Looking for some target events for 2019? Well, Vélo Birmingham is back, with a difference: the UK’s second-biggest closed-roads sportive has moved earlier in the year, and also changed its name to reflect a new focus. Say hello to Vélo Birmingham and Midlands!
The inaugural Vélo Birmingham ran in September 2017 and sold out its 15,000 places in just three days. The route then was west of Birmingham, taking in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire along the way. This year the Ride will be heading east out of Birmingham and heading to Coventry to take in the city centre cobbles before heading back via the Lickey Hills south of Birmingham city centre. The capacity has increased to 17,000 riders.
The date has changed too: for 2019 the ride will be a Spring event, with the ride on Sunday 12 May. “Moving the event into a Spring slot with additional daylight hours, together with an exciting new route, will provide the capacity and infrastructure to enable the event to fulfil its long-term ambition of becoming one of the world’s biggest and most iconic sportives”, said the organiser of the date move. The earlier date also means it’s more likely to be one of your early season goal events, so it’s something to focus on when you’re putting in the hard miles over the winter.
The big draw here is the fact that the ride is all on fully closed roads. You wouldn’t necessarily want to head out of Birmingham on your bike on the A45 on a normal day, but it’ll be a fantastic experience with up to 17,000 other cyclists and no motor traffic. Much of the route is on A- and B-roads, and although it’s certainly not flat – there’s 1,500m climbing along the 160km route – it’s a real opportunity to do some fast riding without worrying about what’s coming round the corner. Closed roads really do make it into a different experience.
This year the ride rolls out of Birmingham to the east, before heading north to take in a couple of climbs at Baxterley and Birchley Heath. From there it’s south into Coventry; the ride goes right into the centre to the cobbled streets around the cathedral before heading west back towards the finish. There’s more climbing to be done past Corley Moor, and then the road heads gradually upwards towards the climbs of the Lickey Hills, the highest point on the route. Once you cross the M5 at Quinton you’re on the home stretch, and it’s a downhill blast back to the finish in Birmingham city centre.
One thing that the organisers are very keen to do is make Vélo Birmingham and Midlands a women-friendly event. With that in mind they’ve set themselves the target of increasing women’s participation over the next few years, with the ambitious target a 50/50 split of men and women taking part by the time Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Sportives have traditionally been a very male-dominated environment, and the team behind Vélo Birmingham and Midlands is looking to both motivate women to enter, and also tackle the barriers that women can face when participating in an event of this size. Can a half-and-half field be achieved? Well other big sporting events are doing really well increasing women’s participation; this year’s London Marathon, for example, had a field that was 45% women. There will be a priority entry system for women who are members of British Cycling, and the organisers have created a platform through which women can feed back what they would like to see from the event in 2019 and beyond.
Cycling presenter Rebecca Charlton is one of the ride’s ambassadors. “At a time when women’s cycling is attracting more women than ever, I’m excited to be working with Vélo Birmingham & Midlands to help inspire more women to take on the challenge of riding 100 miles on closed roads”, she said. “Events like Vélo Birmingham & Midlands have an important role to play in making cycling accessible to a wider range of women by spreading the message that while 100 miles may sound like a long way, it’s very achievable. I’m looking forward to encouraging more women to sign up, get pedalling and join me on the start line next May.”
There are already 40,000 pre-registrations on the Vélo Birmingham and Midlands website, and when entries open on Thursday 4 October they’re not expected to last long. So if you want to be a part of it, get your name down.
We’ve ridden a lot of big sportives between us over the years, so here’s the collected wisdom of the road.cc crew for getting the most out of your day.
It takes a while for 17,000 people to get going so there’s always some waiting. Take something warm for hanging around at the beginning, so you’re not starting cold. It could be a sacrificial jumper or jacket that you can lob over the railings; we've seen those all-in-one paper decorating suits being used before as well!
Dress for the weather. In mid-May it’s likely to be a bit chilly at the start and (you’d hope) it’ll warm up later. It may be that you can stand being a bit cold for the first hour or two if it’s going to be baking hot when you finish; if you’re wearing a jacket for the start make sure you have somewhere you can stash it so you don’t overheat. If rain’s forecast, make sure you’re prepared for that.
Make note of where all the climbs and feed stations are. It helps you to break up the ride and also to gauge your effort. Print or write them out on a slip of paper and tape them to your stem or the front of your top tube. If it’s going to rain, get some waterproof paper. Or use plenty of tape.
Don’t go out too hard. We’ve all done it: tagged on to a group that’s too quick and blown up half way round. Be honest with yourself about how quickly you can ride 100 miles and set yourself some target times for the set points around the route.
Ride to save energy. If you’re confident in a group, then that basically means: tucking in and letting someone else take the wind. It’ll make a huge difference to your energy levels if you’re not sat on the front all the way round. But with that in mind…
Be aware that there will be a wide variety of riding styles and abilities. We’ve seen some interesting riding on sportives; some people will be used to the club chaingang and sitting an inch off the wheel in front, and some will never have ridden in a group before. If you find yourself in a group where you’re not confident of the riders around you, best to head up the road – or slip off the back – until you find a better one.
Take your own snacks. You don’t need to eat a huge amount on a 100-mile ride, and the feed stations may not be stocking the stuff that you know suits you. Being self-sufficient also means you can skip a feed stop if you fancy. In terms of overall time, missing out one feed stop on the way round is probably the same as killing yourself to ride a couple of kilometres per hour faster...
Make sure you chat to the people alongside you. It’ll pass the time, and they might be nice.
Make sure you have all the right food in the fridge when you get home. You’ve earned it!
What are your tips for riding a big event such as Vélo Birmingham and Midlands? Let us know in the comments below!
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.