After a good few months of planning me and my dad headed down to Tuscany for this year’s edition of the legendary L’Eroica. Held annually in Gaiole in Chianti, L’Eroica celebrates the spirit of cycling and organisers encourage folks to ride bikes that were built before 1987 that sport down tube shifters and have toe clips and leather straps instead of clipless pedals. Some participants also like to go the whole hog and dress in classic clothing to match the era of their machines. Overall 4,ooo people take part, including 800 non-Italians.
We decided to drive down on Thursday 4 and Friday 5 October, a journey of just under 1,300 miles, to a campsite in Siena. It was some journey but gave us a good opportunity to catch up with each other and check out some pretty amazing scenery.
We arrived in Siena a bit worse for wear and struck up camp. In possibly my best move of the year I forgot the tent outer so we ended up sleeping under the stars and got a bit damp from the low cloud. That’ll teach me to take two trips in the same week. The next day we went into Gaiole in Chianti to register for the ride and to check out the market.
When the participants registered we were all given branded cotton satchels and cycling caps, which you can now buy here.
We then had a very brief visit to Siena.
Once we’d demolished a pair of proper Italian pizzas it was time to go back to the camp site to get the bikes set up. Mine is a 1975 Woodrup Star Trophy with a (almost) full Shimano Arabesque groupset and my dad picked up a really nice Bianchi from Retrospective Cycles.
The second night out in the open was drier and in the morning we got up early in order to get to the event in good time. Gaiole was a hive of activity and the atmosphere was fantastic – everyone was clearly there because they loved cycling, old bikes and possibly Chianti. The range of bikes on show was incredible but I didn’t see many UK-made machines, mainly Italian, French with the occasional Merckx, Puch or Gazelle thrown in there.
We only had to wait 20 minutes or so before we set off on the 38km route we had chosen the day before. The reason for this choice was the hills. They’re mental. Perhaps with more training we would have been a little more ambitious.
Despite taking the shortest route on offer the ride was still challenging. Going from tarmac to the famous strada blanche was hard work but I managed to only resort to pushing my bike once as the gradient picked up and my racy gearing became a little less appropriate. My dad was well happy after beating me up the hills, of course. The downhill sections were lots of fun as I followed much more experienced riders at speeds in the region of 40-50kph – a first for me. As a bonus, after about 27km of ups and downs the organisers laid on a stall for people to refuel offering Chianti, cured meats, traditional desserts and fresh bread (and not an energy bar in sight). The final 11km was fairly relaxed and gave us a chance to recover from the 500m of ascent and ‘unique characteristics’ of old road bikes.
All in all I would recommend L’Eroica to anyone thinking of giving it a go. It can be hard work (especially given that the longest route on offer is 205km!) but it is great fun and perfect for anyone into cycling or classic bikes. Just don’t expect to come back clean!