Friday, 13 September 2013

Cycling the Coventry Ring Road - Godiva Awakes Homecoming

Some of you may have had the opportunity to see the Godiva Awakes cavalcade as it toured around the UK following the Olympics last year. If not, you can find out more here. The consortium behind this incredible (and weird) art-work organised a Homecoming event on 10 August 2013 to welcome Lady Godiva back to the city and part of this event was the closing of the Coventry Ring Road for the exclusive use of cyclists. I know, pretty damn amazing!

This closure commenced with the opportunity for an advanced group of the city's cyclists to ride the ring-road for 40 mins before the day's main events began to kick off. Now, clearly, this wasn't marketed by the event management as a 'race' as such but there was never any doubt in my mind that there would be a lot of people rocking up to have a shot at owning the Strava KOM on Coventry's ring road - I wasn't wrong!

At 8.30am Joel and I rocked up to sign-in and collect some free goodies from the reception desk as people began to arrive and the mutual bike appreciation/envy began among the forming crowds! There were quite a few people and of all ages and abilities and it was a great thing to see so many people turning up to support cycling in Coventry  - and at such an unfriendly hour.

We stood around outside the Welcome Centre trying to decide whether taking our free 'Cycle Coventry' backpacks was going to put us at an aerodynamic disadvantage but, we soon manned-up, emptied the contents and stuffed them into jersey pockets. No, this really happened! The free water bottle was stowed in my spare bottle cage and everything was set with less excuses for a terrible ‘performance - if indeed that was what we were here to do but who knew?

photo 1

Cycle Coventry, the cities new initiative to promote all things cycling, did a fantastic job of organising us all and before we knew it were were being lined up to be led out for the start. A short (and cringe-worthy) warm-up from some local fitness instructors and we were off to the entry ramp at Junction 5 for the madness to begin. The organisers had chosen to use the re-surfaced, anti-clockwise carriageway and this made for a surprisingly smooth ride. If you've ever driven around the ring-road you'll appreciate this point!

photo 3

I, somewhat naively, thought we'd just ‘pootle’ around for the first lap or two and then the pace would inevitably crank up as people started to get a feel for how it was going to go. Instead, a few at the front (Joel included) shot down the ramp and got things started pretty abruptly. Whilst all  of this happened ahead of me, I was blissfully unaware and got chatting with another lad who seemed pretty excited about the chance to have a blast around Coventry's notorious Ring Road. The moment I noticed the gap had formed it was nothing short of a frickin effort to get on the last wheel in the line of about 20 riders. It took me just over a lap (2.2 miles) to work my way up to Joel and do my turn at the front. Now, Joel nor I have done any serious group riding and it was an amazing feeling to be cycling at some pace in a decent group. Around 5 of us seemed pretty happy to keep pushing forward and take turns in the wind. By the the 4th lap things were settling down a little but this meant that gaps started forming with some unable to stay on the wheel or to bring it back. “Is it a race” I thought?" “What’s the worst that can happen if this gap widens?”. These thoughts didn’t last long before my competitive side kicked in when I realised that Joel was in that front group and we had to finish together for my own self-preservation! Not even sure if I had the legs to stay there if I could close the gap of about 20 metres, I got into my best Fabian Cancellara position:


….sorry, no I mean:


  and managed to get back onto the wheel behind Joel. A quick glance to my left and could see someone had taken a tow up behind me and was annoyed to soon notice it was the chap who’d let the gap form in the first place – wasn’t happy and decided that the first chance I got I would try and drop him…..which then didn’t happen. Best laid plans and all that!


Screenshot from Youtube footage taken by user shawry1970 – can be viewed here.

This happened again at almost the same point in the next lap and once again I completely buried myself to close the gap. This was supposed to a leisurely pootle around the ring with a blast at the Strava segment, not the flippin Word Hour Record! Nevertheless I was having fun, heck it looked like we all were, and this carried until we got the final lap warning from the marshals as we entered the ramp off junction 5 for the penultimate time. Then all hell broke loose and people were just sprinting at all points throughout the lap, including Joel who fancied chasing down a solo break from a Coventry Road Club Jersey! Just managing to hang on, a group of 5 of us climbed the ramp for the final time, Joel the first to cross the imaginary finish line for a ‘victory’!

Re-grouping at the Welcome Centre, we chatted among ourselves and by all accounts everyone had had good blast around. Clearly a few of us had taken this more seriously than others but everyone had taken something from the event, with quite a few going straight back out for the second wave or ‘leisure’ ride which followed before the main cavalcade event.

Joel and I opted for coffee and cake, as should always follow a ride when its too early (or inappropriate) for beer. This time was then used, predominantly by Joel, to check the Strava situation, who was elated to find that he had the KOM for the segment…..for at least 2 minutes….. until everyone else uploaded their rides and we both watched as we were both pushed down the rankings – Bad times!

photo 2 Nom nom!

All of this unofficial scoring and competition business aside, this had been a truly well-organised and fun event and we talked with one of the marshals about the possibility of an organised race event on the ring-road. We managed to determine that the event was an unofficial pilot for a larger event in the future – but nobody would say any more than that. Personally I think this could be an amazing way of promoting cycling in the city and could draw a decent crowd. The beauty of the ring-road, love or hate it, is that there are two carriageways allowing the closure of one whilst the other remains open.

All in, this was a surprisingly good event and made so by all of the volunteers, the City Council and the cyclists who turned up on the day. Whilst the rest of the day’s  events continued within the City, I cycled home to type an email to the Council about next year’s event…..

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