Organiser Spotlight: Will Wright on the Polka Dot Challenge

Organiser Spotlight: Will Wright on the Polka Dot Challenge

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2012 sees Will Wright, founder of Will’s Wheels CC, take over the running of one of Britain’s longest running sportive events, the Polka Dot Challenge – Spud Riley Memorial Gran Fondo. We caught up with Will after sampling the 54 mile variant of his 17th June event in the glorious Peak District to find out more about the history of the event and plans for the future.

EA: So the club (Wills Wheels CC) was born out of the shop?

WW: Pretty much so yeah. Originally I was in the Manchester Velo, one of the oldest Manchester clubs, and I was close friends with Spud (George Riley) and his family. We raced together, did the usual stuff that most cyclists did back then – go to the Isle of Man and things like that, together with the family.

With other clubs folding and the cycling landscape ever changing, we developed our own. It started off as a racing team, as many of them do. The guys and the girls who were racing all had families and the cycling took a more leisurely approach. Over the last ten years we’ve specialised in longer tours and crazy days out really. We just head out to Wales or Shropshire and do anything from 12 to 30-40 hour bike rides in one hit.

EA: Tell me more about these long rides...

WW: In the early 2000s we did a series of rides called “The famous Five “ and “The 10 commandments” – the first ones starting in the 100-150 mile mark. We’d all meet at the shop on a Sunday morning, really early, Saturday evening for the really big ones. Chris Riley planned our routes which we later pencilled in on our map in the back of the shop. We’d head off for the day usually into the following evening – get back early hours of a Monday morning. Wales, Scotland east and west coast. We’d do a Tenby one where we’d head off from the shop on a Saturday and return on the Sunday. A friend of mine had a cafe in Tenby next to the beach so we’d have our breakfast there, turn around and ride home. I think it was about 430 miles that one...

EA: I suppose it’s a bit of a natural progression from organising informal rides like that to organising sportives like the Spud Riley. It’s one of the original events on the calendar isn’t it?

WW: Yeah – it began in the early 2000s – there was a group of guys including Dave Riley who did some of the Grand Fondos in Italy and the Dolomite tours for their annual holidays. Dave has always been the organiser and ring leader from that group of guys – he first did a trial run sportive called the Hot 100 – which was the original circuit that went over Winnats Pass. He developed it from there over the next 11 years. However, his health hasn’t been great over the last few years, hence the reason why he’s handed the organisation over to Wills Wheels CC.

EA: So that’s how you’ve come to be involved in the event this year?

WW: Dave has been advising us in this transitional year but this will be the first year that the club (Will’s Wheels CC) has taken it over. We’ve got a close relationship with Dave and Will’s Wheels is a club likened to the (Manchester) Velo in terms of morals and background. Dave wanted someone to take it over and run it as it was intended, something for the cancer charity and something where people could come and enjoy some good countryside.

EA: The proceeds of the ride go to Christies Hospital in Manchester don’t they?

WW: This will be the first year when we are going to split the proceeds. Once all the running costs have been extracted from it, half of the proceeds will go back into club funds and half will go to Christies as it has done over the past few years. The club proceeds are invested in other events that we organise. We are quite heavily involved in the Tameside Cycling Circuit where we organise a youth league. Locally, we promote time trials, track nights and trips plus other bits and pieces that we put on for our club and others in the area. It’ll be good because there’ll be more of a benefit for local cycling and the club due to funds raised from the Spud Riley. We get over 40 kids under ten attending the Tameside league every week out of over 100 riders signed up to the league.

EA: This is your first year running the event – what sort of challenges have you faced?

WW: Prior to us taking over, Dave was always really methodical in what he’d done – everything has been noted and jotted down. The event is already complete, but we are just changing a few bits and pieces.

Our club has just short of 80 members at the moment and it’s going to take nearly 50 of them to run it on the day. We’re going to have more marshalling points and the second feed will be in a village hall with a hot drink feed (in case the weather turns nasty). There will also be a few extra warning points we are including to increase safety. Apart from that, we’re just busy informing people of what they’re going to be doing on the day and making sure the event runs smoothly for all concerned.

We’ve got quite a bit of planning to do and paperwork to get out, but the way Dave Riley has run the event over the past 10 years has worked extremely well. He’s had very few incidents on the ride so it’s really just rolling improvements and updates. It’s been pretty time consuming but that’s what you take on when you agree to do it.

We’ve got a good handful of guys and girls who are putting in a lot of hours getting the event on websites and getting the word around.

EA: One of the things that attracts riders to the Spud Riley is that it explores the Peak District’s narrow unclassified roads and takes you away from the traffic.

WW: As soon as you get out of the first mile-and-a-half of built up area you’re pretty much in the sticks, where most of the locals like to go riding their bikes. If you do the long circuit, once you’ve gone through that second feed there’s some really nice countryside and bits that don’t get used by a lot of people.

EA: The Spud Riley is a well established ride – are you making any changes this year?

WW: This year will be identical to last year’s route. The main difference is that there will be more sag wagons and mechanical assistance and the second feed will be in a village hall at Over Haddon were riders will be able to get hot drinks and cakes.

Looking ahead to 2013 we might move the HQ to a location in Poynton, which takes out that first built up section. You would start and be straight into the lanes. So that might be an addition for 2013. We might also look at putting the first feed station at a school in Monyash, which would add to the distance. If that was brought into play we’d possibly have a beginners’ ride of 30 miles which would turn around at Goyt Valley, then we’d have an intermediate at 62 miles. But we’re going to see how it pans out and get some feedback from people.

EA: The Spud Riley route has got that “If it ain’t broke don’t try and fix it” feel...

WW: Yeah it’s got some great bits – my own favourite bits are climbing from Pott Shrigley and then going up through the Goyt Valley – get a good day and you could be anywhere in the Highlands of Scotland up there. Also when you get out of the other side of Flash you’re back in the countryside again. It’s not a route for slackers who want a flat, quick blast around. You’ve got to pedal and control flaming brakes around every bit of it.

The Polka Dot Challenge takes place on 17 June 2012, starting at Woodford in Cheshire with a choice of 54 or 100 mile routes. Check out our ride preview for a taste of what the ride has to offer.