Cyclists get ready for Vélo Birmingham and Midlands

Riders in the 2017 event Image copyright rb create Ltd
Image caption A total of 17,000 riders have signed up to take part in the 100-mile course

Thousands of people are set to take part in a 100-mile cycle across the West Midlands on Sunday.

A total of 17,000 have entered Vélo Birmingham and Midlands, which raised more than £2m for charity when it launched in 2017.

That ride was blighted when nails were thrown on to the route amid complaints over road closures.

Organisers say this year's course is new and improved and crowds of supporters are expected.

What is the route?

Vélo Birmingham and Midlands is the second biggest closed-road event in the UK, according to organiser CSM Active.

After a hiatus in 2018, the new 100-mile course will take participants on a circular ride through rural Warwickshire, taking in the cobbled lanes by Coventry Cathedral en route.

Riders start in Digbeth, Birmingham; making their way from 06:30 BST out of the city centre along the A45 and taking an undulating path through Solihull and Bedworth, North Warwickshire.

Image copyright Vélo Birmingham & Midlands.
Image caption The 100-mile route starts and ends in Birmingham

At the 40-mile mark, cyclists pass through Coventry and move on to the National Cyclists' Memorial in Meriden before pedalling back via Dudley and Sandwell in the Black Country to the finish line on Sherlock Street, Birmingham.

A shorter 42-mile challenge between Birmingham and Coventry is also available to participants this year.

"Our focus is now on giving all our riders a safe and unforgettable experience along a stunning route," said Richard Relton, managing director of the Vélo Series.

Image copyright Vélo Birmingham and Midlands
Image caption Martin Johnson is an event ambassador

Who is taking part?

Beginners and charity cyclists will rub shoulders with seasoned athletes and celebrity entrants.

Among them are England Rugby World Cup-winning captain and event ambassador Martin Johnson, and Olympic cyclist Chris Boardman.

Meanwhile, Dan Martyr, from Worcester, is cycling to raise money for five-year old Leukaemia patient Oscar Saxelby-Lee, who goes to school with his son Laurie.

Image copyright Dan Martyr
Image caption Dan Martyr has raised more than £1,000 for a Leukaemia charity

Mr Martyr, who has already doubled a £500 fundraising target, says he will be riding the 100 miles on a borrowed road bike after problems with his own.

He said: "I did 80 miles a couple of weeks ago - for me, that was a big psychological milestone. I wanted to see if I could do it and I could."

He added: "It's fantastic that something good has come out of Oscar's illness. It's galvanised people like me to go out there and do something."

Image copyright Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity
Image caption Nick James is raising money for the Man Van project

Prof Nick James, a prostate cancer specialist at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, is taking part despite undergoing a hip operation four months ago.

He is fundraising for the Man Van project which promotes health awareness to at-risk male groups.

"Even for someone who cycles regularly, 100 miles is a quite significant distance," he said.

Organisers aim to make the event more inclusive, and there is a target to increase the number of women taking part to 50% by the time Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games in 2022.

Image copyright Vélo Birmingham and Midlands
Image caption Community club riders have been handed free entry - Vanessa Morris is fifth from the left

Twenty-five free entries have been given to community club cyclists in the Birmingham areas of Small Heath, Longbridge, Cannon Hill Park, Nechells, Ladywood, Kings Norton, Sheldon and Bromford.

Vanessa Morris, Cycling UK's community clubs development officer for the city, said some members did not have access to a bike before they joined the programme.

She said: "It just goes to show that anything's possible and sends out a really clear message that anyone can do it, and that you don't need an expensive bike, or be dressed head-to-toe in Lycra."

Naseem Akhtar from women's group the Saheli Hub is leading a team of Muslim cyclists who will undertake just a ten-mile stretch as they are fasting for Ramadan.

"We're really pleased the organisers are letting us cycle part of the route - we're calling it the Ramadan special", Ms Akhtar said, adding some of the group only started riding three months ago.

Image copyright Naseem Akhtar
Image caption Women from the Saheli Hub

What do local communities say?

There are opposing views. Some people cannot wait, while others are literally leaving town.

Thousands of supporters are expected road-side, with pubs, churches and community centres across the region putting on live music, food and entertainment for spectators.

"We're fortunate to have it going through our village," said Celia Parker from St Mary and All Saints Church in Fillongley, North Warwickshire, where supporters will be able to buy homemade cakes and drinks.

"We're looking forward to welcoming people."

But widespread road closures along the route from 01:00 BST on Sunday have once more raised concerns of people being "trapped".

Image copyright rb create Ltd
Image caption Thousands of spectators are expected to line the route, as they did in 2017

Deirdre Alden, a Birmingham councillor, said organisation had been "a muddle" because residents in Quinton, Harborne and Edgbaston were only informed about a route change - moving cyclists from busy Hagley Road to residential roads - in March.

"Many people will be completely unable to have vehicular access to and from their homes for the whole of Sunday," she said.

"They really deserved to have a decent amount of advance notice of this inconvenience, and not have a major change thrown at them when there was just weeks to go."

Quinton resident Ray Bryant says he will be "trapped" on his estate as main routes near him are closed to traffic.

He said it was a "real annoyance" as he had hoped to go out for a meal to celebrate several family birthdays.

"Being a non-cyclist I'm not really excited about it. I have to put up with it but I'm not very happy about it."

And Paul Groves, from Halesowen, says he has chosen to go away for the weekend, rather than be stuck in his cul-de-sac.

"I think this is a good time to take a break rather than sit in my house getting wound up," he said.

Image copyright rb create Ltd
Image caption The 2017 event was marred by controversy and complaints about road closures

What do organisers say?

They say they have worked hard with local councils and emergency services to minimise inconvenience caused by road closures, which they say are necessary for the safe passage of participants.

They stress the event is not a race, and the onus is on cyclists finishing safely rather than quickly.

Richard Relton, managing director of the Vélo Series, said Sunday would be a "truly special day" for the Midlands.

"We can't wait to see thousands of local residents out on the route cheering on the riders who are literally going the extra mile to raise funds for local and national charities close to their heart."

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