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Lapierre Tour of the Black Country 2015

I saw this event ‘advertised’ and as it was being touted as being inspired by the great classic that is Paris-Roubaix I decided to give it a go.

The Velodrome at Aldersley

Aldersly Velodrome

Aldersly Velodrome

The riders pack, when it arrived via e-mail the week before the event, was well presented and boasted of plentiful parking at the start location. I got there at just after 8am and with the Bay Cycles Team Camper Van struggled to find somewhere suitable but parked up in the end. The queue for the signing-on was very long and I got changed first so I was ready to go after I signed on. I rolled up to the start and took my place in the starting pen in front of some rather nattily dressed individuals on Pashley’s and rather wide tyres though one Pashley was sporting a Garmin?!. I got chatting to some guys from  Fred Williams Cycle Shop (Matt x 2, Jon & Will) in Wolverhampton and we managed to roll out together after being told that the organisers had been locked out the main building hence the long queue. The initial few miles were a bit stop- start as we were trying to get out from the edge of Wolverhampton and in to the countryside so many traffic lights and roundabouts to negotiate but soon we were clear. 

We were let go in groups of c 20 riders and our Group was whittled down quite quickly to about half that by the urban nature of the first few miles. Just after 6 miles in to the ride we turned right off the road we were on and on to our first section of ‘pave’, well gravel farm track really and the speed increased dramatically and our group spread out leaving us with a group of 5(me and the guys from Fred’s) that would stay together to the end. This section was made rather fun by the deeper gravel half way along outside someone’s house that sent the bike sideways but remaining upright.

Note to self: we would travel this section again on the way back.  Soon we were back on to normal roads and travelling through some rather quaint villages forgetting that I was not that far from one of the major conurbations in the UK, Birmingham.

A relatively straight forward section followed before we turned right off a fairly busy main road onto The Hyde – well it all started OK but then the track tilted downhill and went round 2 sharpish corners with a mixed surface of loose stones and half buried bricks. I managed to maintain adequate momentum and soon caught someone up but found it quite difficult to get past them on the single track nature of the track. After a brief kick back up we left that sector to drop down in to Kinver (home of the cave houses – honest look it up). 

After 40km we arrived at the first food stop very well located at a Pub and Yes some people were discussing the merits of having a pint at that time of the morning. We decided that we would wait until the second feed stop at 78km before we availed ourselves of anything like that. It was not long after this feed that we were to ‘hit’ perhaps the most feared part of the ride; Waltonberg with its rough slippery surface and 22% gradient. The approach to this section didn’t really allow you any respite as it involved a couple of drags that sapped the legs. At the top of the second one we turned left, dropped down very slightly then branched right on to the Waltonberg. I have ridden the Muur in Gerraardsbergen and found that relatively easy at 25% but this one was totally different and I’m afraid, just after I got past the photographer, I had to unclip and walk the remainder. I was re-assured by the photographer that more people were walking than riding this climb today. At the top we turned on to what was effectively a bridleway which was great fun until we descended on narrow muddy single track which was fine until we had to take a sharp right turn and I realised my brakes were not slowing me down enough so I went straight on in to a bank which scrubbed the remainder of my speed off!! We exited the muddy track in to a car park and may dog walkers were probably wondered what on earth we were all doing but soon after we were rewarded by a wonderfully smooth descent. I was able to rely on the guys from Fred Williams for their local knowledge on this descent.

The feared Waltonberg

Waltonberg

The feared Waltonberg

We were getting slightly concerned that the sector numbers were not going down as quickly as expected but just like the real thing a large majority of the sectors would come in the last 40km. However, it was not long before we were able to count 2 off almost in one go with the combination of Treherns Farm & Bury Hill running in to one another. Treherns Farm was a rather fun descent on loose gravel before a sharp climb up with a right turn in to Bury Hill at the top. Sector 10 done and 9 more to go. 

The next sector of Roman Road was effectively a shared cycle path but one of our group took a tumble on the entrance into it after slipping on the gravel. We carried on and re-grouped at the end with Will joining us soon after with blood on his right knee.

