L’Eroica vintage cycling event took place October’s first weekend in Tuscany, Italy. The village of Gaiole is tucked in between lush hills of Chianti and provides a beautiful backdrop for an epic cycling adventure. I had signed up for the 135km route and despite some hard ships along the way managed to pull it off. Whatever distance you ride you need to be prepared for some heroics as the name of the event suggests.
Since the event takes place outside the normal holiday season just getting to Chianti requires serious effort. From Finland it meant a solid 12 hours of travel. It was definitely an exhausting day and I was pretty much ready for bed by the time I got to Gaiole. There is very little signage, but somehow I managed to find my way to pick up the number. I had decided to sleep in the rental car and I found a quiet spot next to a funeral home. Crawling into my sleeping bag I already had a hunch that having gotten up so early and sitting most of the day would prove to be totally worth it.
Next morning I was woken by cars speeding by. A continuous string of cyclists lights slowly dribbled down the hill in pitch black. There was no point in trying to get more sleep. It was also quite cold outside so I slowly started pulling my clothes on. Participants were slowly filling up the town square. Everybody was wearing their period correct cycling attire and full of the nervous jitters. Eventually I made it to the start line and got my first stamp. So far so good I thought and then I was off.
Waiting for my turn I had noticed I was missing the number tag on my frame so I decided to go back to my car to search for it. Riding up the hill I noticed friction shifters had started slipping over night. As I rummaged under the seats I managed to get a deep cut on my finger. Bleeding and without low gears I rode back down in darkness to the start of the course. It was clear that it was not going to be an easy day on the saddle. There was no going back and it could only get better.
Getting up the first paved slopes was not too difficult even with my 42/13, but I knew I had to do something. I rode on to the side of the road, but it was just too dark to do any meaningful adjustments. Stopping was a mistake. I hadn’t realized how hard it is to get your feet into the pedals clips in the dark. Just before the first gravel road there were some street lighting and I set the high limit screw in my rear derailleur. The following uphill to Brolio casttle was a proper lung-buster, but with 42/16 gear ratio I could get up most the hill. The worst parts I rode with one hand holding the friction shifter.
So I managed to get up the first real test and the sun started to slowly come up. After the total silence of the first hour riders started to actually talk little bit. Tuscany was slowly starting to show its fantastic beauty. Roosters were crowing and I started to enjoy myself. Riding soft gravel roads was bit tricky of course, but my confidence was growing as I was passing more people that I was letting past me. Every few kilometer or so there was somebody fixing tires on the side of the road. This event is clearly a proper test, but should be doable.
As the day went on we cycled on in leasurely pace without incidents or accidents. However the sound of ambulance sirens in the distance was all too common to completely ignore. Tuscany sure is pretty, but it was obvious there is an element of danger to this endeavour of ours. I never got used to the unexpected sound exploding tubular tires make, but the happy cheering that ensued was lot of fun. Eventually I made it to the first depot. There was a huge queue and it seemed the locals were enjoying themselves. I finally made it to the buffet table ladden with local delicacies. The tea and some of the cakes were excellent, but with all the fuzz I had been expecting more.
I had managed thus far and there was huge queue at the repair stand so I decided to just continue my single-speed expedition. As we cycled over the rolling hills the paved slopes were not necessarily all that steep, but felt endless. On the third depot there was a shorter queue to the friendly italian mechanic and I got the autoshifting issue sorted. After enjoying some Ribollito soup and wine I had a feeling I had this thing in a bag. I started to feel confident I could actually finish the event. The etruscan gods had another surprise stored for me.
I had read that the next uphill would be brutal, but I was full of hope it didn’t really feel that bad. On the next downhill I managed to blow both tires at once. First I just couldn’t believe what had happened, but I was in good mood and figured this was just an integral part of the experience. As I had recently had experience with punctures it did not take too far to exchange both inner tubes. A group of photography enthusiasts walked down the hill and all took some pictures so I felt like the main attraction for a while. Anyways I had learned a lesson and would not take anything for granted anymore.
I was fairly proud of myself as I had managed to ride up all the hills so far. Fighting up one of the crueler gravel slopes I finally had to succumb to walking. The rear axle had actually bent from the effort and tire was rubbing the frame. From that point onwards I did not hesitate to climb off the bike anytime I lost traction on gravel. I decided that to keep my integrity I would churn up all the paved roads. I kept my promise and I was soon at Pianella with just 1ok left to Gaiole.
Cruicing down the long downhill towards village I had forgotten about the last piecce of strade bianchi. The gravel road up to the Brolio castle was a brutal slog and I was knackered by the time I got to the finish line. The ride had been a challenge all the way from the start so I was happy to have made it to the end. It sure would have been nice to get on that 200k podium, but even riding the 135km route is no easy feat. You can do it too, but you need to brave enough to continue on whatever the course throws at you.