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Dec 18, 2014

Mr. BikeBike's Eroica 2014 Report

Quick Note: A couple of other posts from Italy that may be of interest to you - 

- Doors of Italy

- Nadia's L'Eroica Report

- Headtube Badges of L'Eroica

- Italians Like It Low, Low, Low


Dreams do come true. Don't let anyone tell you different.

I was a teenage bike racer brat a long time ago and back in those days of leather hairnets, steel road bikes, and all things road racing - Italy was where it was at.  In my mind, Italy was a mythical realm, filled with pasta, winding roads through picture perfect terrain, ultra fast pro bike racers, pizza, and Campagnolo.

I'd always wanted to go to Italy and ride my bike around and guessed it would probably be incredible, but I hadn't planned on going anytime soon.  You know, working and life and stuff. I was content on getting my Italy fix from afar: watching pro cycle racing on the intranetwebs, eating pasta, drinking chianti, and finally riding a bike with Campagnolo on it.

So an email arived one day, out of the blue. It was from Michele at Brooks - we (Nadia and I) were invited to attend the 2014 L'Eroica in October, in, you guessed it, ITALY!  >SQUEAL!!!!!!!!!<

L'Eroica is "a poem written with a bicycle" - maybe best described as a heritage festival celebrating road racing history: wool jerseys, racing bikes made of steel,  gravel roads, and local communities.  To some, it is a pilgramige. The very first time I found out about it I've wanted to go SO BAD! I could never get in through the registration and had basically given up ever riding in it. To think that suddenly, out of the blue, I was in? So amazing.

Here is my L'Eroica photo essay.  I chose the 135km route, which proved to be equal parts gorgeous, inspiring, painful, and magical.  Enjoy.

Day before the event preride leg shakeout to Siena (in the distance). My first day of riding on Tuscan roads gave me a sweet taste of the incredibly fun roads we'd be tackling tomorrow. It also let me know that L'Eroica would be as big a challenge as many had mentioned!

A few "heroic" participants enjoying the Saturday afternoon market day. So many period bikes and costumed riders!
Saturday Market Day. Dozens of vendors had so much retro product on display it was mind-boggling. Everything from complete bikes to old jerseys, all the way down to the smallest nut and bolt was on display. Prices seems quite high but with a captive audience on hand I can understand why.
Many vendors had new and old versions of these cyclist figurines on hand, some new, some old - or really old in this case.
An overhead shot of just one part of the Vintage Market. It was packed shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the day with people looking for that final part for their vintage bike restoration and folks completing their vintage outfit with a cycling cap or leather helmet. We spent hours just sitting and watching all the smiling people milling about.
Big thrill for me! Got to meet and chat with (ex-pro) Erik Zabel at the Saturday night dinner held in the heart of the small town of Gaiole. He was very gracious, looked to be as fit as when he was a pro, and was as excited as the rest of us to be here and participating in L'Eroica.
All the Brooks England people enjoying the festive night and the endless parade of tasty eats. I still can't figure out how Italians can eat so much!
Pinned up and ready for tomorrow! The map was useful and the roadbook would collect the stamps at the checkpoints along the way.
Awake at 4am, a quick breakfast of croissants and coffee, and out the villa door for the 5km ride into town for the start. Participants in the longer distances had to depart Gaiole between 5:30-7:30am. I started my ride at 5:45am.
The scene at this cafe in the Gaiole town centre was great. The cafe was packed and so many milling about, just felt like magic.
Cold, and excited riders lined up and slowly making our way towards the first checkpoint. This is where the judges would check your bike for appropriate "vintageness". Not vintage enough, NO STAMPA! (inside joke)
About 1km down the road my (thought was fully charged) headlight's "red light of doom" came on. With close to 2 hours of darkness ahead of me I turned it off and began following a small train of 3-4 riders. Little did I know they missed the first turn and I ended up adding 16kms onto my day before finally getting back on track. This is near the top of the first climb (6kms in length) where the locals had lined the strada bianchi with candles all the way to the top - MAGICAL!
The sun rising over the Tuscan countryside. Not much more to be said :)
Friends told me that the steepness of the roads in Tuscany was something to behold, and fear. Now I know why. In a place where many roads are just modern goat paths and with very little ice and snow ever, the gradients in places forced many to walk or weave across the road. And that sun rise!
Chaos at the first checkpoint, 49kms in (65kms for me). A sea of wool and steel greeted me once past the checkpoint. This is where my first taste of the Tuscan-inspired food and drink. Salami sandwiches, homemade cakes, and sweet tea. I loaded my pockets with sandwiches and chunks of banana and pushed on.
Somewhere around 65km in the route went straight through a small town into the town square. Lots of people watching and cheering the riders.
In the town square was another rest stop with more of the same tasty eats.
One curiosity of L'Eroica were the "teams" of riders who were all dressed in their vintage club kits rolling around together and having a great time.  So much noise making, yelling, and general rabble rousing was fun to be around.

A dozen kilometres or so after the last checkpoint the strada bianchi sections appeared again and started to get hillier and longer. On oddity (to me at least): on the pavement sections, I was getting passed by dozens of riders but as soon as we hit the strada bianchi I would immediately begin reeling them back in even though I was not trying any harder. I can only guess that I was more comfortable on gravel then most everyone else.
95km (111km for me) checkpoint at Asciano. More of the same tasty Tuscan eats but with a bonus: traditional bread soup and red wine!
The spread of food was eye-popping. So was trying to get to it, you definitely had to get your"elbows up" to get into the food line :)
Little did I know that from this point on, the "real" ride begins: read, very steep roads on very loose gravel.
Straight out of the Asciano checkpoint the road started climbing on a 14km section of strada bianchi that included about 6km's of steep ramps up on bumpy, loose gravel. You can see the washboard on the road surface. I'm proud to say I rode the whole climb when so many were walking. I've never road a climb that was this difficult, truly "heroic" effort!
Getting close to the very very top of the climbing section out of Asciano. I'll never forget the families hanging out on the road for the day, cherring on the riders, handing up food and water, and making me smile although I mostly wanted to grimace.
Finally finished! The last 20kms were exceptionally difficult due to rotating cramps in my calves and quads and the climbing on the strada bianchi. One saving grace: the cramps went away 500m from the top of the last climb to Brolio, making the 6km decent down SO MUCH FUN!
Arriving back into Gaiole there were throngs of people lining the road to the finish, cheering on each and every rider. This, coupled with how demolished I felt after completing the 135km route and the knowledge that I had made one of my dreams come true, brought tears to my eyes. I'll never forget the feeling of excruciating joy I had.

What a day!

Nadia (pictured above) also had her own heroic day at L'Eroica and we'll have a report from her soon!

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