It happens but once a year.
For some time now I’ve been addicted to the bikes that swarm to this town to conquer the ‘strada bianchi’. These white roads connect the farms and vineyards that are dotted across the region, much like the pave of northern France connect the villages and fields. The event was born to invigorate the culture of the area by a small group of passionate locals. Their dedication has helped the event blossom into a global phenom that attracts over 5000 participants.
The white roads are merely a canvas for the L’Eroica experience. While there is riding to be done – it’s everything that happened along the way that I’ve relived fondly in my head.
Riders start early.
The HEROES set out the earliest as they tackle 200+ kilometres, on bikes that are from the turn of the century to the ‘modern’ bikes of the 1987 threshold.
My gruppeto was a combination of collectors I’d known online for years, one I’d been told to hook up with, and some transients who I picked up along the way through conversation. We’d opted for the 140km route and within minutes had our first mechanical.
I’d heard all sorts of rumours about the event, about the ‘rules’, the bikes, the course.
From first hand experience I can say that no one will care if you or your bike flirts the guidelines. You can hire a bike for the day if you don’t have your own classic which Ashley of Peloton Cycling Tours decided to opt for this trip.
A ‘hire’ bike can be sought from the town square, from a shop that is converted into a cave of 10 speeds. The brakes didn’t work particularly well, it shifted ho-hum, and came with no spare tubs – the perfect bike for the ride!
The course is challenging, with some sections which had most of the field walking which just gave another excuse to open up conversation with the person walking next to you – or you may just stumble upon someone you know.
Dustin (originally from Vancouver) of Cicli Berlinetta fame has been coming from Berlin for years and was in the good company of fellow Canadians who are just about the most polite folk on the planet.
Any delusion that this is a race is quashed at the first feed station when you are greeted with meats, cheeses, spreads, soup, pasta, pane, fruit and vino. The feed stations are plonked at points of the route with great vistas of the rolling hills, and as more riders stop to flock for a feed it becomes a ‘show n tell’ of bikes.
We made an impromptu stop at a village cafe before the first station, because the only thing not available at the event stops is the cycling drug – coffee.
It’s also the best excuse to stop and examine some of the bikes up close and personal.
Waiting for a mate.
I also made a point of capturing any other Masi Prestige’s that I crossed paths with and noticed their nuances – it’s a Prestigious club.
I wasn’t the only one who didn’t speak the language.
A melody of languages resonates through the crowd at each food stop. Japanese, German, French, Kiwi, Spanish and of course, Italian.
We were constantly splintered by the climbs and the course roads, but would always regroup at the next feed stop.
Bikes I’d only seen on the internet rolled by in worn torn glory. Another misconception I had was that it would be a ‘hot rod’ show of cycles. Not at all. Bling was definitely not the norm, as the bikes many of us swoon over are in Italy, used as shopping trolleys.
Watching successful changes of cambio corsa derailleurs on the rough roads was like poetry. As the ride grew legs, the scenery become more and more ‘scenic’. Castles, villas, as if I was riding in my own ‘Life is Beautiful’.
If there were 5000 riding the course you’d never guess it. Riders can start from different villages along the way, and at different times so there was never any fender to fender traffic jams. At times there was no one around giving the impression the roads are all your own.
Traffic is halted from the course until after midday, and what traffic there was gave great consideration and support to all.
It’s very easy to get used to this type of living in particular the pace of life in Tuscany. There never appears to be any sense of urgency which initially can be annoying, but it’s the thing I miss most about the place.
My votes for coolest on corse. The Peugeot support vehicle ambled along with spares and adding charm to an event already swimming in it.
This bloke was a close second. On the back of the Piaggio he had aqua and assorted goods to top of the levels of riders.
There’s a few favourites shots from the day and this has to be one of them. I’d ridden ahead of my group to capture the faces of pain on this very tough climb. I did spot some contraban (GPS) on the route but never asked how steep the gradients were. If you ask me some were ‘king steep, made all the more challenging as I was packing 42:23 but I managed to make it all the way without dismounting or snaking across the road, much to the disbelief of our road captain,
The sun had started to lift at this point and it was instantly warm. The crunch of rubber on rock, heavy panting and cursing, it didn’t get any better.
My machine was holding up well. No mechanicals or emotional breakdowns, however it was getting a layer of white film which was working its way into everything.
The course isnt all dirt and the bitumen is a well earned respite from chewing dust. Wasn’t long before it turned to dust again.
One of the highlights of the trip was sharing the road with this guy. The Godfather of Decals told me I should connect with Giovanni who amongst other things is an actual photographer. If you are on the internet, look him up.
You could get a sense that the ride was drawing to a close, though with no GPS, no cyclocomputers, and riding on a lumpy course with plenty of dirt it’s hard to gauge exactly how far you’ve ridden. A sense of horses bolting for home gave it away.
Returning to the town square which was now bursting at the lugs with bikes, beers and wild jesticulating it was time to crack a cold one or three.
The light was running out on this day and rain was beginning to fall. It was time to return to the car, pack up and return to the Villa where food and more beer awaited us. To this day I still haven’t processed all the people, bikes, expressions and moments of magic that make this event worth travelling half way across the globe to participate in. Slightly less if you live in North America or Europe.
If L’Eroica sounds like your cup of tea you are welcome to join me this year with Peloton Cycling Tours. We’ll be spending a week in the region, a combination of riding, eating, drinking, visiting frame builders, more eating, relaxing by the pool, and soaking up the remains of the Tuscan sun with a backdrop that postcards wished they looked like.
The L’Eroica tour is September 30 to October 8 2013 and includes:
· 8 nights’ accommodation in a 4 star converted castle with buffet breakfasts & dinners
· Superb guided rides with knowledgeable & friendly locals
· Visit to the Tommasini workshop in Grosseto to see how traditional steel frames are made.
· Visit to Crisp Titanium and see a new artisan create beautiful titanium frames.
· Visit to a traditional Chianti winery estates to learn about the wine and of course, drink it.
· Traditional Italian cooking lessons
· Walking Tours of Siena and San Gimignano
· Guaranteed entry into L’Eroica – (L’Eroica bikes can be organised)
· Visit to the L’Eroica fair. An amazing market of cycling paraphernalia
· All evening meals at the hotel or surrounding villages, plus 2 free nights to explore Siena and San Gimignano.
· Transfers to and from the train station
· A Tour cycling kit valued over $250 – Jersey, shorts, vest, cap, arm warmers and neck buff.
Not included: Airfares, Bike hire, lunches, Travel Insurance, Personal expenses
Contact Ashley at Peloton Cycling Tours for pricing and mention FYXO for mates rates.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Unlike Melburn Roobaix I have no control over the weather in Italy, but I can be certain of good times. How could you not! You are on holiday, on your bike, in Italy!