When news came out last year that there would be a new Sportive on the calendar in Birmingham – a huge, 15,000 rider, closed road affair, I got rather excited. Until the price came through (way more than double the usual amount I’m willing to fork out for this sort of thing). So I reluctantly left it unentered, and went on my merry way. All was fine for a few months, until the day of the event neared. Quite a few of my colleagues and friends had entered, and the more talk there was about the upcoming event, the more jealous (and regretful) I became.
However, two weeks before today, a friend passed me a link, which got me in on the cheap, and thus, this morning found me shivering in the cold on Broad Street, waiting for a delayed start (talk filtered down to us of a problem on the course, which was a bit ominous, given the news over the previous few weeks). You see, the problem with a closed-road route of 100 miles is that this covers a large area, and results in a large number of people that are inconvenienced. Those inside the loop can’t get out, and there was a fair bit of resentment at that. Threats of tacks being strewn on the roads weren’t uncommon, and there was a bit of not-entirely-jocular speculation at the delayed start about protesters burning tyres in the streets.
However, once we had actually started, there were no problems at all (at least, that I witnessed). In fact, there was only one village (Belbroughton) where a number of signs had been put up: “NO 2 VELO. Cyclists: Yes. 15,000: No!” Which is a fair concern. That many cyclists is a lot. There will inevitably be litter (mainly empty energy gel sachets) and a lot of inconvenience on the day. Here’s the view behind me at the start line (bearing in mind there were 4,000 riders in front of me too, and that bunch behind went on for nearly a mile):
But the overwhelming response I got was support. In every village (Belbroughton included!), there were people lining the streets clapping, and shouting support. One man had set up a “Free Drink!” stall outside his house with jugs of squash. In Bewdley, the ancient bridge over the Severn River was lined on both sides by people shouting and whistling, and generally going mad. I’ve never felt more like either a celebrity, or a participant in the Tour de France. It was absolutely fantastic. I don’t know what the grumpy naysayers were doing (sitting indoors writing lengthy green-ink letters to their local newspapers, no doubt), but the vast majority of communities were out and about, enjoying the lovely weather, and taking it as an opportunity to do something together. One even had music playing on the village green, with bunting flying, and a fair on the go.
So yes – I admit that it did feel a bit selfish having all the roads to ourselves (It changes things completely – the speeds were faster, especially through intersections, and being able to use the whole road without worrying about cars makes it a lot safer.) I’m genuinely thankful to those who had to put up with a fair bit of mayhem so that we could have our day. And to all those who came out and supported us: a HUGE thanks. From those in pyjamas eating breakfast on the pavement, to those having tea and cake at 11, to the crowds lining up at the finish: I’ve never seen anything like it in any of the rides I’ve done, and if this goes ahead next year, I’ll be signing up again for sure. It’s worth the high price all the way.