We arrived in Gaiole in Chianti with our group on the Monday before L’eroica with the intention of getting everyone into the spirit of the event, and also to allow some time to get used to the vintage bikes and the white roads. For all who joined us for our tour, this was their first time to Chianti, so the week of daily rides and special food and wine experiences that we had planned were sure to impress.
This group of riders and non-riding partners gelled quickly, and after a beautiful welcome lunch and glass of Chianti under the warm Tuscan sun, all were ready to soak up as much of the Tuscan hospitality as possible.
We had hired a few vintage bikes and I ended up with a Raleigh team issue machine for the week that was in great condition and had a full compliement of Campy, I was also told this could be mine for an easy €2000.
Over the following days, we meandered our way through the Chianti region and on one of the days, drove to the other side of Siena to experience some completely different landscape, and some of the roads that are ridden on the 209 route, and the L’eroica Primavera.
Anyone who has been to Chianti will know that there really is not a flat piece of road in the region. I was told by a local that there is a rough rule of thumb that if you ride about 30km, you climb on average 400m.
These hills are a cyclist’s dream and also make for some pretty spectacular views to lose yourself in while settling into a long Italian lunch, as we did with the group on one of the afternoon’s. This long lunch was definitely one of the highlights of the week.
On the day…
On the day of L’eroica, I selected to ride the 75km with my dad. This was a shorter ride than I have done in the past, but is also the one that has the highest percentage of white roads and climbing.
With a dignified 8am departure, we awoke to a misty morning after overnight showers, and after a relaxed breakfast of cornetti (italian custard filled pastries), proscuttio and cheese, and a couple of caffe machiatti, we were ready to roll down the 400m to the Piazza and the start line. Staying so close to town was absolutely perfect on the day of the ride, and also in the lead up, as we watched the momentum of this great event build each day. From the antique bike market to the food and hospitality marquees that roll in, it is quite incredible to watch this tiny town of 800 people be transformed to accommodate 20,000 visitors.
The first few waves had been released before we arrived to the piazza and the riders were flowing through with not too much restriction. It wasn’t long before we were under way.
There was a little nervousness as everyone settled into their position and rhythm before we encountered the climb up to Madonna de Brolio. The further we ascended, the more mist we encountered. As we hit the first gravel sector, we were still shrouded in mist and there were “mechanicals” everywhere. We rolled over the top past the castle and then it was on to our first free flowing downhill section of dirt.
We were truly under way now and over the next 10km’s, we slowly dropped to the valley. Rolling along next to Dad on this section was pretty special….having a chat about nothing in particular as we passed through classic Chianti country, covered in mist is unforgettable.
We had broken up the ride into a few parts, and in reality, it was just about going up and down 5 times over the 77km.
We made it to Pianella, turned right and we were back onto the white roads for a very long, uphill section. There is an amazing amount of people on the road. I made it up the hill and then took the opportunity to take a few photos, and watch the procession of colourful riders snake up the climb.
The next climb was another particularaly long one that took us into the centre of Radda in Chianti, and our first refreshment stop with the obligatory nuttella on pane, and then a few slices with some local extra virgin olive oil. I refilled the bottles and we were under way again.
Yet another climb, with this one up into Panzano. Turn right and there’s the well known butcher of the region, Dario Cecchini giving every rider a big slice of his homemade ‘ finnochiona’ salami on bread and a little of the local chianti. We were grateful for the impromptu refreshment stop.
We kept going, and there was more up hill. We turned in the direction of home and with the sun on our back, I slowly made my way up the gravel, past the many who have opted to walk. It’s a funny feeling to see people getting off their bike when their legs start to hurt just too much… The little man in red on my shoulder says “it’s ok… just walk from here… everyone else is” and then I think, “hang on, this isn’t hurting yet”. I stayed on, kept pushing up the hill and over into our second control/refreshement stop, and waited for Dad and Brian, one of our fellow group members, to come in.
As they rolled in, we regrouped and took on some water and ribollita soup, and plenty of plum tart.
Dad had an issue with his back wheel after hitting a pothole, so we went to see the mechanic and waited for him to take a look at it. Sure enough there was a problem, two spokes were broken. He removed these and then tightened the remaining spokes so that it removed the wobble.
We were under way again and only 20km from home, but with a very long descent ahead. Half way up the last climb of the day, my rear wheel had a flat. This was my third for the week and when you’re running singles, it starts to become expensive. As I stopped and changed the single, it was interesting to notice some of the riders passing by, head down and looking completely broken, with others walking up the final hill. With the repair made, I was back on the bike, but the last few k’s were tentative as there was now no glue holding the single on, only the pressure from the tyre.
The last few kilometres of dirt and the descent down from Vertine into the Piazza, flashed by in an instant.
It was so satisfying to complete another edition of L’eroica and it was now time to find a beer and “celebrate” our accomplishment – particularly the accomplishments of the riders in our group who were all true ‘L’eroiche’ (‘heroes’ as the Italians would say) for the week we shared, culminating in their individual achievements and distances on the day. Thanks to you all for a great week.
For information on our L’eroica 2017 tour, you can read more here or contact us anytime at [email protected]