Sunday, October 2, 2011

Following L'Eroica

For the past few weeks I’ve been looking forward to seeing this year’s "L'Eroica", which took place today. L’Eroica is an annual classic Italian race which pays homage to Italian cycling champions of yesteryear. The rally is an all-out reenactment of a bygone cycling era, requiring adherence to the use of pre-1987 bikes and vintage cycling equipment.

The race begins and ends in Gaiole-in-Chianti, the very heart of the Chianti Classico region, and transverses long stretches of gravel and dirt roads. The ride is often compared to Paris-Roubaix because of the difficult terrain and lumpy gravel, pot-holed roads. The event has become an institution, and recently started allowing a limited number of non-Italians to participate from other countries. The race, originally contrived as a way to save the "strade bianche" from being asphalted, has achieved its goal, having become world-renowned.  The roads are permanently marked with signs designating the route.

The event is a flashback to the days of Gimondi, Bartoli, Bindi, Coppi, Moser and beyond. The participants are devoted enthusiasts who invest a lot of time and preparation gearing up their bikes with old down tube shifters, metal toe cages, and old gearing. They carry an extra set of sew-ups, just in case of a blow-out on a gravel road.  Keeping within the spirit of a bygone era, the participants wear vintage cycling attire, scarves around their necks, goggles, woolen jerseys, old cleat-less cycling shoes, and cycling caps instead of helmets.

A serious, arduous race, it is also a gigantic antique ciclismo costume party on two wheels. A spectacle and so much fun to watch. The rally includes many festivities including displays of vintage cycling memorabilia, and opportunities to buy precious antique bike parts from collectors and vendors who exhibit their classic collections.....a live outdoor cycling museum. Of course a Tuscan feast follows the rally and a great sense of nostalgia, spirit and festivity fills the air.

My cycling friends in the States would really enjoy watching this rally because it’s unique, and different than anything that we know in the U.S., where cycling history doesn’t go that far back.

Many of my team members participated in the event. (There's their photo above). Each one of them has a vintage bike that they love, pamper, polish and prepare in anticipation of this event. With those of my team who did not participate in the event, we cycled out to Gaiole and Panzano, one of the strategic high points of the ride, where spectators await the heroes. We waited at the summit for our teammates to arrive, and cheered them on. At Panzano, of course, Dario Cecchini the famed butcher was there with his crew handing out Italian energy food as the riders passed by...sausage, salami, cheese, grapes, figs, bread and wine!

I wish that I could participate in this ride.  It would mean buying an old antique bike with special gearing and a lot of practice riding on gravel roads.  But I think instead I prefer to follow and watch the rally from my own bike because I feel that this event really belongs to the ragazzi who were brought up loving Italian ciclismo from yesterday.  They wear the jerseys of their youth.  This is their day, it belongs to them!  Bravi to all my teammates who participated!!!  It was so much fun watching you!!