Gary Wallbridge presented with Yellow Guernsey Award

The theme for the 2023 Island Games was Inspiring Islanders. And it really was an inspirational experience across all fourteen sports. The inspiration came not just from the top-level performances that took place every day but also in the commitment and dedication of the coaches, officials and volunteers to make all the events run smoothly. 

One of the highlights of the Games programme was the cycling events which entertained 1000’s of fans across the roads and parks of Guernsey. Gary Wallbridge, a stalwart of the local cycling scene for decades, volunteered to organise the cycling events and, in recognition of those valiant efforts and his contribution to local cycling the Health Improvement Commission is presenting him with a Yellow Guernsey from Le Tricoteur Guernsey. 

Organising five cycling events during Island Games week, involving a host of competitors, spectators and residents living along the route is a huge logistical challenge even for the best project manager. Fortunately, Gary Wallbridge has a wealth of experience, knowledge and enthusiasm for cycling, having been one of the inaugural members of the Velo Club.

‘Cycling is one of the few sports you can do throughout your life, and it’s a way of life, not just a sport, which is one of the reasons I stuck to it. Plus, you can still be reasonably competitive in your seventies, which is quite unique. 

‘And during school assembly visits I would often say to children, you can do far more things with a bike than with a football; apart from racing, you cycle to school, go cycling with your parents, meet your friends, or take it on holiday.’ 

Gary’s love of cycling started, when, as a teenager who tended to wake up early, wondering what to do with his day, he took up a suggestion from a friend that he tried bike racing, that was back in 1968 when the Velo Club had just formed. He never looked back and this led to a lifetime passion for cycling, through racing, coaching and the Velo Club, standing as president for 11 years. 

When the planning for the Games started, Gary knew he wanted to play a key part in the cycling events. 

‘I knew the racecourses had to be a bit unique, really exciting, with lots of opportunities for people to watch and so I wanted to take charge and provide an exciting race programme. I have a wealth of experience, particularly with the Island Games, so it was an easy decision, but it did turn into a full-time job with its complexity.’ 

The five races included two in St Peter’s area and the West coast with an array of road closures, which had to be timed carefully to allow school children to access schools, businesses to make arrangements and residents to be able to access their properties. 

‘St Peter’s Parish were fantastic; the constables, the church and Floral Guernsey, we couldn’t have had better support and for that I am very grateful. I had dialogue with everyone who wanted to, saw most businesses face to face and spoke to many members of the public. The more we dug in, the more complex it got.’

Reflecting on the success of the events, Gary is delighted with how the week went, how Guernsey performed, and how the island got behind and supported the racing. The Guernsey cycling team performed superbly and topped the cycling medal tables with 8 gold, 8 silver and 2 bronze. I am sure, not just the team, but the spectators that came to watch will remember the Guernsey Games for the rest of their life, it was amazing, as was the support from the whole of Guernsey. 

'What was also really encouraging was to see so many people on bikes during the week. There were hundreds at opening ceremony and many people watching the cycling events cycled to the venues rather than drove there. Which shows they do exist; it’s about getting people to realise they want to cycle.’ 

For Gary, it’s clear racing has always been at the heart of his passion, but he would cycle most days to work during his career, and just take it slow so as not to overheat too much. ‘I know other people have other reasons to switch from the car to a bike, such as environmental reasons, for me it’s just about the love for cycling, but the by-product is the same thing and it’s great to see a shift happening and more people out on bikes. 

‘E bikes have, I believe, had the biggest impact to get people out of cars. It’s the perfect way to get around on an island like Guernsey with so many hills and they can really change lives.’ 

Gary doesn’t own one currently, there isn’t room in his garages to add the collection of 17 bikes, plus kit, but he wouldn’t rule it out one day. 

Alex Costen, active travel officer at the Health Improvement Commission, comments: 

“Gary is fully deserving of the Yellow Guernsey Award. The cycling events were really exciting and great to watch. The Health Improvement Commission organised fanzone for six schools who were on the road racing routes and at Delancey Park. We also organised assemblies with the cycling team so that children had a real sense of what was involved in cycling at speed across the Island. When the children attended the events they were inspired and hopefully motivated to build on the increasing numbers of children who are taking up cycling.”

 Alun Williams, Be Active lead at the Health Improvement Commission said: 

“Sport and Activity is dependent upon the efforts of volunteers such as Gary. He has done so much to promote and organise cycling over the years at every level. Well Done Gary and keep cycling!”