Although Alison Dex only began cycling four years ago at the age of 54, she’s certainly made up for the late start.
From early beginnings as part of a local bike shop-organised ride group with like-minded ladies, Alison formed a Facebook page which now has more than 1,000 members.
Alison and a friend also bought the BellaVelo trademark – the name of that original women-specific cycle shop where it all began but which has sadly closed - and set up BellaVelo.cc. They now have 200 women members, and they are growing all the time.
Since BellaVelo's inception, it has trained 35 ride leaders and it runs a huge range of activities, including weekend club rides, social laps, early morning interval sessions, occasional racing skills courses, beginner group riding courses, getting into cleats courses, first aid courses, overseas training camps (30 women went to Majorca this year) and stay at home training camps (40 women went to the New Forest this year).
The club has run an evening about mental health and cycling which was mentioned in The Guardian, and two club members were featured in The Sunday Times in BellaVelo kit, as they are part of the Internationelles team who are riding the route of the Tour de France one day ahead of the men to highlight inequality in cycling.
Despite the growth of the club, Alison and her founding partner attend all club events, lead rides and interval sessions, as well as spend a lot of time working on the direction of the club. Alison also writes the content of the website (www.bellavelo.cc) and produces a fortnightly newsletter.
Being part of a group, working hard, sharing the experience, gives me the kind of world I love.
Alison hasn’t forgotten about her own cycling, either. In 2017 she rode the wettest Ride Across Britain and also qualified for and rode in the amateur Gran Fondo World Championships in Albi, racing 95km in 35-degree heat and coming 22nd in her age group. This summer she will be riding the first five stages of the Tour de France covering 1,000km, to raise money for the Le Loop charity.
Alison said: “I love cycling for the sense of freedom and independence it gives, the chance to see fields and views and inhale lungfuls of air.
“The confidence I have gained from completing once-impossible challenges has spilled into other, non-cycling aspects of my life and I feel it has given me more sense of self-worth and increased my resilience.
“I have made loads of new friends. I am the fittest I have ever been and, through cycling with younger women, I have had to work hard to keep up physically and mentally and I feel younger for it.
“But perhaps my greatest pleasure comes from the fact that, although I sometimes cycle alone, being part of a group, working hard, sharing the experience, gives me the kind of world I love and where I feel happiest; a world where shared goals, co-operation and working together produces the very best of results.”
Alison was nominated for 100 Women in Cycling by many people, all of whom she has inspired and helped.
“Alison takes every BellaVelo in consideration when she organises things and has a deep interest in each of us. Ultimately she gets me to sign up for events that I don’t think I can do, but I sign up and realise she was right, I can do it. It is that subtle confidence booster that has made many of us push our boundaries. I am grateful for the high impact she has on my riding life,” said one.
Another said: “She along with the support of others has created an amazing community of women cyclists. She inspires and supports everyone of us and deserves recognition for her amazing dedication. I wouldn’t be the cyclist I am without her."
What is 100 Women in Cycling?
Cycling UK’s 100 Women in Cycling is an annual list celebrating inspirational women who are encouraging others to cycle.