We’ve just wrapped up our L’Eroica and Tuscany Cycling Tour with a group who all achieved their bucket list goal and it got us thinking about what it takes to prepare for and really enjoy L’Eroica. Below are our top tips that we share with our guests.
1. The lead up: the physical and mental challenge
A key ingredient in your preparation is knowing what to expect.
To ride 130km on the road is a somewhat ‘easy’ proposition. However, when 130k is in the Tuscan hills and 50k is on gravel, it makes for a more challenging and longer day in the saddle.
This is where the mental preparation is just as important as the physical training. Knowing what to expect in the last half of the ride is key, so that you can manage your energy output to get you home.
Our lead up rides on our L’Eroica and Tuscany cycling tour traverse through Chianti and the Val d’Orcia, taking you across some of the course and allowing you to get a feel for the terrain so you understand what to expect, come the grand partenza from the piazza on Sunday.
2. The spirit of L’Eroica: it’s not perfect and that makes it perfect
In our view, riding L’Eroica is about embracing their ethos and adhering to their rules as much as possible. This includes sticking with the pedals with cages, using tubulars and accepting that when you change a gear, it may crunch a little until you find it.
On one L’Eroica, I had managed to puncture a tubular, which could not be repaired and had to walk about 6k to the next rest stop for mechanical assistance. As I was drawing closer to the stop, a German girl asked if I needed help. After we worked out she couldn’t help, she made a comment that ‘the punctures and the walking is “all part of the game”.’ I have reflected on this comment often and she’s right. The possibility of “an imperfect ride” with flats, a mechanical, all combine to make the whole experience perfect. After all, L’Eroica is different from any other ride, and it is these differences that make it unique.
One of our riders experienced similar on this recent tour. Deb’s pedal was loose on her bike and couldn’t be screwed back in easily. It took the assistance of two French riders to get her going again to just make it to the rest stop, where the Italian mechanic then completed the fix. She completed the ride she set out to do, appreciated the assistance of fellow riders and felt a huge sense of reward as she relayed the story at dinner.
A day at L’Eroica is not about trying to make it easier for yourself in every way. It is about embracing the spirit of the ride.
3. L’Eroica ‘Know How’
To align with the L’Eroica spirit, you’ll need to be across a few things that you probably haven’t been across before. One of these is how to change a tubular.
If you haven’t done this, it can be a little daunting…“what do you mean I need to glue the tyre on?” is often what we hear. However after you have seen someone else do it and you realize you’re able to use tape rather than glue, it’s a relatively easy replacement process.
Invariably, someone in our group experiences a flat in the days leading up to L’Eroica, so there is always the opportunity for a roadside ‘tubular changing class’ with our resident mechanic. Our riders appreciate being shown what has to happen, should the need arise.
You also need to know how to communicate to the slow rider or the walker in front of you who may be on the best, most compact and smooth path in the gravel, to share or make way. We have found that “Attenzione!” is the best approach for this.
4. Have the right gear
With very few flat sections of road in Tuscany, it’s imperative to have the right gear set up for you.
They say that for every 30k you’ll climb 400m. This rule of thumb leads us to give the recommendation to our guests to have a 32 in their rear cassette. This is most often what makes the difference of how much you will enjoy your whole trip, let alone just the one day.
We have had many riders bring their bikes over to our L’Eroica cycling tour with a 28 on the back, and say to us that putting a 32 on the back can’t be done, as their mechanic back home said it couldn’t. It takes a few days in the hills before they are willing to try and give it a go.
We have one mechanic we always use who has always been able to add a 32 to our guests’ bikes, making them happy little riders at the first climb they test it on.
5. Love the Gravel, Love the Hills and Embrace the Challenge
To fully appreciate and enjoy L’Eroica, you need to love riding up and down the hills, and on gravel.
You need to be open to and accept the challenge of the long climbs that don’t want to end and the hair raising gravel descents, at times in darkness.
The reward for taking on these challenges is immense; Tuscany’s hilltop towns bathed in the gold of a sunrise and glimpses of an iconic landscape that you would never have seen, only just touch the surface.
I have now completed six L’Eroica rides and every time has been different, with all of them a perfect day on the bike.
Find out more about our sensational L’Eroica & Tuscany Cycling Tour.