The tale of a train wreck
Which residents? The NIMBY residents. The ones who say “cyclists – YES 15,000 cyclists – NO!” such were the placards alongside the roads in many lovely Worcestershire villages on the 24th of September. The day I finally decided to launch a campaign against the mass participation cyclo sportive, the day of the utter train wreck shambles that was the first Velo Birmingham.
Now look, I accept that this being the longest I’ve ever (and by a long way) taken to cover 100 miles on a bicycle will have coloured my judgment, but honestly, whilst I am embarrassed by that, it is not the reason I am utterly opposed now to this and Ride London. My dreadful time is merely a by product of this silly event.
Billed as a nice rolling ride through Birmingham’s surrounding counties, it was anything but rolling and just about the only flat sections, were the roughly 9 miles within the boundaries of Brum itself. It was brutal. Stupidly “ we are going to be the Billy Big Bollocks of all Sportives” brutal. Hills that were indicated as average 2%, but kicked up to over 15 and 17% brutal. It was a route that would have seen a walk out by a pro peloton. Stopping and starting again and again because of accidents or the inexperienced falling off, poorly maintained bikes with gearing they didn’t understand, up one track (square peg in a round hole) 8% lanes. Spills and tumbles on hair raisingly long fast descents. Now my fan will be aware, that I love a fast descent, but at roughly 8 miles in is the cyclists dream downhill. Mucklow Hill between Brum and Halesowen. It’s about 15% of arse over the back wheel hands off the brakes “ yeh baby that’s what I like “ drop down, that is unless you have 8,000 or so terrified (and justifiably so) begginers grabbing hands full of brake on the steepest fastest line….mad!! But there were many more. You should only tackle hills like that with exceptionally good bike handling skills and frankly a good local knowledge of the roads. Many of the fast descents were on poorly maintained roads with a very sharp turn at the bottom.
That’s the route. To recap, Innacurate info on gradients and total climbing. Lunatic descents for the inexperienced. Bottlenecks that were inevitable on single track roads, most with at least one climb of between 2 and 5%.
The rest of it? Try this. The best part of an hours delay at the start. The reason, huge amounts of tacks strewn across the route along with oil, callously dumped on descents and thorns from hedges clearly from the day before. Ok. That sort of thing is not the fault of the organisers is it? Weeeell..yes, it is. Not the actual dropping of debris ofcourse, but when there had been so much opposition to the event…so strong that the route through Herefordshire and part of Worcestershire was eliminated. When I submit proposals for a 120 rider time trial, I have to provide the local police and Cycling Time Trials with a highly detailed risk assessment. I am then expected to recce the route early doors on the day of the event and quite rightly so. Ofcourse 100 miles is 75 miles longer than an inter club TT, BUT, They have a large staff and a huge budget, from entries and sponsorship, with a history of similar sabotage on other closed road Sportives, a small convoy of vehicles precededing the riders, could have cleared this away quite easily and with their boast of being the best ever, ought to have reckoned in their planning. It didn’t ofcourse, because like the London-Surrey it’s organised by people with no experience of organising a cycle event. Ask yourself the question why Human Race and U.K. CYCLING, to name two, manage to host Sportives by the dozen on open roads every weekend with barely a hitch. The answer is simple…EXPERIENCE. So forward planning and risk assessment were barely a consideration. The cash cow mentality won out.
The biggest complaint though in a list of horrendous cock ups was truly the most unforgivable. The later starting waves were quite simply “ effed over” when it came to food. I’d decided in advance to go until the 50 mile pit stop, with the lure of a sausage roll and a banana and maybe the much touted bacon rolls, even at the rumour 6 quid a pop. That and gels should’ve seen me through even with the hills to a creditable 7 hours. Except that there was nothing left. Not a gel, a piece of cake, a sausage roll. Or even a humble banana. There was food debris everywhere, but none for us….beyond disgusting, especially considering the entry fee and the quickly gleaned fact that the first feed stop had also run out before our small group had ridden past. The same story at the next one and both were filling peoples bidons from the overflow buckets….i kid you not.
VELO BIRMINGHAM, IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO RIDE 100 VERY STEEP MILES WITHOUT FOOD. A gel every mile or two is all very well, but those and my beloved Marks and Sparks Percy pigs ain’t enough fuel, beside which there is only so much of that stuff you can eat before you want to hurl. I hit the wall around mile 65, my average dropped from 15mph to just around 12, it was sheer bloody mindedness that kept me going, that and that alone. The last stop had managed to keep hold of bananas and cake …….yes. That stop was ( by then) sarcastically at the bottom of a 5-7%er.
God alone knows what time they opened the roads, but those of us determined to finish or bust, were on the receiving end of some close calls and abuse from previously penned in drivers, that for once I could sympathise with. We got our medals, despite being out of time…thanks to the boys and girls at the back of the by then closed N.I.A. For staying on with warm welcoming hugs, medals and much needed cool bottles of water.
My opposition to ride London-Surrey is well known, so you’d be forgiven for asking “why the hell did I ride this?” Put simply, optimism…yes, I know. Optimism that my native city would get it right. That and the fact that as well as it being the city I’m proud to have been born in, my Dad and Mom were very popular as Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress…it was a given that I had to ride it and if nothing else, the NSPCC will have the money I raised for them.
Were there any positives? Yes, the indomitable spirit of the British in adversity, the overwhelming support to get people through. The magnificent support from the local people all the way along the route. Calling out riders names….they’d printed them on our numbers. It got many weary souls to the top of many a climb that followed a sharp turn. People around me loved it.
“goo on bab. Yo can do it” “come on Mark nearly there cocker“
VELO BIRMINGHAM. You let my beloved city down. People who hate these hyper Sportives, here is one lifelong cyclist who feels that hyper Sportives harm the already tarnished reputation of our sport and pastime badly. Look out, there is a petition coming when I can figure out who it should be addressed to. Oh, I nearly forgot. Thirty or so of us were locked out of the organised car park. An official got permission from the old Bill to cut the lock off after the owner refused a fee to keep it open or come and unlock it.
Jo Ann Carver
Cyclist, Actor & CyclingShorts.cc Writer
Jo Ann Carver is a 65 year old born again granny. She used to be known as Jon Carver and was on a failed mission to live and die as a man. She was the brains behind all of his successes and due to extreme boredom, fell asleep during his failures. She guided him through a moderately successful amateur racing career and later as the father of a European champion BMX racer and coach.
He has thanked her for getting him through a degree in Drama and English and an M.A. in acting from Oxford. He’d have been lost without her emotional insight into all of the characters he has played on T.V. big screen & stage.
Jo will live her life doing what she loves best. Cycling and acting. She is the Secretary of Bedfordshire Road Cycling Club and lives with Carol her and Jon’s partner for 24 years and their LaChon Dog Wilf. Jon, having relinquished the body has gifted his bikes. Records, C.Ds and love of Jazz and Northern soul. He also gifted her his Alfa Romeo Spider, but did not give her any money to get work done on it.
She intends to carry on writing the same drivel for cycling shorts that he thought was his witty prose. Now though it will contain a lot more references to pink shoes. As she continues her journey via hormone replacement and surgery, she hopes you will come along with her as she pedals her way from bloke to the woman she should’ve always been.