• You won’t be riding with Daventry Cycling Club (DCC) for long before you learn two things about its chairman Neal Malone. The first is that Neal loves cycling; it’s clearly obvious to anyone who meets him and by his own admission cycling is Neal’s passion, he loves talking about the sport, what it’s done for him and now how he can give back to the sport through his role as club Chairman.
     The second is that Neal used to race. Club members like to affectionately bring up the odd ‘Nealism’: “it’s not a race”, “a good rider can go slowly up a hill”, “it’s relatively flat” – that last one living long in the memory of anyone who survived the near 4000ft+ of climbing on Day 1 of the clubs 2017 ride to Paris. Pick any club member and ask them to tell you something about Neal and the chances are they’ll hazard upon “that time he rode with Stephen Roche”. I press Neal to tell me the story whilst we’re riding together on the club run: “We’d entered the sportive that was tied in to the Milk Race (now the Tour of Britain)”. At the start Neal and John Beckett (DCC’s former Racing Co-Ordinator) found themselves accidentally lined up with David Millar, Sean Yates and the ex-Giro d’Italia winner Roche. Not to be put off by a challenge (remember – it’s not a race!) the two stayed on the wheels of the pros, just about hanging on until, desperate for a drink, Neal went to take a swig of his bottle and realised it was empty. Sensing weakness, sympathy and water were shortcoming from his fellow DCC members so Neal resorted to asking up and down the line for a drink before Irishman Roche rode to his rescue. Taking the full bidon from Roche, Neal drained the entire bottle in one go, sheepishly handing it back empty to the ex-world champion who exclaimed “Blimey, you needed that!’ before putting the hammer down and soloing off into the distance.

    DCC Chairman Neal Malone

    DCC came into being in 2003 when a group of local friends who played squash together let their competitive streak spill off the court and onto the road. Neal remembers those early days as being fast and furious with a group of friends who enjoyed, ahem, “healthy competition” regularly beasting one another on the Sunday club run. Under the stewardship of original chairman John Hall the club began to attract a mix of riders and to cater for all abilities and ages.
    The club has less of a focus on road racing now (although with the Club Racing Co-Ordinator role in the process of being filled it’s still something members can pursue). When I ask him what has been the club’s greatest success during his time as Chairman Neal answers without hesitation “the Saturday beginners rides”.
     The club’s Saturday beginners and improvers sessions initially started as a way for some of the clubs newer members to start their training for the following years Daventry to Paris trip but have become so successful that they can now attract up to 80 riders over any given weekend. The Saturday rides have seen a huge growth in female and new riders joining the club.
     The “Dav to Paris” has become a bi-annual institution; starting with Neal and fellow club member Aled Roberts riding to Paris for Neal’s 45th birthday to see the end of the tour de France, Neal originally believed they would be lucky to attract four or five riders to do the trip but were so overwhelmed with people wanting to join them that the ride now regularly has a waiting list for those wanting to join. The opportunity to join a club trip is one of the best benefits of membership – recent trips have included Daventry to Paris, the Pyrenees and the Paris-Roubaix sportive. The trips offer something for everyone of all abilities and a great way to get to know the people under the lycra!
     The club enjoys strong ties with local bike shop Leisure Lakes Bikes – all club rides start and finish at the shop and members often enjoy a coffee and a cake there after club rides. Recently a group of members known as the “Old Crocks” have started congregating in the shop on a Saturday, taking the opportunity to socialise over a cuppa whilst members riding the beginners and improvers sessions start and finish their rides. One of the best benefits of club membership is triple points on any purchases in Leisure Lakes so it’s a great place to make the pennies go further when buying new kit or even a few energy gels for the club ride!
    Recently the club has launched its Junior Cycling Academy, with several members earning their British Cycling coaching badges. On Monday nights they are helping to build a new generation of young local riders who have the chance to enjoy the sport in a safe environment at a local race track. Neal is quick to point our that whilst the club hopes to see the cycling academy lead to new members for the club in the future, it is also important to ensure that young riders have the skills to be confident and safe on the bike from an early age. The club is also working hard to introduce women to cycling  having recently launched a successful Breeze rides scheme led by Saffron Small.
     Neal believes the key to the future of the club is to ensure it’s positioned at the heart of Daventry’s thriving cycling community. Neal doesn’t view the club as just a group for roadies – he’s quick to point out that Daventry is serviced by a network of bridleways and towpaths and members can easily move between the road, track, MTB and Cyclocross; depending on their interests Daventry Cycling Club offers something for everyone.