To kick off our campaign to encourage more people to get involved with their local cycling scenes Vern Pitt speaks to a selection of volunteers from across the country about what they do, why they do it and why you should too.
The flag waver
For Lucie Gallen, accredited marshall and member of Team Milton Keynes, the act of volunteering has been crucial to preserving a work life balance.
During the week Gallen translates technical documents from German, mostly, to English. A lot of her work is for companies in the cycling business. But it’s a solitary existence. “It’s just me and a computer. Lockdown hasn’t affected how I work at all! She says.
“Volunteering means I meet people. It’s different people as well, be at the race finishers or fellow marshals, people that I would never cross pather with were it not for the love of cycling. That’s very important for someone like myself, ”she explains.
Gallen got into volunteers not long after she got into the sport of cycling in 2010 whe na “classic mid-life crisis” saw her sign up for a couple of charity rides. Soon after that she was told: “If you want to get fast on your bike, you have to ride in a club.” So she did which led to forrays into time trialling, cyclo-cross and road racing.
“I got my Cat-3 road race license by giving it a go. I’m not the fastest, I’m definitely a diesel engine, but I just like the friendly atmosphere there is at races, ”she explains. “Every type of cycling has its own family.”
She was already doing some volunteering at races by this point but being a race herself hardened her resolve to get more involved. “I was always painfully aware that all the events, even club events, can’t go ahead without volunteers. I offered to red flag at a road race and enjoyed it. This was just as accredited marshalls were becoming a thing for road races, ”she recalls.
>>> Volunteers celebrated by our Local Hero award
Before long she’d been signed up to the accredited marshalls course the first bit of which was a theory lesson before a series of role-plays mostly with fictional irate drivers wanting to get onto the course. She adds she’s lucky to never had a “failure to stop” where a driver just ignores you flagging them down in real life but says it’s the thing all marshalls dread. “There are horror stories,” she says.
But don’t let that put you off, now, she explains volunteers are needed more than ever. “One of the issues we’re facing now are people who’ve not done it for a year and a half because of covid. And have not missed doing it. So they’re not going to come back to volunteer, ”she says.
And that quite neatly is why people like Gallen need you to step up and join CW’s army of volunteers.
The moto rider
“I’m not really into cycling,” says Debs Crockaert, National Escort Group (NEG) motorcycle escort rider. Well at least she wasn’t before she started closing roads for races. Now, while she’s very much not a rider herself, she’s a big fan.
She recalls with glee getting to meet her favorite Marianne Vos at the Women’s Tour. “I was manning the gate by the back of the podium. I got to speak to most of the girls that day, ”she says.
Crockaert, 58, from Bournemouth came to pro racing scene because of her enthusiasm for bikes with engines. She had a vague idea she’d like to use her motorbiking to do something useful when she was watching the Tour de France one day. “I saw the motorcycle out riders and then I saw them at the Tour of Britain. And I thought oh, I’d like to do something like that, ‘”she recalls.
Before long she’d taken her Institute of Advanced Motorcyclists qualification, been to eight races as a trainee and was qualified to be rider at local races. She had now worked her way up onto the NEG’s top level. “I’ve really got into it. I’ve done loads of regional races – I’ve probably done about 80. I’ve also done the men’s Tour of Britain and the Women’s Tour in 2018 and 2019.
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“I did the UCI World Championships in Harrogate in September 2019,” she recalls. That day it was lashing it down, so much so that the picture from the helicopter was lost for nearly an hour and parts of the course were flooded.
“When we came to the finish line to hand the radios back in I was soaked through and then I had to ride back to Bournemouth. I think it rained all the way back. I got down to Oxford and I shaking it with cold, I wasn’t going to dry out so I just put extra clothes on top to try and keep yourself warm, ”she says. “Even though I got wet though, I really enjoyed it.”
What’s the best bit of all this we wonder? Crockaert gives an answer similar to many of the others CW speaks to: “I’ve gained lots and lots of friends through NEG, because we’ve all got something in common. We all like motorbikes and we will like doing, the cycle races. A lot of my friends are now related to the police, ”she says with a chuckle.
The Race organizer
He’s too nice to say so but we suspect that there was a moment, however fleeting, late on a Tuesday night when Robert Kingsland, a member of VC Deal in Kent, regretted his decision to step up and organize races for the club.
“Once we ended up giving out a double set of numbers,” he recalls when we ask him of the pit pitalls of race organizing. “So we had some riders riding with the same number in the race. I think it probably took me about a week to sort the results out. We eventually managed to piece it together of using photographs and people’s Strava data. ”
But Kingsland is clearly proud of the role he and his team have played in club life. He cites 2020-21’s lone cyclo-cross race as a particular moment when despite the hurdles of setting up one-way systems and maintaining social distancing. It’s clear as we talk that he’s enjoyed the camaraderie of the team around him and takes joy in the attention to detail.
It wasn’t always this way. He first tried his hand at organizing in 2009, which he describes as a “baptism of fire”. “It took me a couple of years to recover and get my enthusiasm back… I just ended up doing it all on my own – marking out and taking down a three kilometer course. That’s a very, very long and hard weekend. ”
It’s no surprise then that when we ask his advice for would-be organizers he says: “You’re only as good as the team around you… You need more people than you think you need to do these things.” He adds a venue the public can’t access, like a school field, is also helpful in being able to set your own agenda for building the course and taking it down.
His enthusiasm had returned when the clubs resident race organizer passed away in 2013 and they needed someone to step into the role – the nearest cyclo-cross race to Deal was nearly an hour away so maintaining a presence was paramount.
Thanks to his work and that of the team around him, who are all now quite experienced it swiftly went from strength to strength. “I think we had 50-odd people turn up at the first event. We’re regularly getting between 200-250 coming now. ”
Enthusiasm undimmed he’s set his sights high with ambitions to host an international, UCI event in the future – Deal’s proximity to Europe should mean they can attract some riders to venture across the channel. He’ll need to be extra careful with the race numbers that day.
Pete Deamer, Bristol Road club member and commissioner, fell in love with the sport as a teenager. “When I was 15 and I won the Western Division School boy championships, and went to the nationals and fell off,” he recalls with a warm chuckle.
He’d go on to become a first cat rider had some success as a racer himself riding for Bedouin CC before kids and work got mean he had to “pack up” racing. But he says, “I always said I wanted to put something back when I had the time.”
When that time came decades later he became a commissaire and is now the commissaire coordinator for the southern region. “It’s very much about being part of a team. I like to share the knowledge I’ve got and to be honest at most events you learn something too .. when I was a rider, my team did quite well, and I enjoyed being part of that team, even if it wasn’t me that was winning on that day, ”he says.
He continues: “What I’m really interested in is events .. I think the future of cycling is dependent upon us running professional events. And I get an enjoyment out of the events. I don’t particularly like the politics that are around any sport but what I just get a buzz out of working on the events. ”
What’s the biggest challenge of being the referee we wonder, expecting him to say irate bike racers berating him: “The main main issue is arriving at races and finding the organizer hasn’t got all his ducks in a row. That is why I try to touch base with organizers several times before each race. ”
Alongside his commissairring he’s also drives in the race convoy, usually driving the head commissaire. It’s a skill that he thinks many in the race convoy need to work on and says it’s “exciting” to be part of.
“I’d like to work on the bigger races,” he says. “I have, many times, written to Mick Bennett [head of Tour of Britain organiser Sweetspot] and his team because I’d like a driving job on the Tour of Britain but apparently somebody’s got to die before there’s an opening, ”he says laughing.
His volunteering has really taken Deamer places, and there’s still further to go yet.