Lucky me landed a last minute Velo Birmingham & Midlands entry at work this week . I was bashing a way on the keyboard when a colleague upstairs randomly messaged me to ask if I wanted his entry. Of course! £120 worth of fast-track entry too, for free! I didn’t have the heart to just take it, so I asked him to nominate a charity and I donated £30 to Cancer Research UK. So a BIG thank you to Lawrence for the entry and Karina who nominated me to have it off him. A quick rearrangement of the weekend activities was needed but my super-cool girlfriend just let me get on with it.
I hadn’t done any specific training for the event or a century so it was going to be a test as Baz, my commuting buddy who’d also bought an entry last minute announced he wanted to go for a time. 4.5 hrs. FFS. My head was saying no way Jose, just let him ride on his own, but my inner ‘thick as mince’, just nodded and arranged to fall back a pen so I could ride with him. There is some context to this by the way. I’ve only ridden 12 mile commutes and done some Zwift. Baz has trained. He’s ridden numerous centuries already this year before taking on 168 miles of Liege-Bastogne-Liege, a couple of weeks ago. He had the legs. I had absolutely no idea what mine had. My head said 3hrs then hang on but I am capable of a ride sometimes as I can be a good judge of pace.
I woke at 4.50am. Breakfast was a bowl of granola, weetabix, a chopped banana washed down with coffee and a croissant. I left the house at 5.45am and boy it was nippy. I climbed over the Lickeys (slowly) and descended Rose Hill. My teeth were chattering. As I got onto the A38, the cars with riders driving into town were all passing me and copping a look at me and my bike, as we cyclists do. I’d noted the best route to the start was in round the back of Calthorpe Park, just off the Pershore Road. It brough me out just below the mosque. I crossed Belgrave Middleway, right on to Bissell St then Rea St which brought me out opposite my start pen at 6.20am. Perfect. The sea of riders was staggering. As far as you could see back. A quick call to Baz and we hooked up and just waited for the start at 6.40am. No long waits like the riders endured on the last edition, we got away just after we were due to start.
I took my helmet cam as a handheld to get some footage but we were going so fast I didn’t get chance
Its always a bit chaotic early doors. In and out of riders without being dangerous. I dropped on Baz’s wheel and from the gun he meant business. We must have passed hundreds in the first couple of miles alone. We were looking for a train to jump on. A line of riders going faster than us so we could sit in. They always happen on these types of rides and true to form we got on a decent one. Getting through the throngs of riders is generally ok if you stick to the gutter but there were a couple of dicey moments you take a risk to stay on the wheel. We were banging out 40km/h which was ok sat in but unsustainable for me really over 5 hours. Then a rider came past just drilling it and we jumped on him and the speed was up. Way up. 45-50km/h on the flats. We covered the first 20 miles in about 52 mins. When we crossed the M6 and M42 and got out into the lanes it was like the Belgian Ardennes. Just up and own. Drags, steep climbs, tight and twisty lanes. It was great but super hard. The guy was just smashing it. Barry needed a comfort break so we stopped at the first feed where I met Ross from work doing the mechanics stuff for Cycle Republic. I was glad of the rest tbh.
We set off again and eased back a bit before Barry turned on the gas again. I had to oblige despite feeling it and we caught a small group who jumped onto us then just before we hit the outskirts of Coventry. The ride into the centre was great but odd. Left, right, left, right through narrow residential streets. It was like a crit at times. When we got to the centre we turned and hit the 300m of cobbles in front of the cathedral ruins.
The course wound its way back out and onto the ring road no less and it was great feeling to own a road so choked with cars normally. Now it was north east back upto touch the M6 and it was here on the exit of Cov with got caught by another train. Small group of 3 riders who we hung onto. They weren’t shy of doing the work which was fine. They eased on a long drag upto the Meriden – Fillongley road but one of them punctured on the descent to Meriden where there was some great support by the public. I was on familiar roads now, I’ve done countless training rides round here when I had my cycle shop. The climb to Berkswell was a bit of a kicker and we stopped again at the top for another comfort break before carrying on to Balsall Common where there was even more support. Banners, kids cheering, whistles, bells, it was great. I felt like a pro. Baz put in a turn to Cheswick Green when I realised I was beginning to blow fast. We were 100km and just under 3 hrs in. Baz eased and we’d planned to stop at Packwod House, feed 3 anyway. We rolled up and I filled my boots. Packet of crisps, banana, coke, mars bar. My stomach was complaining from all the sweet stuff but bollox to it I needed it. I was just leaving and Baz called me. He had left thinking I had so he’d stopped and waited in Knowle for me while I caught up before we got caught again by the guys that had punctured before Meriden. The group had swelled now so I just sat in and decided to hang in now as long as I could. There were big crowds in Knowle before we got back into the lanes and hammered it Cheswick Green, skirted Dickens Heath and into Shirley. The group eased as we headed up the long drag to the Maypole and as we passed another group we split temporarily and I had to dig in to get back in the wheels. That was my undoing and as we left Drakes Cross and passed the 80 mile mark, I popped. I just sat up and decided to eat and get ready for a trudge for the next 20 miles. I went through a seriously bad patch up through Kings Norton. It was horrible. You have lovely people wanting to high five you, clapping and you can barely turn the pedals. As I got to Cofton Hackett, I skipped stopping at the water stop, I got passed a gel. I necked that and rolled down to the foot of Cock Hill in Rubery and climbed that where I picked up a couple of riders I’d stay with for the rest of the ride. One of them was glued to me as much as I was glued to him. I did the climbs, he did the flats. The head fuck was we’d had a sign at 10 through to 80 miles but there was no 90. When you’re just trying to count miles down, omitting the 90 mile sign is just plain mean.
As we skirted Bartley Green reservoir I knew we were inside 10 to go which spurred me on. The drag up to the top of Quinton hurt but from there it was pretty much all downhill and fast. My guy with me was clearly getting a second wind too and we mopped up a couple of riders to form a little group to finish. Finally we turned onto Belgrave Middleway and nailed it downhill, under the underpass and then a u-turn, back up the slip road and round the island to finish. Baz was there waiting for me.
So times. My Garmin packed up at 100km so I didn’t know what I had done except it was probably sub-5hrs. Baz finished in 4:38 and said I was about 5 mins behind him. I checked his Strava and his total stops were just under 20mins. My official Velo time incl stops was 5:02, so take off the stops and I’m around 4:45ish which I’m really pleased with given I’ve only commuted and Zwifted these past few months. The daunting thing though is I’m doing 200 miles next month. A whole different ball game.
I bumbled home at about 13 mph. Time didn’t matter. As I crossed the path of the ride in Rubery, there was a guy driving a big wank panzer losing his shit with the marshals. There will always be the moaners but on the whole I cannot fault the organisation, the route or the support. A lot of residents, particularly in Coventry would have been really affected by the event but loads were out supporting it and enjoying it. It was a sight to behold.
I bulk at spending more than £30 on an event but given the level of organisaton and the great feeling it is to ride on closed-roads for 100 miles, I think I’d consider paying it once a year. Well worth it.