A sign indicated that we were going to tackle Whittington Farm next, a 1.8km section which started off downhill. What was more fun with this sector was that it levelled off in the middle and there were some rather large puddles that you wanted to avoid. This involved going over bumps that would have put a BMX track to shame. During this sector I was surprised by how many punctures were being picked up, by other people, though and not me!! At the end another busy road to be used before a left turn took us on to the Gothersberg which comprised of a small rise then flat across fields but with a very poor surface of loose stones that were flicking up and making rather nice ‘pinging’ noises on my frame and wheels. Soon the track went down rather steeply with evidence of a drainage ‘ditch’ down the middle and a narrow gate at the bottom. No opportunity to change line but I just managed to get through Ok and a short on road section brought us to the second feed stop at The Navigators Inn, located very nicely next to a working canal and lock.

A quick coke and snack to fuel us up for the remaining 20km and we were off. Soon after I realised that I recognised the junction where we were turning right as this was getting us back on to the route we came out on. A short section brought us to a right hand turn on to Gorse Lane East with Gorse Lane West being the first section we had ‘hit’ earlier. I soon realised that the section was slightly downhill so made it even more fun apart from the deeper gravel in the middle!! 

Back on normal roads and only 4 sections to go with the last one leading on to the outdoor track at the start village. The next sector was Furnace Grange which took us down through a farmyard, luckily no slippy cow muck, and back up a slight rise to rejoin a main road having passed a few riders, again, with puncture issues. A short section along this main road before we turned right to be confronted by a Ford (Trescott Ford) which was Sector 3. I managed to make the decision relatively quickly and took to the small pedestrian bridge – I was glad I did as I glanced across at the others going through the Ford and realised it was quite deep.

We then turned left on to another Sector called Pool Hall which I decided to take steadily, or was it because I was knackered?!, Half way along this sector was a lovely house and another short section of deeper gravel and the sight of a Porsche coming towards me. There was just enough room to pass and I don’t think I flicked any stones up. A small humpback bridge over the canal felt like a mountain but the next half a mile or so was nice and flat alongside the canal. 

The guys I was with kept reminding me that we weren’t far away from the finish and with the build up of suburbia I soon realised we probably only had 5-6km to go. Hanging on the back of the guys from Fred’s I was worried that the elastic would not only stretch but definitely break. Luckily traffic lights came to my rescue on a couple of occasions to allow me to close the couple of bike lengths and also take a breather. Soon the bright yellow arrow ahead indicated a right turn and I instinctively followed the wheel in front and we cut the corner slightly by using the ‘footpath’. Under the old railway bridge and a hard right on to a loose surface of mud/ gravel and there we were, the final section that would take us round the back of the track to enter it on the back straight. A quick half a lap and we were over the finish line. It never ceases to amaze me that however tired your legs are you can always find that little bit needed to kick for the line. 

After coasting round the Athletics track we exited the velodrome and collected our ‘winnings’ – a glass of champagne, a ‘lump’ of coal courtesy of The Black Country Museum (well lump is an exaggeration) and an Elite Tour of Britain Water Bottle courtesy of Vittoria. Saying good bye to my new found cycling buddies I made my way back to the team van and realised how much nicer and easier it is to get changed in there than trying to use the inside of a car. 

A big thank you to Matt x 2, Jon and Will from Fred Williams Cycles in Wolverhampton for their Company on this ride. It certainly made the ride more enjoyable and I ended up pushing myself a little bit more on some sectors. 

Unfortunately, my test Trek Domane went back last Autumn so I ended up doing this ride on my aluminium framed Wilier La Triestina. It had a bit of carbon ‘cushioning’ in the rear seat stays and front forks. I must admit I didn’t feel too uncomfortable though the Domane would have given me that armchair ride over some of the rougher sections. I was running a pair of Mavic Ksyrium SL’s with my trusty 25mm Continental GP4000s’s at 90psi which was perfectly fine. Haven’t a clue what all the puncture victims were using but unlike Paris-Roubaix I didn’t puncture once though I was worried about the gravel and stones ‘attacking’ my wheels but they seem OK.

The Lapierre Cycle Classics team are also putting on other events with their next one in June in Cheshire based on the Tour of Flanders followed by one in July based on the Strade Bianche and held in Oxfordshire. For more details go to www.cycleclassics.co.uk

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