Euro Sportive – L’eroica
Beautiful Tuscan scenery, gruelling gravel roads and a big dose of nostalgia
A gruelling Italian challenge that harks back to a heroic age of cycling.
What’s it all about? If you’re giving your ride a name that means ‘Heroic’, you’re giving yourself a lot to live up to. Fortunately, in this case, the name is very well deserved – L’eroica is truly a ride for heroes, as well as one that celebrates the heroes of cycling’s past – the likes of Bartali and Coppi – and their incredible feats. It was created in 1997 (2017 is its 21st edition) by Giancarlo Brocci, who wanted to be reconnected with the cycling of bygone times, without the pampering provided by modern bikes and road surfaces. In true romantic Italian style, Brocci described the 92 participants of that first ride as ‘hunters of feeling and emotion’. Another of the ride’s aims was to protect and preserve Tuscany’s famous ‘ strade bianche’ – literally ‘white roads’ – that crisscross the region. These unsurfaced gravel roads are Italy’s answer to the pavé (cobbled farm tracks) of northern Europe, and just as challenging to ride.
What are the route options?
There are five routes to choose from, all starting from the town of Gaiole in Chianti. The 46km Leisure Route takes in the striking landscape of Chianti vineyards, as well as views of the historic city of Siena. At 75km with a four-hour time limit, the Short Route is regarded as the ‘gateway’ to the true mythical challenge of L’eroica, featuring plenty of legendary Tuscan hospitality. The Chianti Classico Route is 115km, of which 40km is on the strade bianche, including some seriously tough hilly sections, hitting gradients of 18%. At 135km, the Medium Route is longer but not quite as tough – instead, its appeal is some of Tuscany’s most beautiful scenery, including the medieval village of Buonconvento. If you want to sample the full authentic L’eroica experience, though, you need to take on the 209km Long Route, which is essentially all the other rides rolled into one epic adventure with over 3,200m of climbing, and magical moments such as riding at night to the candle-lit Castello di Brolio. Setting off at 5.30am, you’ll also get to enjoy the stunning sight of the sunrise over the Tuscan countryside. This is a ride for experienced cyclists, though – don’t underestimate the challenge of descending steep, twisty gravel roads, or the seriously arduous climbs.
What bike do I need?
The rules state that only riders with ‘heroic’ bikes are allowed to take part, which it defines as follows: ‘for a start, they must be steel- framed road bikes built before 1987. With a couple of exceptions, aluminium bikes are forbidden, and carbon is a definite no-no. Down tube gear shifters are the norm, although some models of bar-end shifters are allowed, as long as they are of the right vintage. When it comes to pedals, stick to traditional clips and toestraps. Brake cables should be external and wheels should have a minimum 32 spokes and low-profile rims.’ Some riders sneakily break some of these rules but part of the reason for doing an event like this is to enter into the heroic spirit, and many take this to the extreme, riding ancient pre-war singlespeed bikes with wholly authentic period components and kit.
Is it a big event?
From that first ride with just 92 entrants, L’eroica has grown to attract 5,500 riders from over 30 different countries. It has also spawned several offshoot events, including
THE STRADE BIANCHE ARE ITALY’S ANSWER TO NORTHERN EUROPE’S PAVÉ
L’eroica Britannia, which takes place in Buxton, Derbyshire in June – find out more at eroicabritannia.co.uk.
What’s on offer at the feed stations?
Don’t expect to find the usual energy bars and gels – in keeping with the retro character of the event, the food offerings are more along the lines of cheese, dried meats, fruit and ciabatta, all washed down with plenty of the local wine. This is more of a festival of cycling than a race or sportive, and a real sense of celebration and enjoyment pervades every aspect of it – which goes some way to compensating for the sheer suffering you’ll experience on the ride itself.
How do I get there?
The nearest major airport is Pisa, which is served by direct flights from most major UK airports. Return flights from London Stansted start at around £50. WHEN: SUNDAY 1ST OCTOBER 2017 WHERE: GAIOLE IN CHIANTI, SIENA, ITALY DISTANCE: 46KM/75KM/115KM/ 135KM/209KM ELEVATION: 3,251M ON THE LONG ROUTE COST: €105 (£95) SIGN UP: EROICAGAIOLE.COM
Riders on the Long Route set off before the sun comes up
Vintage bikes and clothing are a big part of L’eroica’s charm – as is the stunning Tuscan scenery