Saturday 27 June 2009

A Ride into the Past: L'Eroica

L'Eroica 2007
photo by Dale Brown, Cycles de ORO

In the spirit of le Cirque du Cyclisme but moving to an outdoor arena, l’Eroica is a cyclosportif (that is, timed) event that is Italy’s answer to France’s Paris-Roubaix and, like that ride, offers versions for professionals and amateurs at different times of the year. Rather than facing cobblestones, participants need to contend with the strade bianche, the “white roads” of Tuscany, stretches of loose gravel that make up half of the course. The course is also very hilly, with steep grades and up to 4000 m of climbing.

Many of the participants do the ride (and there are varying lengths, with 205 km being the long route) on vintage bicycles, while wearing vintage clothing. Helmets are not mandatory to maintain the period feeling. Getting into the spirit of it all, many cyclists show up with dawn-of-time racing bikes–one of Fausto Coppi’s domestiques came last year! They wear wool jerseys and have tubular tires wrapped around their shoulders. Many wear goggles to deal with the dust. The food stops are vintage too, since they will give you salami and Chianti wine, just like in the Good Old Days.

The Indomitable Pashley Guv'nor

There are good reports of the atmosphere of the event here and here, along with photos of some of the bikes that were entered. As well, TOUR magazine in Germany did an article with excellent photos that can read (in German) or admired in .pdf form here. However, my favourite account by participants in the October 2008 ride surely must be David and Bryce, the English madmen who work for the U.K.’s Pashley Cycles and who turned up in Tuscany ready to ride Pashley Guv’nors, a “modern” replica of a 1926 Pashley gentleman’s racing bike. They brought the up-market version, complete with three-speed Sturmey-Archer internal hub gearing. For 4000 m of climbing. There is an entertaining account of their trip here, and the video below will give you an idea of what they went through. And it is no wonder that while their time was not terribly fast, they certainly deserved to be distinguished by being judged in the Top Ten group of cyclists who were the “most heroic.”

Beginning in 1996, the event has developed into a wildly popular one. In 2008, some 3,000 participants descended on the tiny town of Gaiole (pop. 2,300!) to take part in L’Eroica. Although vintage bicycles were preferred, there was no restriction on any other bicycles, so there were not only current racing bikes to be seen but even mountain bikes.

“Basta!” say the organizers now and the rules have been changed. There will be an event for everyone in June but the Real Thing will be held on October 4. Bicycles must be pre-1987, an arbitrary date that sort of marks the wide availability of concealed cables and clipless pedals. These will not be allowed, even on bikes of the right age, and shifters must be mounted on downtubes, an exception being for period-correct (non-indexed) bar-end shifters.

I have just learned that the current June issue of Outside magazine has a l'Eroica story as well. Read about the Giro di Salame here.

Needless to say, I really, really, really want to ride L’Eroica. If you want to ride with me in October 2010, here is where to sign up. The history, the romance, the difficulty all combine with the Chianti to make it irresistible. And the herd of Tin Donkeys has been expanded with the acquisition of a suitable bike, which will be the subject of another post shortly. Suffice it to say, it will not be a Pashley Guv’nor.


Gerard van Dongen said...


Did teh 205 last year on an old Bianchi:

This year I will do teh 205 again but now with a Dutch bike: Gazelle

See you all in Gaiole

Unknown said...

what are the dates of l'eroica 2010, October ??

Sprocketboy said...

L'Eroica 2010 will be on October 3.

Tynan said...

there's someone here looking for a third to fill a spare hotel bed

good luck fellas, it looks cracking