The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country

tour-of-the-black-country Sportive

The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country

The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country is a 100km sportive which takes in 20km of cobbled roads, stony farm tracks and bridleways in the West Midlands and Worcestershire, with a Roubaix-style velodrome finish.

Modelled on the epic European Classic ‘Paris-Roubaix’

The Lapierre Tour of the Black Country includes 15 unpaved sectors varying in length from 300m to 1800m, all of which are passable on a standard road bike. Each sector is rated according to difficulty; one star being the most straightforward, five stars being the most difficult. The roads are virtually traffic-free, despite being located close to Birmingham, and the majority of the unpaved sectors are closed to all traffic. The route finishes, as does Paris-Roubaix, on a large outdoor velodrome, at Aldersley Stadium on the outskirts of Wolverhampton.

The event will have a French theme, with a variety of French foods (croissants, pains aux raisins, crepes, etc.), coffee and a glass of Champagne for every finisher. In addition, everyone who completes the course will be presented with a lump of top-quality Black Country coal, mined from under the very same roads that the route follows. Feed stations, a broom wagon and medical support will be provided. There is also the option of a shorter 65 km (40-mile) route, which skips sectors 8-12, but is otherwise the same as the full 100 km route.

The event is being supported by British Cycling; read the article on their website describing how the sportive came into being, and the ideas and values behind it.

tour-of-the-black-country paris-roubaix style sportive

“In putting together this route”, explains event organiser Francis Longworth, “what we were trying to do was to create a riding experience similar to that of Paris-Roubaix, but close to where we lived. Rather than travelling hundreds of miles to France or Belgium in order to seek out interesting and novel cycling experiences, we wanted to create something for ourselves at home – and then make this accessible to others. Only a small minority of professional cyclists ever get to ride Paris-Roubaix and we wanted to try to open up that experience to everyone. We also felt that the Midlands and the Black Country were rather undervalued and under-represented in terms of cycling events, and wanted to support cycling in the region. The Black Country has a rich and proud heritage both in bicycle manufacture and bicycle racing, and we thought that with a bit of time and effort we could contribute something worthwhile and of value to the local community. We wanted to get away from the rather passive idea that you need to travel to other people’s events in order to do anything interesting, and to emphasise that by making imaginative use of the local resources available, you can create something new and exciting right on your own doorstep”.

“We’d also noticed”, he continues, “that nearly all of the interesting sportives in Britain seemed to be centred or focussed on climbing; how many climbs, how long, how steep, and so on.We felt that creating a sportive based primarily around variations in the road surface rather than variations in gradient was a relatively underdeveloped and compelling idea; there seemed to be few events in which the excitement and interest came from the variability of the surface. We are fortunate in the Black Country in having an abundance of different types of road surface: cobbles, bricks, stony bridleways, gravel tracks, sandy lanes, hard-packed mud or limestone, each of which delivers its own unique riding experience.

The principal appeal of riding on such roads is that the uneven surfaces greatly amplify and intensify the sensations of speed. Although the Tour of the Black Country is relatively flat, the majority of the unpaved sectors are either slightly uphill or slightly downhill at 1% – 2%. Taken uphill they can turn into something of a gruelling slog. In the downhill direction, however, they can be ridden hard and fast in a big gear; twenty-five miles an hour feels like fifty miles an hour! It’s an exhilarating sensation – probably a bit like white-water rafting or skiing over moguls – where the roughness of the ground creates increased G-forces on the body and heightens the feelings of speed”.

He concludes by pointing out that “it’s strange that almost all of the descriptions of Paris-Roubaix and similar races focus entirely on the supposed pain and suffering involved. Of course such races are difficult, but then any race is hard if ridden fast enough. We wanted to focus instead on the exhilarating, thrilling, adrenaline-filled experiences that riding on unpaved roads can provide; the kinds of things that made bicycle racing exciting in the first place”.

Lapierre Bikes

'The best sportive of 2014'.

- Guvnors' Assembly

'As good as you'll get in Britain, I reckon'.

- Will F.

'I only ride a few sportives each year now in this country...The ones I usually do are the Tour of the Black Country and the Tour of Britain.'

- James T.

Review of 2014 Tour of the Black Country by CYCLOSPORT