s Premier Calendar and women’s National Road Race Series events on Sunday.

It’s a task which over a year, consistently totals 70 hours per week of work for the husband and wife team and a personally-underwritten cost of nearly £140,000.

But behind the massive numbers involved is a personal passion for the people involved, with the foundation for Harrison’s rationale from the start to raise money for charity and create an opportunity for anyone to ride their bike.

“I’ve always been very explicit that it would be something for the whole community in the same way as the Great North Run” Harrison said, before detailing more impressive statistics.

“In the last few years, we’ve raised in excess of £1million for charity and we’ve delivered benefits for the local region, too. For example, we pay for the hire and staffing of village halls as feed stations on the challenge rides. One hall makes around £4000 in sales and given the typical hire cost is £150, that’s one example of how the local economy is benefitted in a single day.”

With the challenge rides now attracting 4000 riders and against the backdrop of the four days of events, such an operation now puts the Cyclone at a moment which requires strong and decisive leadership, something which Harrison won’t shy away from.

“I’ve always been very explicit that it would be something for the whole community in the same way as the Great North Run.”

Pete Harrison, organiser of the Virgin Money Cyclone

His first certainty is against creating any kind of growth in numbers which would undermine the notion that anyone can get involved and for Harrison that counts out the possibility closing the roads to create capacity.

“I am completely against closed road sportives” the event organiser of over thirty years insists.

“On the roads of Northumberland you could never accurately and confidently close the roads. We see accidents happening in events where the roads are supposedly closed; you can’t guarantee to protect the riders and you’re liable to upset quite a lot of people who can’t get out of their premises.

“I also don’t like the closed roads making the rider perceive it is a race. I’m very wary of publishing times and winners’ times. I don’t want it to be elitist in this way, for people to be frightened to take part because maybe they can’t go fast enough. Closed road events have one route because that’s all they can accommodate, but I want to involve all the community, not just a select. I don’t want that. On top of this there is the cost of it – a cost paid by the organiser but passed on to the entrant.”

With the future shape of the challenge rides decided, Harrison returns to anticipating a moment between the hard work when he can glean feedback from riders and spectators alike as events conclude on Sunday.

“I like to watch the racing, talk with the spectators and those who have taken part. To see it all come together gives me a great state of satisfaction. But immediately after the finish of the men’s race the 52 week countdown to the next edition starts again. It never stops – we’re already planning 2014!”

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