ALMOST 1,500 cyclists filled the streets of Farnham last Sunday for the record-breaking ninth edition of the Farnham Charity Bike Ride & Sportive - combined for the first time with the Maltings’ Festival of Cycling, hill climb and the new town centre races.

The charity ride kicked off the day, with a record 1,475 cyclists of all ages and abilities embarking from Castle Street on four routes between 8am and 9.30pm, ranging from a very family-friendly 16 miles to a gruelling 75 miles through the best countryside Surrey and Hampshire has to offer.

The Mayor of Farnham, Mike Hodge, waved them off, and volunteers from the Farnham Round Table and St Andrew’s School PTA marshalled the routes and manned numerous rest stations, topping up energy levels with bananas, biscuits and water.

Castle Street remained closed throughout the afternoon, and as the weary cyclists returned, they were welcomed with a medal, free massages and (for those aged over 18) samples of the Hogs Back Brewery’s aptly-named seasonal ale Biker.

Adding to the buzz in town, this year’s ride coincided with the Maltings’ second annual Festival of Cycling, boasting a ‘velo village’ of cycling-related stalls and activities as well as the explosive ‘criterium’ races on a closed circuit of the town centre at 5pm and a popular hill climb competition.

Criteriums are renowned for being furious and feisty affairs, and the new Pedal Heaven Town Centre Races certainly didn’t disappoint - with 25 women and 60 men jostling for position through The Borough, South Street, Victoria Road and Downing Street, watched by more than a thousand spectators.

After some fierce racing, Jessica Finney, of Portsmouth North End CC, won the women’s race while Callum Middleton, of Lewes Wanderers CC, took first place for the men.

The Hoops Velo Hill Climb, taking place for a second year running, also offered great entertainment, with spectators lining Firgrove Hill to cheer on the competitors and many mimicking the Tour de France by ringing cowbells and chasing after their lycra-clad champions.

New records were set by both Ben Simmons of Alé DMT Cipollini UK, who completed the 775-yard course from the William Cobbett pub to Old Farnham Lane in an astonishing one minute and one second, and Marie Notermans of VC Meudon who smashed the women’s record by a full nine seconds, finishing in one minute and 20 seconds.

Festival director Alison Ford said: “It was a brilliant day and there was such an electric atmosphere in the town. Even people who aren’t particularly interested in cycling turned out for the spectacle.

“Businesses, cafes and pubs entered into the spirit of the event, and the United Reformed Church offered spectators a prime viewing spot for the new Town Centre Races with a barbecue and refreshments from the Spire Cafe.

“Riders came not only from local clubs such as VC Meudon, Farnborough & Camberley and Charlotteville, but also Buxton, Twickenham, Bicester, Didcot and Southampton to take part, and we saw some fantastic, really nail-biting racing.

“We had the commentator from the Guildford town centre races on a loud speaker outside Sainsbury’s, and I had to really pinch myself that this was happening in Farnham.

“It gave the whole town a completely different character for a couple of hours and for somebody like me who loves cycling, I was in heaven.”

Matt Chisnall, chairman of the Farnham Round Table which organises the Farnham Charity Bike Ride alongside the St Andrew’s School PTA, added: “Although still counting up we are expecting over £20,000 will be going to local good causes as a result of this year’s ride.

“Huge thanks to our sponsor MPM property maintenance who supported the event and also had a team of six go out on the 50-mile ride. Thanks also to the Hogs Back Brewery for the post-race beer and to Sainsbury’s in South Street for donating the water.

“But the biggest thanks go to all the volunteers from St Andrew’s Infant School and Farnham Round Table for organising and the many volunteers who marshalled the course. We couldn’t do it without them.”