What a weekend. Unbelievable, awesome, rad, mega, ace!
Having never been to L’Eroica and only having seen pictures on the internet I didn’t fully know what to expect but what came was among the best all-round cycling experience I have ever encountered. The atmosphere the whole weekend was electric, where 3000 like minded, fanatical individuals descend upon Gaiole in Chianti for two days of pure cycling nostalgia. Woolen jerseys and steel bikes aplenty, any man interested in the traditions of the cycle race can certainly find his fill here.
Day one on Saturday sees the flea market come into town, I say flea market it is a great big cycle jumble in English terms. Stretched out either side of Gaiole’s main road this jumble is big and not only is it big, it is good, very good. Everything you ever needed for your period build and all the accompaniments to go with it can be found here. Even the rarest of the rare is on the tables, it seems that the cream of Italy’s cycle merchandise dealers have landed in Chianti for the day to bless all of the hungry with their wares. You simply do not get a selection this good in the U.K.
If you are unhappy to ogle pantographed cranks and embroidered jerseys all day then you can visit the museum, where books, posters, videos and actual race bikes will greet you. Maybe taste and buy some local meat, fresh pasta, wine made in these hills, the food here is, well it’s just the absolute epitome of rustic goodness. This is, after all a cycling ‘holiday’ so it must be approached as such, take your time, see the sights, chat to the locals and the not so locals. Sometimes trying to speak to someone about your passion for cycles and cycling can be tiresome, remember though that every one here, each of the 3000 are more than happy to exchange verses on the virtue of the spoked wheel and tubed frame for they too are here for the exact reason you are.
The evenings see most people go off to their hotels or chalets to eat food and wine bought that day but we saw Le Coq’s Citroen HY van, looking fabulous in red, white and blue crank up the soundsystem for a grappa fuelled ipod party, but not after food with the stars. A sit down dinner with speeches from Italy’s cycling greats, it was like come dine with me with Fausto Coppi, yes, these were very old men.
Day two sees the cycle race along the fabled white gravel roads and Le Coq Sportif, my hosts, did a perfect job of organising cycles for everyone ( I rode a Campagnolo equipped 1977 Paletti ) and the registration procedure was just seamless. You need a number on your back, one on your bike and a stamp card and you are good to go, good to enter ‘race mode’ or ‘sportif mode’ for a day jam packed full of excitement and surprise. Depending on how your legs feel you can choose to ride either 38km, 75km, 135km or 205km but every one will be as pleasurable an experience as the next. Should you have any technical difficutlies someone will be along to help you out soon enough, such is the kinship on the road.
The roads ridden upon are made up of mainly white gravel paths called the Strade Bianche, fairly narrow in width and rutted like an ice ravaged mountain pass these roads are not to be taken softly. I have never ridden them but I can only imagine it to be like the cobbled straights of the paris-roubaix. Hang on tight, it’s going to get bumpy!
Along your way you will find a handful of food stops fully stocked up with local edible delights and alcohol too should you have the stomach.
Is it a race? Is is a ride? Who knows? But there are all levels out on the road, from the locals who hurtle past you and the vintage service car in front like a roller coaster coach direct and unrelenting to 90 year old men in full woolen suits being pushed up hills by boys half their age. This ‘race’ is legendary and I now know what the fuss is about. The moment tickets go on sale next year, I am buying one, or two.
Big thanks go to:
All the team at Le Coq Sportif. Check out their blog.
Matthew Sparkes of the Guardian
Andrew and Phillip Diprose the brothers of The Ride Journal.
The lovely gents from Hanon shop
And everyone else involved. Thank you!
Find many, many more L’Eroica images on the S P I N W E L L Flickr spot.