If you are still unfamiliar with L’Eroica, before you start reading please take a look at this video we produced last year.
Now that we are all up to date, let me proceed with today’s blog contribution, and regale you, Gentle Reader, with a colorful accounting of the goings-on at this years’ L’Eroica.
Probably the biggest perk of my employment (excepting a practically unlimited supply of Proofide for slathering) is that I get to attend the L’Eroica event Brooks sponsors every year, and aside from small (though crucially important!) PR duties, I get to take part just like any other person.
So once again I packed my kit and headed off happily for a week in Tuscany. This year, Andrea (of all people) decided he was going to take the challenge with me, and brought along a group of Englanders to do the ride together ostensibly as “Team Brooks”. I say ‘ostensibly’, because as a rule, we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
Veterans of L’Eroica would agree that this year’s edition saw some interesting changes from those previous, and certainly the biggest (at least physically) was the new International Exposition Center and Corporate Headquarters that had been built adjacent to the Start/Finish line.
The building is a welcome and needed facility for event organizers and visitors alike, providing ample space for registration, photo exhibitions, toilets and basically anything one could imagine.
(And I mean anything. Like say, the ”blowout sale” of “hoodies”, “puffy jackets”, and “kicks” from a particular masculine Gallic fowl of sporting inclination, if your mind can visualize such a tacky image. No? Well, let’s just say, you should have been there.)
Anyway, wandering self-consciously among the clever 3,500 (up 1,000 from last year) attendees who took the golden opportunity to come to one of the greatest cycling events on the planet, were the tell-tale Ray Bans and Keds, indicating that the London and Paris Hipsterati had included Gaiole on their list of preferred destinations for 2010. This of course was met with no small amount of harrumphing from the freshmen alumni of 2009.
Seen too, were long-suffering members of hobby cycling’s alcoholic contingent, who had no doubt fallen victim to the Brooks L’Eroica video, which had recklessly mentioned that in Tuscany this year there would be “Wine. Plenty of wine”.
Thankfully, the majority observed the dress code. Perhaps the SSWC having relocated to New Zealand had left a scattered few without a yearly ancestral home. Though for them I believe, home is where the heart is, or in this case, wherever the hell you bring your booze and cargo shorts.
Watching them ride away from the start, I could not help but be reminded of fools marching off to war. Because as anyone can tell you, riding L’Eroica is not something to be taken lightly or lubricated.
Remember, you are riding an antiquated bicycle, and most likely also wearing brutually uncomfortable period shoes, over terrain better suited to a pack mule. And if you are really unprepared (or possibly French) you are half-drunk or hungover to boot.
So that after the initial thrill of leaving Gaiole with a huge group, it is not long before you reach Brolio Castle, where the first gravel roads and a moderately steep climb begins.
“Weeee! This is fun!” you say.
“Look, they lit candles, how cool!” you declare.
But about halfway up, you and your buddies stop chatting so much, and you start to notice that many of those around you are dismounting to begin the slow push up to the top of the hill, looking something like refugees from a cycling-themed war zone. You join them shortly. Buongiorno, your L’Eroica has begun.
Time to sober up!
You see, alongside the jaw-dropping landscape, friendly Tuscan inhabitants, excellent Italian food, first-rate historical cycling paraphernalia, and other trappings of this dauntless event, snakes an up to 200km tour through terrain decidedly unsuited to the type of bicycle you are required to ride.
And God forbid, anything untoward may happen to your vintage equipment along the way. A routine failure, such as a drive-side broken spoke, can become a major calamity if your cassette is from Belgium and they stopped making it in 1968. Or if you are 100km from the nearest repair shop. Which wouldn’t matter anyway, because its Sunday and you’re in Italy.
Of course I am speaking from experience here, but luckily that was two days before the event itself, and my equipment held up spectacularly when it mattered, no small thanks to Cicli Berlinetta from Berlin.
Enough rain fell in the morning to baptize the lucky with the famous White Mud of Chianti, the L’Eroica equivalent of Holy Water, much to the delight of those fortunate enough to bask in its hallowed magnificence.
And even for those of us who had a decent nights’ sleep and something approaching a breakfast, by about the midway point of our ride I was beginning to wonder if we had not selected a distance that I would regret.
(Actually thoughts such as these often pass through my mind during any physical challenge. And if truth be known, my inner monologue is an insufferable whiner.)
The Look of Regret
As usual, a surprisingly high number of those riding were well over a half century old, and as if to drive the point home, they were astride biycles even older. And though at times that day I was riding very fast (well, for me anyway) at other times later in the day (as my light breakfast caught up with me) I found myself being slowly overtaken by some of the very same people I had overtaken before, and some of them older than my own dear mother.
A popular fable sprang to mind more than once.
As any parent knows, long distances have a way of multiplying exponentially if someone in the group is in poor spirits. Luckily that was not the case with team Brooks, and I can say without reservation that I hope the same guys come back again to ride with me next year.
And isn’t that the point of L’Eroica? To just enjoy the atmosphere and ride with old friends and new? There are no prizes to win, and no one really cares who came in first, so the only way to lose is by not enjoying yourself, and that certainly wasn’t a problem for us.
Eventually, after countless hills, a bit of walking, more than a few priceless moments of bliss, almost zero punctures, and a goodly amount of espresso at the many villages along the way, we finally joined the rest of those who had completed their journey as well, safely and happily once again in Gaiole.
For lots of photos of L’Eroica 2010, as well as some portraits we made of some of the riders after they crossed the finish, click here.
All the Best,
THE GREATEST SADDLE COMPANY IN THE WORLD