L’Eroica 2021. A Sweet Return to the Strade Bianche.

L’Eroica 2021 was another perfect edition of what we regularly describe as ‘the best day on the bike, every year’.

It had been a long time coming since 2019 and we were not disappointed. 

The weather was superb. It was still more Summer than Autumn, and with a number of new protocols in place to manage the 8,500 riders in a post-covid environment, the festival rolled through Gaiole in Chianti seamlessly.

Damian has always had on his radar to complete the 209km route and had “pencilled in” 2021 as the year to ride it. However with a less than optimal preparation, due mainly to the ongoing restrictions, it was looking less and less likely.

One of the new protocols was to split the ride over two days with the longer distances riding on Saturday rather than Sunday, and the shorter rides remaining on the Sunday.

As Damian and Matteo were preparing on Friday night over a beer or two, they convinced each other that they should depart early and just see what unfolded – making the final decision based on how they felt, only at the point where the long course goes right and the medium course goes left.

‘What could possibly go wrong’?, became the line of the night.

Here is Damian’s story of how their L’Eroica 2021 ride unfolded….

So up we were at 5am for a couple of cornetti and doppio espressi, before signing on and riding away into the darkness. It was immensely satisfying to be doing this once again, with only the sounds of light chatter in Italian and the occasional shifting and crunching of a gear change, as we spun up the first climb to Castello di Brolio.

Sunrise was stunning and we were lucky enough to time its rise with us coasting over a hill, with Siena in the distance, bathed in a beautiful soft golden light. 

Descending, climbing, and more descending took us to the outskirts of Siena. After more climbing, we passed one of the ancient city gates and entered the maze of old cobbled streets that wind their way around until you lose all sense of direction, but then pop out to the visual feast that is the Piazza del Campo. 

We were rolling smoothly and took a little time to enjoy the tastes of the first refreshment stop, which for me was a little piece of Parmigiano Reggiano as the highlight. 

At the 70 odd kilometre mark, we arrived at the fork in the road where we needed to decide how our day would unfold. We were both feeling good, and subconsciously the decision must have already been made as I had rolled along the direction of ‘the lungo’ before stopping to wait for Matteo, who had stopped to take off his jacket. Matteo rolled around the corner and saw where I was and thought, ‘ok, we are going long’.  No words were required, there was just a simple understanding.

Of the next 20km, seventeen of them were ascending and fifteen of those were gravel. This was a section that required some serious will power and not too much thinking beyond the next 10 metres.

It was a relief to arrive in Montalcino for another round of panino and torta di albicocche, and after in our opinion completing the hardest section of the day, pause to reassess what was to come.

The following few hours were fantastic. We took in the towns of Buonconvento, Torrenieri and Asciano and it was warm, with only the slightest breeze. Here we were immersed in and part of the bella Toscana landscape. 

From Asciano, we had around 65km to go and the challenge of the Monte Santa Maria climb ahead of us. The legs were starting to complain when the terrain went above 10%, and this was also that time when you start to do the mental calculations of how far, how fast and estimated time of arrival. The opportunities for photography evaporated as the sole focus was now on getting to the finish.

At the final refreshment stop, we took on more water, a couple of bananas and a panino for the back pocket. There was thunder and what looked like the imminent arrival of rain, so we made a quick departure.  

We had whittled it down to only 45k to go and calculated that we should make it home just before sunset. There was another long section of gravel as we returned to Chianti, our home region, and as we ascended up into Radda in Chianti for the last control stamp, there was only 8 km to go. I was nearly at the top of the last ascent and just as I was thinking about the final gravel section, I had a flat in the rear wheel. 

This was the first flat of the day and right at the end of the ride. The old 23mm tubular had served me well as it had also survived the 2019 ride, but now it had become incredibly difficult to remove. After a fifteen minute wrestle, the tubular was off the rim and the new one was on.  We were away.  

I had missed my sunset deadline and only hit the final section of gravel with a darkening sky.  It turned out I had also misjudged the tyre inflation and needed to ride the entire final gravel section out of the saddle to preserve the rim. 

With 3km to go, it was a relief to cross over from gravel to tarmac for the last time and then actually enjoy the descent from Vertine to Gaiole in Chianti. The applause and words of encouragement from other riders and roadside tifosi was as beautiful as crossing the finish line and taking in the last stamp.

In total, the ride was 209km, of which 112km was gravel, and with a total elevation of 3768m. A very long day for sure, but also a very rewarding day.

If you’d like to enjoy this magical day on the bike, join us for our L’Eroica & Tuscany Cycling Tour in September / October 2022.


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