Rid­ing through Kent with San Fairy Ann

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San Fairy Ann CC is a club with a proud rac­ing pedi­gree. Founded in 1922, the Kent-based club cre­ated a satel­lite team, Abel­lio-san Fairy Ann Rac­ing Team five years ago. This was to stop, in the words of race team founder and race di­rec­tor, Dick Nay­lor, “haem­or­rhag­ing our best rid­ers to race teams”.

Bask­ing in the June sun­shine at to­day’s cafe stop in Len­ham, I chat with Ge­off Wiles, for­mer GB pro road race cham­pion (1976) and cur­rent club pres­i­dent and coach. “Abel­lio is the knight in shin­ing ar­mour of the club, if you will,” says Wiles. “We wanted some­thing fresh and ex­cit­ing to build up a good team, but also to make sure there isn’t a de­lin­eation between the race team and the rest of the club.

“The strength of the club is the range of groups — there are op­por­tu­ni­ties for rid­ers just start­ing out to those rid­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally and do­ing things they never thought they could dream of.”

Abel­lio RT (spon­sor Abel­lio is a re­gional bus com­pany) sits at the top of the club, in terms of per­for­mance, but is just one of 10 groups that set out to­day — there are 17 club run groups in to­tal, spread across the week­end.

As we ride past fre­quent oast houses, a prom­i­nent fea­ture of the Ken­tish coun­try­side, I chat with 22-year-old Tom Row­ing, an Abel­lio mem­ber who last week recorded a 19.28 10-mile TT. Row­ing stresses how the rac­ing team is just a small el­e­ment of the club, which has an ethos of im­prove­ment, re­gard­less of abil­ity.

“There is a group for ev­ery­one,” he ex­plains, “with fairly sim­ple pro­gres­sion, as there are lots of lit­tle jumps between the groups. You can work up and keep grad­u­ally get­ting bet­ter.”

Hop­ing to em­u­late Row­ing’s rise through the ranks is David Ware, who sees the num­ber of groups and the range of abil­i­ties within the club as a ma­jor plus.

Ware is on his se­cond ride with the club, hav­ing joined just the week be­fore. “I was re­ally at­tracted by the num­ber of groups,” he says. “Last week I went with a Sun­day group so to­day I have joined a Satur­day group to find where I’m at. In a few weeks I may try the next group up.”

Amongst the rid­ers in the in­ter­me­di­ate group is Sheila Wool­lam, who be­lieves the de­vel­op­ment the club of­fers can ben­e­fit oth­ers too. “My old club had no path­ways left in terms of pro­gres­sion, but SFA al­lowed me to be the best I can be,” she says. “I may never wear an Abel­lio jersey, but that doesn’t mean I can’t as­pire to it.”

Wool­lam, who joined three years ago, rode the Transcon­ti­nen­tal 3,800km ul­tra race at the end of July.

Af­ter the main climb of the day, at Chal­lock, Del Les­lie, group co­or­di­na­tor for the in­ter­me­di­ates, also points out the ben­e­fits of hav­ing mul­ti­ple club run groups: “It doesn’t mat­ter what speed you ride at, there will be a group for you. Be that a mid­dle-paced group, or a real be­gin­ner, you soon know if you’re too fast for them af­ter a cou­ple of rides and peo­ple progress that way.”

Equal­ity is also a key tenet of the club, as Su­san Fer­gu­son tells me over cof­fee be­fore we set out for the fin­ish. “One of the won­der­ful things is that the club ac­cepts women at all lev­els,” she says. “Within the club ride there is no dif­fer­ence when rid­ing with the men and you are 100 per cent ac­cepted.”

For any­one search­ing for a Kent club with seem­ingly un­lim­ited rid­ing op­tions, look no fur­ther than San Fairy Ann CC.

Club his­tory

San Fairy Ann Cy­cling Club was founded in 1922. The club’s un­usual name comes from the founder mem­bers, mostly ser­vice­men re­turn­ing from World War One, and pre­vi­ously mem­bers of the West­bor­ough Con­gre­ga­tional Church Cy­cling Club. The church con­gre­ga­tion ob­jected to the idea of cy­cling as a fit­ting Sun­day ac­tiv­ity, which prompted the church’s cy­cling mem­bers to form an­other club.

When they could not agree on a name, one of those present said, “San fairy ann,” a sol­diers’ phrase from the war which an­gli­cised the French phrase

‘ca ne fait rien’ — ‘it doesn’t mat­ter’. The name stuck and both phrases can be found on the club’s badge. It’s also recorded in the min­utes of that in­au­gu­ral meet­ing, found on the club web­site.

Ini­tial ac­tiv­i­ties fo­cused on club runs, fol­lowed by time tri­als in 1924. World War Two se­ri­ously cur­tailed the club’s ac­tiv­i­ties, though

Satur­day club runs con­tin­ued. By the 1960s, club mem­ber­ship had reached 70 mem­bers and by 2008 there were seven dif­fer­ent club runs each week­end.

The club’s growth brought a num­ber of no­table per­for­mances: club pres­i­dent, Ge­off Wiles, won the 1976 pro road ti­tle; Phil Ma­son set a record of 1.47 on the Cat­ford hill-climb in 1983, which still stands; Roy Manser, part­nered by An­thony Wal­lis, set a na­tional 10-mile tan­dem record of 18.17; and Roly Cray­ford has twice been world mas­ters' sprint cham­pion.

To­day, mem­ber­ship is a very healthy 450, with as many as 17 dif­fer­ent club-run groups set­ting out ev­ery week­end.

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