Every year, several Ciclismo Classico guests and guides join the 21st edition of Tuscany's epic retro bike tour called L'Eroica. In 2017, a record-breaking 7,000 riders participated. Men and women from around the world were inspired to gather at 5 a.m. in the piazza of Gaiole in Chianti. Armed with their "heroic" vintage bikes, wool jerseys, and shorts—a whole range of colorful, gorgeous vintage outfits—cyclists came together in a unified spirit. They rode their choice of a 24-, 47-, 75-, or 130-mile course, not only for the love of cycling, but to celebrate the long and valuable heritage it has left us.
One of our Ciclismo Classico guests recently asked: how does one get ready for the Eroica? Here are some thoughts on how to prepare to ride like a champion.
“We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest.”
– Giancarlo Brocci, creator of L'Eroica
Vintage steel frame bikes with downtube shifters and toe-clips, woolen jerseys, leather shoes and white gravel roads—these have become part of everyone's favorite ride of the year. From unforgiving climbs that test both body and mind to the mystical feel of candle-lit paths at the start of the ride to overflowing bowls of ribollita soup and Chianti rosso at rest stops, L’Eroica is a ride like no other. It's a truly unique and special event celebrating the golden years of cycling, the true heroism of once-upon-a-time cyclists. L'Eroica has become renowned worldwide for its festive spirit and captivating emotion. Twenty-one years ago, the Eroica started out with just 92 riders. In 2004, it grew to 596 people. Between 2015 and 2017, participation in this popular event jumped from 5,500 to more than 7,000 riders.
In the Italian language, L’Eroica—literally ‘heroic’—is the physical expression of an antipathy towards modern life. It's an escape into fantasy, back to a time when "men were men" (as manifested by their luxurious mustaches and bulging thighs) and women rode bikes while wearing petticoats and knickers. With riders streaming in from all parts of the world, the conversation on the trials is actually easy. Everyone is on a vintage bike and every vintage bike has a great story.
Highlighting the main themes of this ride, L'Eroica founder Giancarlo Brocci says: “Vintage is an excuse for a set of values. It allows us to experience cycling like the champions of the past.” He says that this ethos is part philosophy, part hyperbole, but without a doubt 100 percent Italian. “L’Eroica is not a costume event—we’re here to use this as a tool to measure ourselves. In the modern age, we never feel thirst, we never feel hunger. To complete the Eroica is to feel these sensations again.”
"The right philosophy, spirit, attitude, and psychological approach is fundamental to participate in this ride," explains Alessandro Draghi (Sandro), long-time Ciclismo Classico Top Guide and on-tour guide for our popular Tuscany and L'Eroica Bike Tour. You have to be able and "ready" to suffer a bit. We are not used to riding gravel roads, with some climbs, a bit of spree here and there, etc. But the joy, the places you see, the emotions you experience are incredible. This is what you get in return. The sheer joy repays everything."
For this ride, gear shifters must be on the down tube, pedals with toe clips and straps are to be used, brake cables must pass outside and over the handlebars, wheels must have at least 32 spokes laced to a low profile rim and vintage saddles predating 1987 are encouraged (exceptions are made for specific parts that are period but do not comply with the regulations).
The vintage bicycles must have all the following characteristics:
• Steel frame (the only aluminum frame bikes permitted are ALAN or VITUS with either screwed or glued joints)
• Gear shift levers on the down tube of the frame (exceptionally, only pre-1980 bar-end gear shifts are allowed)
• Pedals with toe clips and fitted straps (quick release pedals are not allowed, except Cinelli M71 pedals)
• The passage of brake cable outside the handlebars
New bicycles with steel frames can be used but they must be assembled with vintage components (gear levers, handlebars, pedals, etc). The adjustment of the rear wheel gears to suit the difficulty of the route is permitted.
The vintage clothes and bikes are not the event, they are a set of rules and constraints that allow, or perhaps ‘force’ is a better word, the participants to experience cycling as it was lived by the great campionissimi (champions) of a bygone era.
As with most things in life, the challenge boils down more to the human component than the mechanical.
"This is how cycling was born," Sandro adds. "This is just a tiny glimpse into what it was like for the guys who raced in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. They were humble people...builders, butchers, and farmers."
Here are just a few of Sandro's tips to help you prepare for the Eroica:
1. Learn how to read the road well.
2. Learn to pick the track right when you are on rocky, slippery, steep sections (ghiaia in Italian).
3. Avoid braking with fear and blocking the wheel.
4. Everything depends on your speed—even going uphill.
5. Test out riding on gravel roads on a road bike at home.
6. Be mentally prepared for the experience.
7. Understand the philosophy of the event. Watch YouTube videos about it to get into the spirit of it all.
Recommended Reading: Road to Valor by Aili and Andres McConnon, is an inspiring, against-the-odds story of Gino Bartali, the cyclist who made the greatest come back in Tour de France history and secretly aided the Italian resistance during World War II.
Sandro is busy preparing for the spring edition, L'Eroica Primavera, which takes place in the Val d'Oricia and Crete Senese area of Tuscany (south of Siena). Why not join him as we lead more heroes out on the gravel and ride alongside super champs like Francesco Moser?
Interested in this retro ride? Unfortunately, our L'Eroica bike tour is sold out for 2018. But there are still spots available on our Heart of Tuscany and new Via Francigena bike tours in this fabled region of Italy.
Photos: Massimo Costoli