White roads, red wine - riding L'Eroica Italy perhaps the greatest day out on a bike there is
For what could just be the best day out on a road bike anywhere in the world try L'Eroica Italy. Every October this beautiful part of Tuscany turns into a cyclist's paradise thanks to this unique event – I rode it and fell in love immediately. Here's a report:
One day, 5,000 riders, a choice of routes from a leisurely 24 miles right the way through to a ball-busting 127 and L’Eroica (literal translation ‘the heroic’) in Tuscany looks much like any other sportive. Until you dig a little deeper.
For starters most of the riding winds its hilly way across the region’s ‘strade bianche’ or ‘white roads’. Hard limestone single tracks coated with loose gravel these are a challenge on a par with the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix.
- It's only a 2% climb, but with one gear and a bike that weighs more than a small car it might as well be the North face of the Eiger. Welcome to L'Eroica Italy
Then there are the bikes, which must be pre-1987 and steel-framed only. Frame-mounted gear levers are essential as are toe clips. Improper bikes merit instant disqualification, improper clothing may also warrant similar treatment.
The result is a beautifully eccentric cycling time warp that descends upon this tranquil region once a year as thousands of impeccably woolen-clad riders and their glistening classic steeds take to the Tuscan Hills to re-enact the sport’s golden era. Imagine the Goodwood Revival for cycling and you’ve got it in one.
- Cap? Check. Stern look? Check? Tiny wooly shorts? Of course. L'Eroica Italy is pure style from a bygone age. Dress to impress
Arriving in Gaiole in Chianti where the event makes its annual home I made my way through the hordes swarming the massed classic parts, clothing and memorabilia stands cramming the tiny town centre and found the Bianchi stand where they had kindly prepared a bike for me. With classic Italian heritage running deeply through the company’s celeste-tinted veins from the great Fausto Coppi to the modern day it was the perfect mount.
What I hadn’t bargained on was the outfit that came with it.
Cut just like Coppi’s own team gear from the ’40s and made from the same material, the shirt sported buttoned pockets and wing collars The Bee Gees would be proud of while the woollen shorts where both short enough for an early ’80s tennis player, yet high enough in the waist for Simon Cowell. It was quite the ensemble.
Slipping into both kit and character, I made Coppi my role model so every ounce of modern cycling paraphernalia was out. No smartphone, no GPS, no power meter, no heart rate monitor, no cleats and no watch. Rolling gently to the start it was pure, simple pedaling bliss.
Despite the wafer thin bar tape, spindly bars, brakes that didn’t and pencil-thin forks, the ride was surprisingly comfortable as that heavy old frame and fat tyres took the sting out of the road below.
Things got even better as I found myself lined up alongside Felice Gimondi, 1973 World Champion and a former winner of all three major tours. Rolling out into the hills beyond beneath a dazzling Tuscan sun with Gimondi and a sea of concourse classic metal set the tone for a magical day’s riding.
- Living legend Felice Gimondi (the one in the real world champion jersey) is shadowed out of Gaiole in Chianti by 33's Warren (left)
- Highlights came thick and fast and included a spell riding with legendary Italian Giuseppe Guerini, best known for winning a Tour de France stage on Alpe d’Huez despite being felled by a clumsy spectator on the way up, being passed at pace by a flying Francesco Moser down a particularly treacherous off-road descent.
- L'Eroica - not your usual sportive, as this imaginative water bottle shows
And then there was the food.
The aid stations were heaped buffets of cold meats, fresh fruit, local bread, olive oil, Tuscan bean stew and oodles of red wine all of which meant just about everyone rolled across the finish heartily stuffed and somewhat tipsy. I know I did.
- Now that's what we call an aid station #realfood
Quite possibly the greatest day out on a road bike there is, L'Eroica is in Tuscany every October. I’d start growing that mo' and scouring eBay now…
For event info and to book your spot head to Eroica.cc