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HUNDREDS of cyclists assembled at Watchet Harbour on the Somerset coast to take part in the 7th annual Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance Coast to Coast (C2C) Cycle Challenge on Sunday.14th May.

There were 564 cyclists taking part in the 54 mile ride to West Bay and a further 16 cyclists completed the shorter 11-mile route which began at Drimpton and also ended at West Bay.

This year, for the first time, the cyclists were joined by members of the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance crew who also took part.

An electric atmosphere began building at West Bay as families, friends and colleagues began arriving in support of those taking part. It took just over two and a half hours for the first group of keen cyclists to arrive.

Les Thomas, Kev Watts and Richard Woodward were the first three cyclists to cross the finish line and the first woman was Kate Cadbury.

At 79, Brian Pursall was once again the oldest participant. He took part for the third time and cycled the full 54 miles. Freya Williams was the first child who cycled the 11 mile route to arrive at West Bay, closely followed by the youngest individual participant Olivia Reid, aged 11, who took part on the bike that she won last year when she raised the most sponsorship in the under 16 category.

Of those taking part, there were former patients who had experienced the work of the air ambulance first-hand. Others cycled in memory of loved ones, as part of a team, or simply as a personal challenge to show their support for the life-saving charity.

This year saw a record number of teams take part - 65 in total. By far the largest group were west Dorset's equestrian Team o’ Tumblers who once again came out in force with 40 members, all wearing their traditional blue shirts.

Nearly five years ago, people involved in horse racing and hunting from Cattistock, Portman, South Dorset and Blackmore and Sparkford Vale hunts decided unanimously to support the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance by entering a team into the Charity’s Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge.

The team’s organiser Rupert Rees, from the NFU in Dorchester, said: “For the fourth year running, Team o' Tumblers have come out in force to enjoy the wonderful Coast to Coast ride. Forty Tumblers who are supporters of hunting, riding and racing, but more importantly passionate supporters of Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance, completed the challenge.

"We have a range of cycling abilities but that really doesn't matter, it's the taking part and the challenge that we enjoy. So far, the team has raised in excess of £16,000 with the promise of more donations to follow. We would like to thank the charity and their team of volunteers for making the day so successful.”

Bill Sivewright, Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance chief executive officer said: “As a rider, this year’s event was probably the hardest yet, due to the strong headwind over the last few miles. That being said, it was incredible to see so many cyclists absolutely determined to meet the challenge.

"While speaking to many of them along the route, it was clear that everyone had their own special reason for taking part.

"The logistical challenge of setting up the start and finish lines, together with the pit stops would have been a daunting task for any organisation. But, add to that, the safe marshalling of around 600 cyclists over 54 miles of public roads and the true scale of the enterprise is revealed.

"I am incredibly proud of the staff and army of volunteers who did such a fantastic job of managing the event in such a warm and friendly manner throughout.

"As ever, we are incredibly grateful to all the riders who took on the challenge and to those who sponsored them on their quest. A final thank you goes to the event sponsors, pit stop locations, local councils and the Police and Ambulance Service for their support in helping to make the day such a success.”

Last year, the Coast to Coast Cycle Challenge raised more than £81,000.

Prizes will be awarded to those who raise the most in sponsorship in the following categories: Adult, Under 16 and team. These will be presented later in the year when all funds are received. Closing date for sponsorship is 1 August 1.