I was lucky enough to be drawn out of the ballot for an entry in L’Eroica again this year.
I was up before the 4.15 alarm. Slowly getting dressed and ensuring that I’m prepared for what is about to unfold.
We stayed 3k away from the start line, at the top of a hill, so after a little local salami panino, I was off on my beautiful steel Cinelli, rolling down in the complete darkness.
As I entered the top of the piazza there was more life and the caffe’s all open. I stop to have a quick macchiato and a little creme filled pastry, just to ensure that I have enough fuel.
This is going to be a long day after all.
I am now ready to go. All that is left is for the first control to open so I can be under way.
The group waiting to start is getting bigger and bigger and the spirits are high, the atmosphere is relaxed. It looks as though the rain from the previous day will hold off.
It’s 5am, the control has opened and we’re off…
We have travelled only 4.5ks before we turn off the “main” road and head for the hills. Riding in complete darkness without any street lamps is an interesting proposition.
We climb about 5k before we turn again and hit our first section of dirt. It is a windy little track that has large candles on each side of the road for over a kilometre, the soft flickering glow, lighting up the tall trees that line our path, creating a mystical feeling as we quietly labour up the hill.
We reach the top and it completely changes. It’s just about hanging on as we descend the corrugated roads with loose gravel. While there were some taking a little more of a conversitive approach to our descent, there were others who just flew down, with absolute commitment and skill, as though they are using the force.
With no street lights to help guide you and an inadequate lighting option, the next hour or so was just about staying upright. We hit Siena, still in darkness and skirt around the town. As it slowly got brighter and the day’s sunrise tried to poke through the clouds, it became obvious that we wouldn’t have much sunshine today.
I am now able to see more of my surroundings and fellow riders, and there is a consistent look of happiness and contentment on everyone’s face. There is a great feeling of camaraderie, with calls of “macchina” or “auto” to advise of approaching cars.
We are now completely in the depths of the spectacular Chianti farming land and about 20ks from our next refreshment stop. It starts to lightly rain before the clouds open up and I am soaked within minutes. I don’t know why but I love riding in the rain, without fail, it always puts a smile on my face.
Coming into our 2nd refreshment stop, I was hungry and a little cold but this is L’Eroica and the refreshments stops are like no other. My first stop is to see the ladies who are dishing out steaming bowls of ribollita soup that has been bubbling away in a cauldron over a fire. This hits the spot, so a second bowl is in order before I try the plum tart and nutella on bread. There are bikes and people milling around everywhere, some trying to stay out of the drizzle and others who are now too wet to care. You hear Italian, English, German and Dutch. This is truly an international ride.
I take in another macchiato before I leave and head out for what I remember to be a hard section from last year.
The next 25k is pretty much all dirt and after the downpour we have just had, it is not long before my bike and I are covered in a sandy, dirt combination. With steep descents on more corrugated roads and really only one smooth line to take, brakes are squeaking, wheels are sliding and it’s about hanging on tight to get over the bumps, and hopefully not lose your bottles or hit the mud.
Then there are the following climbs that are short and steep and it is just a slow grind to the top, time after time.
I am now fatigued and my legs are sore, but I am still able to notice and appreciate just how rugged and beautiful this landscape is. It’s a landscape that opens up your heart.
After what felt like an eternity to ride 25k’s, I am at my final rest stop before my final stretch to the finish. I have mentally broken this down into four sections.
1. 10k of undulating road to Pianella
2. 5k of dirt up to the castle
3. 5k descent to the “main” road.
4. 5k of flat to the finish.
My final climb on the dirt took all of my physical strength to complete and all of my mental strength to stay on the bike, and not walk up the final hill.
With the hard work now over, I am left to enjoy the final beautiful winding descent.
I join the main road for a short stretch before I reach the finishing chute in the centre of Gaiole in Chianti where there are hundreds of people behind the barrier, clapping and cheering as all of the riders pass by. It is quite an overwhelming feeling, to be so tired and fatigued and to be shown so much support from the crowd.
I roll through my last control and am in the piazza. I have just finished my 2nd L’Eroica and this time I am covered in the dirt of the Strade Bianche.
What an epic day.