There just aren’t enough cobbled roads in the UK! But ask around and you will find a merry band that will gladly guide you over the few that remain. This weekend’s Lapierre Tour of the Black Country is one such ride. It has been put together by a determined bunch of cobble lovers and is the first in a series of three Classic themed sportives that will take you over the kind of roads only the locals know.
The Tour of the Black Country is a 100km sportive, 20km of which is over cobbles, gravel and farm tracks around Staffordshire. These sectors (secteurs for the obsessive!) are numbered and count down from 19, in an authentic Roubaix style. The sectors vary from 100 to 1800 metres, and are rated according to difficulty; one star for a flat easy run, up to the five starred 22% monster that is the climb up Walton Hill and has been dubbed the Waltonberg!
Organiser Francis Longworth has been carefully plotting this sportive to create a sportive that gives the rider a taste of what the pros go through in their monumental spring struggles. He’s tried to keep the sections fast, rideable and safe. No point having a sportive where you have to get off and walk because it’s too hard/dangerous!
With many of these races taking place in Northern France it seems apt that the main sponsor is Lapierre cycles, sponsors of French team FDJ and riders like Arnaud Demare and Thibaut Pinot. Their Xelius and Pulsium frames have built in shock absorption that would make these kind of rides a lot more comfortable and leave the rider fresher when going for the win!
The route is relatively flat, according to the organisers Cycle Classics; with the exception of the Waltonberg. The real challenge on these rides will be dealing with the sectors of un-paved and cobbled roads, something that most road riders won’t be familiar with. This extra challenge makes for an exciting change from your normal road sportive. I’ve been riding a lot of cyclo-cross sportives (check out my last one here) and love the feeling of diving off the tarmac onto some hidden back lane, it turns the event into a series of mini adventures!
Most of the sectors come after the halfway point, so you will need to keep something back for tackling those parts. Read around and you’ll see that most of the advice for riding cobbles tells you to keep your speed high; hit them fast and keep on top of your gear, until your’re clear. So this makes the Lapierre Tour of the Black Country a different sort of challenge from your normal road sportive. As well as keeping a good average speed, you will want to keep something back for tackling those sections at speed; thankfully many are closed to traffic, so you will be able to concentrate on your ride without looking out for cars.
In another nod to Roubaix, the Tour of the Black Country starts and finishes on the track at Aldersley Stadium. Riders will enter the track off the final un-paved sector and will complete one and a half laps to finish the ride. A great chance to sprint it out with your ride mates and emulate this year’s Paris-Roubaix winner Matt Hayman. Although you won’t be taking away a piece of Belgian pavé, there will be a French themed finish area, with champagne, crepes and coffee available once you’ve passed under the finish arch.
As well as supplying nineteen teeth rattling sectors for your enjoyment, there will be free parking, mobile medical and mechanical support, showers, plus hot food and drink. Entry is via British Cycling and riders will set off in waves of twenty, starting from 0930. The organisers have a section detailing what kind of equipment they would recommend to survive the cobbles and gravel of the Black Country. I will be running 25mm tubeless Schwalbe One tyres to avoid pinch punctures, although their S-Ones look to offer a more comfortable ride for this kind of event. This will also give our current review wheels from Sixth Element a good workout as well. If you see me out there say hi and give me a shove up the Waltonberg!
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