Pedalling the Valleys

We’re after stories from all walks of valleys life and so far we’ve not been let down. Here Torfaen’s Anthony Hunt explains why there is no finer place to explore when it comes to all things cycling.  As ever, an authentic and genuine take of the kind you won’t find in MTV editing suites. We’re after stories from all walks of valleys life and so far we’ve not been let down. Here Torfaen’s Anthony Hunt explains why there is no finer place to explore when it comes to all things cycling.  As ever, an authentic and genuine take of the kind you won’t find in MTV editing suites. 

We are the Welsh Alps. We are the Beverly Hills of Britain. I kid you not. Okay, so it rains a bit more, and I’m not claiming Merthyr is a dead ringer for the Orange County. But on almost every other level, the valleys are peerless. As a cyclist, I’d not want to live anywhere else.

We have mountains and some of the best climbs in Britain. We have a national park on our doorstep. We have a culturally and historically fascinating tapestry of industrial heritage, juxtaposed with the rural beauty of our valleys and mountains. And for those in need of something flatter, the vales and coast are a short ride away, as is Newport’s Velodrome. What’s not to shout about? And yet we’re reluctant to talk up our valleys. Why? Perhaps it’s a lack self-confidence after decades of the valleys being talked down as a basket case – as the recipients of hand-outs, not the masters of our own destiny – let alone a place we could encourage others to visit.
 
The need for a concerted modern manufacturing strategy to bring high-quality jobs back to the valleys cannot be denied. But the opportunities provided by the boom in cycling can also play a key role in the regeneration of our valleys and the reshaping of their image.
 
Last year, cycling produced almost £3billion of benefits to the UK economy. Chunks of this money are up for grabs if we can use our geological endowment wisely and provide an ‘offer’ that is attractive to the growing number of ‘MAMILS’ (middle aged men in lycra) and ‘weekend warriors’ keen to pit themselves against our mountain roads. Valleys Councils and the Welsh Government should look at encouraging more sportives (non-competitive cycling races) in the area. This June, the Dragon Ride attracted hundreds of cyclists to the valleys and brought great resultant benefits to the local economy. It is an example that other valleys could replicate. To take full advantage, we need to make sure that we have the accommodation that cyclists need, well marked out routes and decent road surfaces. Investment is needed, but the potential returns are high.
 
From my house in Torfaen, within an hour’s ride, I can pass through the World Heritage town of Blaenavon and into the Brecon Beacons, or through Usk and Abergavenny to take on the climb of the Tumble back up to Blaenavon. Further west, there’s the famous climbs of the Bwlch and Rhigos either side of Treorchy. The challenges are infinite though – any valley will have its own mix of steep, sharp hills and longer climbs that can be tackled in short or lengthier rides. Perhaps a ‘Tour of the Valleys’ would be a chance to highlight this embarrassment of riches. Next summer anyone?
 
This shouldn’t just be about hosting people from outside our area though. After all, like many areas, we have the problem of obesity to tackle. Our young people especially should be given the opportunity to make the most of the challenge of cycling the valleys. The best part about the Olympics was the prevalence of the positive examples of determined sports men and women in the public eye. For a fortnight  they took over from our usual diet of attention-seeking, talentless, shallow and vain excuses for ‘celebrities’.
 
That shouldn’t just last two weeks though. We need to ensure that our young people latch onto these positive role models, rather than resorting to seeking to emulate those famous for nothing other than being famous. If we invest in delivering a real Olympic legacy, we can inspire a generation of our young people to make the most of where they live, take pride in our valleys and get out on their bikes to explore. Pro cycling may not have had the best of reputations in the past. But now that the bleak tide of drug-taking has subsided, the determination, strength and physical endurance of the pro peleton is not a bad example to follow.
 
MTV are not the first to try to bury the reputation of the valleys in a haze of fake tan and peroxide. We can either accept that fate or show that there is another side to our area. The rich heritage of the valleys can play a major part in that fightback. But so can the natural beauty of our valleys and the opportunities for the future that it offers. So come and ride the valleys. If it’s sunny, you won’t even need fake tan.

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