Event Review

REVIEW: Tour of the Black Country 2014

by Sean Lacey

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Tour of the Black Country 2014

Date: Sunday 4th May 
Distances: 100km & 60km 
Entry fee: £25.00 
Participants: 250+ 
Start: Aldersley Stadium, Wolverhampton. Free parking and full facilities available. 
Feed stops: 2 - French pastry and bananas, water 
Catering: Hot/cold drinks and food available before and after the ride 
Timed: Yes - manual number logging 
Signs: Way-marked route with plentiful signage (black arrow on yellow background) along with marshals at certain junctions 
Roads:  Fun route on quiet lanes and various off road surfaces, with some climbing, short distances on dual carriageways and some urban roads.
Photos: Professional photographer out around the route 
Goodies: Glass of champagne, cappuccino cupcakes, lump of Black Country coal  

Just as the classics season came to a close, Wolverhampton was treated to the first ever running of a new event modelled on those spring races: the Tour of The Black Country. Having recently ridden the Tour of Flanders sportive, and the similarly themed Telford Toothpaste, I was keen to give it a go as I have somewhat developed a taste for these hybrid road / cobbled / off road rides. Besides which, they are the perfect excuse to make use of my long term test bike, the Boardman Comp CX, which is an ideal tool for the job. 

Organised by Bromsgrove based, V-Sprint club it was an ambitious first event, utilising Wolverhampton's Aldersley stadium - replete with an outdoor velodrome to complete the Paris-Roubaix theme. The stadium is perfect as an HQ for events, as I've sampled before on a sportive. Modern, with all the facilities you would expect, and plenty of free parking too. Sign on was indoors, but we were blessed with good weather regardless. With a frame sticker number issued and a set start time dependant on the number, all we had to do was arrive at the start on time. Easy enough, and with around 270 or so riders it worked well. 

Aldersley Stadium HQ 

Local cycling legend and long-time commentator, Hugh Porter was our official starter for the day - a nice touch, and apt as the road into the stadium is named after the man himself. As you would expect, the first few miles were fairly urban as we made our way out of town, but it wasn't long before more pleasant lanes were covered. Rather than the cobbles of our European inspirations, the majority of the pave sectors were gravel or dirt lanes and bridleways, with one notable exception a little later in the ride. 

Although all were deemed suitable for road bikes - and they were - tougher tyres were recommended, and there were a fair number of riders fixing punctures. Here my bike choice came to the fore. Although somewhat heavier than my carbon road bike, the alloy framed, 32mm cross tyred machine sailed over the off road sections with ease, and with not a puncture in sight. With a standard compact chainset it was no slouch on the road either. 

One of the unpaved sectors 


Ride or walk? 

The route itself headed south from the city, with a total of 15 unpaved sectors, varying in length from 600m to almost 2km. The feature of the day was the climb up to the top of Walton Hill, a two mile road climb through the woodland, culminating in the 600m off road cobbled climb renamed for the day as the 'Waltonberg'. Likened to the infamous Koppenberg in Flanders, it's steep at 20% or so at its worst, and a mix of cobbles, brick paving and gravel, making for a challenging surface.

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Official Review

1. Feed Stops (correct foodstuffs and energy drinks, the right many, well spaced) 7 out of 10
2. Timing (correct and easy to use) 7 out of 10
3. Signage (Clear, concise, maps, profiles, route card) 8 out of 10
4. Facilities (HQ, Parking, Toilets) 10 out of 10
5. Support (Sag Wagon, Outriders) 7 out of 10
6. Friendliness / Professionalism (Sign-in, marshals, support) 8 out of 10
7. Website - ease of use (Online and postal entry, clear concise) 8 out of 10
8. The Course (Area of outstanding beauty/scenic, quiet roads, cleverly designed?) 9 out of 10
9. Would you recommend it. (Would you ride again?) 9 out of 10
Overall Rating 81.1%

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12th May 2014 9:02pm Kev Sp wrote:

One for next year then Sean?

15th May 2014 8:58am The whitest legs in cycling wrote:

Brilliant fun - I took a tumble on the Waltonberg but I'll be back next year to put it right!

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