Heroic. L’Eroica is just that and more, a vintage bike ride that takes place every first week end in October through the tuscan countryside of central Italy honoring those heroes of cycling past, it is an event with age-old values that has recently experienced a true modern comeback. Emphasis is on the non-competitive nature of biking while going back to the authentic roots of cycling. The entire week end is a celebration of culture, the environment, and the spirit of passion for food, people, old bikes and adventure. The backdrop for the L’Eroica is the small town of Gaiole in Chianti. On friday vendors and exhibitors are transforming the tiny center of Giaole into a makeshift market for all things”bici”, from rare campagnola parts to woolen jersey and of course wine and local food. On Saturday packs of riders totaling 5500 (128) americans from 33 different countries are dressed in old time caps and wool jerseys as they start to test the tuscan hills atop their bicycles that meet the L’Eroica’s retro criteria: pre-1987 bikes.
The main event begins before dawn on Sunday for many riders who embark on their chosen course from 38, 75, 135 or 205 km routes, which wind through hills occasionally so steep that even the strongest humbly take to foot. Over 50% of the route is on the Strade Bianche . . . the white gravel roads so typical of this area.
For me my first L’Eroica was about sharing my love of cycling, tuscany and the old ways with my brother Brian, a cycling purist and bike builder and mechanic extra-ordinaire who first introduced me to cycling 10 years ago. The 3rd member of our L’Eroica team was Silvio Papei an 18 year old Italian who I have known for 8-9 years. Recently Silvio became seriously interested in cycling and was the catalyst for us to do the L’Eroica . . . The 205 km route. We decided to be truly heroic we should do the long 205 km route. Which means that we must acquire and fix up or build a vintage italian bike and train and train some more; and there lies the beauty . . . set a goal and get to work in achieving it. To successfully complete this ride you must approach it gradually, pace it and not over exert or race the course. After departing at 6:15 am and finishing at 7:15 pm you realize that 13 hours out on the road on old bikes tackling gnarly, twisting gravel roads with climbs of 15-18 % with total elevation gains of 12,000 ft. . . . is not easy! You have accomplished something quite honorable and truly heroic. This day could never have occurred without the help and support of your fellow cyclist and constant encouragement from your team. The one lasting image that I have of my day out on the road were the genuine smiles that I saw on virtually all the cyclist’s faces even when enduring some of the biggest and most brutal climbs.
It is about the effort . . . cycling is a lot of things, but above all it
is about the effort. As Giancarlo Brocci, the founder of L’Eroica so eloquently stated; “Your bike helps you rediscover the satisfaction to be found in hard work and effort.” Brian and Silvio, thanks for your hard work and effort in sharing with me an unforgettable experience and truly a ride of a lifetime. Until next time, Ciao . . . maybe we should do the 135 km ride huh?