The Nello, a quarter of a century of riding for FORCE















Ride founders Marc and Kim Millon share a message ahead of this year’s event.

Dear Nello cyclists,

This year’s Nello on June 26th (always the last Sunday in June) will be the 23rd time this amazing, life-affirming event has taken place.

This year will also mark the 25th anniversary almost to the day of when Nello and I rolled into Piazza San Marco, Venice, on two wheels, the culmination of our epic cycle from Topsham to Venice in aid of FORCE.

That mammoth undertaking came about after the untimely death of my mother from cancer. She was younger than I am now and had lived in Venice for many years. Nello was himself from Rosalina Mare, a small town on the Venetian lagoon, hence our motive to cycle to La Serenissima together to raise money for cancer.


It was the cruellest irony that just a year after we completed the ride, Nello, who was as strong as a lion on that ride and seemingly as healthy, was struck down with an aggressive form of cancer. After enduring some months of treatments in attempt to slow the disease, he sadly passed away. He was only 50 years old. It was a traumatic loss for his wife Karen, for his family and friends, and for our whole Topsham community.

At his funeral, I pledged to begin The Nello cycle ride as a means to honour and remember a special friend and to continue to raise funds for FORCE.

Cycling for FORCE has thus been a huge part of our lives for 25 years.

On that first year of the Nello in June 2000 some 90 cyclists lined up on Topsham Quay to tackle much the same century route that we still follow today; many of those original stalwarts will be riding once again this year.


For many of us, the last Sunday in June is an unmovable date: we know it will be The Nello and we pencil it into our calendars, confident that we will once again be able to take on the challenge.

Why, you might well ask, do we always feel compelled to do it, year in and year out?

Perhaps it is to prove that we still can, that we still have the strength and the will to get on our bicycles and ride one hundred miles over the roof of Exmoor or else take on the also challenging half-century route that makes its way over lumpy, rolling mid-Devon.

I have cycled the century every year and never question why. The routes are both gorgeous, across our stunning Devon countryside, and I never ever tire of them. Plus there is the best array of food and support on offer that you will ever experience on an organised bike ride. All of this, plus the camaraderie of the occasion, of riding in a group with shared purpose and commitment, makes The Nello always a very special experience.


Each of us of course may also be riding for our own very personal reasons: to remember, to honour, to celebrate friends and family no longer with us as well as to support those who are living with cancer.

Simply by entering The Nello, we are not only doing this, we are at the same time supporting FORCE, our own local cancer charity, which has become such a positive and life-affirming part of our community.

I think back over the past 25 years at how FORCE has itself evolved. I am deeply proud that the ride that we began to honour a friend has helped this inspirational organisation to grow and expand the hugely necessary services and support that it so freely offers to us all.

FORCE was a relatively new and young local cancer charity when Nello and I first began to support it in 1997.


Our ride from Topsham to Venice was to raise funds in particular for a new and at the time ground-breaking piece of equipment, the microSelectron, which had been developed in part by FORCE co-founder Dr Chris Rowland.

Through FORCE’s efforts, Exeter was the first hospital in the country to have this state-of-the-art machine. Dr Rowland helped to develop this as well as other innovative methods of treating cancer. He believed strongly in finding ways for cancer patients to receive treatments at home to enable them to continue with their normal lives. Anyone who has gone through cancer treatment of any form knows how vitally important this is.

Funds raised through the early years of The Nello went specifically in support of an appeal to create the FORCE Cancer Centre, a visionary place of welcome and support that opened its doors to all of us in 2004, enabling the charity to develop and expand non-clinical treatments for cancer patients and their families.


In only its first year, the Centre received more than 9,000 visits; that figure rose to around 25,000 pre pandemic. Having endured cancer, I know from firsthand experience how important this is. FORCE continues to support innovation to improve cancer treatment. It has also now expanded support services further into the community with the use of outreach locations whenever possible.

The Nello as an organised group ride that couldn’t be held in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, but, amazingly, thanks to the support and belief of so many of you, and as testimony to how important this wonderful event and FORCE have become to our community, people still chose to enter and ride The Virtual Nello which raised incredible and substantial funds to enable FORCE’s work to continue, even through all the disruption that the Covid crisis has caused.

Nello 15

This year it appears that the numbers on the start line may be considerably down from the 1,500 who last set out from Topsham Rugby Club in June 2019 for Il Ventesimo – the 20th Nello. No matter. Those of us riding will have a great day all the same and our efforts will bring vital funds to FORCE. Please, please try and raise as much money as you can!


A huge thanks to all who have worked so hard over the years to enable The Nello to continue – the team at FORCE, the many cheerful volunteers along the way, The Bike Shed, Pinarello, Exeter Physiotherapy, and others. And the biggest thanks especially to all of you who will be riding and supporting.

Kim and I look forward to seeing you on the start line or when you pass us along the way. We’ll be on the tandem, as we always are, perhaps going a little bit more leisurely this year. Just don’t say to Kim that she’s not pedalling (she gets very upset and sometimes swears!). I assure you that she is and that we have been – for the past 25 years!

Oh, and one more thing: please go and put the date for The 24th Nello in your diary right now and make this an annual occasion. It will next take place on Sunday June 25th, 2023 – always the last Sunday in June. We will be there and we hope you will be too!

Marc and Kim Millon, The Nello founders