I hadn’t planned on riding the 2017 Velo Birmingham. I was registered as tickets went on sale but I baulked at the £85 entry fee. About a month before the ride, a friend of a friend was selling an entry they would be unable to use for £35 – much more reasonable!
I would, however, end up riding as Andy Smith rather than under my own name, something I could put up with for a £50 saving. In fairness, the goodie bag turned out to pretty much cover the amount I paid for my entry with some good stuff in there like train tickets/gels etc.
The inaugural Velo Birmingham was the first sportive in the Midlands to be traffic-free. With the roads completely blocked off to cars, cyclists could use the full road and in theory be safe. As it turned out, people can use other things to be dangerous instead.
The route took riders from the centre of Birmingham, out west towards Stourbridge before looping up to South Staffordshire via Dudley and down into Worcestershire. Clipping the edge of Droitwich, the final stretch saw riders forced over the Clent hills and back into town to finish on Broad Street.
I rode into town in good time to line up in my pen for an 8:10 am start time. I found some of my club mates and was chatting away as time rolled on. Eventually, at 8:30 am, we were given the signal to go. Apparently the delay was due to having to clear up some of the work of saboteurs who had left out some tacks as a welcoming present, nice of them. I saw some people repairing punctures, but nothing like my experience at La Ronde Picarde recently.
Starting in a large pen meant that there were lots of riders scattered of varying quality. Luckily being able to use the full stretch of the Hagley Road meant that there was plenty of space early on. It was a novel experience being able to ride the wrong way down a road that was my commute once upon a time.
There were lots of ups and down going across the city, most of which I’d done before at some point. The biggest difference between riders seemed to be the descending and cornering confidence and people breaking one of the rules by aero tucking at on the slightest drop in gradient. It was mainly Dave and me who negotiated our way through the traffic, confidently and at speed. Despite the climbs, we managed to average 20mph for the first hour.
We went similarly quickly over the rolling terrain for the next 20 miles, also averaging 20mph for the next hour. Lots of fun high-speed corners helped by guarantees that no traffic was coming the other way helped to keep the speed up. We did however come across an oil spill that organisers had tried to cover in straw and give fair warning for. I later read that this was the deliberate work of some farmers in that area. One road, especially, seemed to be a bottleneck. The combination of a narrow lane and lots of riders, some not looking around before making moves created some near misses.
The quick pace at the start was starting to have an effect on me. Going so quickly, I’d not really taken the time to eat or drink quite enough. Combined with the start of a cold which showed itself the day before, my average speed went right down. I had a brief chat with Pascal who I ride with on the Gorilla Cafe rides, but he was hammering it and I couldn’t keep up. Dave also disappeared at this point.
I had the same issue for much of the next 20 miles as well, beginning to have nothing to give on any climbs. The speed on the flat was still there though so I found myself overtaking the same people only to be overtaken again, over and over. We passed through towns and villages where the local support was awesome. Going through Bewdley town centre, in particular, was loud and packed. It gave a feeling of what it’s like for pros as they blast through a town.
As I pulled into the feed stop at 73 miles I had a brief chat with James (also from the Gorilla Cafe rides) who was acting as domestique rider for Velo Birmingham. He gave me two fig rolls which I sat and ate with some gels during a necessary 10-minute rest on the grass. I was struggling hard at this point, my throat was on fire from coughing through the day too.
Hannah was on hand to give me a shout and wave from the roadside a few miles afterwards which helped pick up the spirits a lot. I pulled in for a water refill at 83 miles just at the beginning of the St Kenelm’s Pass climb. I watched a motorbike outrider nearly crush a parked bike as he reversed out of the way, he was stopped just in time. I sat in a sensible gear up the rest of the climb before having a little sprint over the top, showing off to the crowds. It also turned out to be my peak watts for the day.
In Frankley I managed to find two guys to share the work with and we all blasted back into town together. I was helped over some of the lumps on the way into Harborne before taking over in Edgbaston before joining the Hagley Road. I kept the pace high tucked into a time trial position but kicked in the afterburners going under Five Ways before releasing a sprint onto Broad Street. I managed to overtake two guys just before the finish line and the photos captured the grimaces of one of the two guys in the unspoken alliance trying to hold my wheel.
I collected my medal and walked into the NIA. I got given a free beer by one guy, then hid it behind a leg and claimed another from the girl at the ‘free beer desk’ – pro skills! Had a sit down for a bit of a recovery and was then out the doors and on my way home. No punctures or real dramas on this ride!
I finished Velo Birmingham 1160th of 11453 with a time of 5:53:01.