Written by Damian Hancock, Founder of A’qto
L’Eroica is without question my favourite day on the bike, every year. The joy it brings to not just me, but thousands of riders, is easily evident when you take the time to see how riders, their friends and family embrace the ride, which is now more a ‘multi day event’ that builds during the preceding week. The L’Eroica ‘festival’, as we describe it, includes not only a celebration of all things vintage cycling, but also of Tuscan food, wine and culture, and most of all, of people sharing the challenge and beauty of all that makes it unique.
We’ve been involved with L’Eroica in Gaiole in Chianti for over 7 years now and our passion for this amazing event, only grows stronger each year. So we thought we’d share our list of the top 10 reasons why you need to add our L’Eroica Cycling Tour to your bike bucket list.
1. The Bikes
The bikes are magic. Usually a surprise to those unfamiliar with riding vintage steel, most people quickly find out that the bikes are amazing and are hooked after their first few k’s.
Riding a vintage steel bike is just beautiful and I believe it’s due to a combination of the comfort, feeling of assuredness and just how quiet they are.
They are also things of beauty, with the their perfectly horizontal top tubes and use of colour across the frames. Only bikes made of steel, with a couple of exceptions to aluminium bikes, namely the Alan’s, are allowed to be used on the day of the ride. In my view, riding pre ’87 steel bikes is at the core of what makes L’Eroica the very unique ride that it is.
2. The Spirit
L’Eroica enjoys a spirit like no other. This is a ride that started in ’97 as a protest to stop the paving of the “old white roman roads” of Tuscany. While it has achieved this, an additional bonus is that it has now created an amazing “bike park” for Chianti, while also giving birth to the vintage bike movement and the explosion of gravel riding we’re now seeing. However, it’s the thought of honouring the spirit of riding in a forgotten era, that is the essence of L’Eroica. As they say at L’Eroica HQ, it’s about “rediscovering the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of the conquest.”
We’re fortunate to be able to ride in many incredible events, regions and locations across Italy each year, and while all are very different and special in their own way, the spirit of L’Eroica really does stand alone. It is the combination of many things, however the fact that everyone is doing something that they don’t often do – riding a vintage steel bike on some really challenging gravel roads in a stunningly beautiful setting – is the essence of the L’Eroica spirit. It’s about the long road, not the short cuts, and it’s about supporting each other through the challenge.
3. The Marketplace
The vintage market is an integral part of the L’Eroica event and if you have a passing interest in bikes and cycling, it is a place where you can spend many hours, every day…..as you just never know what you’ll “need” or what you are going to find.
If it’s related to cycling, it’s there; used, restored or NOS, bikes, frames, components, jerseys, books, signs, musettes……. the list just goes on and on.
There are about 50 vendors spread across every available space in the village, sandwiched next to other vendors who are selling beers, local produce and with a couple also selling slow cooked porchetta panini. There is really no need to leave.
4. The Rules
There are specific rules for the ride which some people follow and others use just as a guide. We’re talking about the use of specific bikes, shoes and clothing, types of gearing, as well as a preference for tubulars over clinchers. While the rules can be perceived as onerous by some, there is some method to the thinking that lies behind them.
For me and many others who embrace it fully, it’s about the experience of the ride and not the time that it takes you. Riding in a woollen jersey and using tubulars, are two rules that shall not be broken for me. On one occasion I had to walk 7k to the next refreshment stop and to mechanical support, where I could source a new tubular. Along the way there were plenty of people who asked if they could help and one German woman made the comment “it’s all part of the game”. I thought this was quite a profound statement – not just about riding L’Eroica and the experience that you may have along the way, but also with life in general – that the experience is perfect, even when we don’t think it’s perfect.
5. The Hills and the Strade Bianche
Tuscany is a hilly region, full of winding back roads that may or may not be paved. This is all part of the beauty and the challenge to make your way to the top, before enjoying the superb open and free flowing descent. The locals say that as a rule of thumb, for every 30k you travel, expect to climb at least 400m. You will always earn your dinner. This challenge is where the fun is and on the day of L’Eroica, there is a little “chilli pepper” of a challenge across every ride distance.
So, is it an easy day on the bike? Nope.
Is it do-able for most? Absolutely.
6. The Rest Stops
The food at the refreshment stops are second to none.
When you are working out your supplies to take on the ride, no pre-packed, odd tasting chemical compounds are required. On the 135k ride, the first stop is at the 50k mark and yes, you’re a little hungry but wow, what a choice, with my personal favourite being the Torta di Prugne or plum tart. From there, there is a rest stop about every 20k’s and depending on how you’re feeling and who you’re with, it could be a stop for 3 minutes or 30 minutes, it could be just for some water and a piece of pecorino cheese or it could be a couple of bowls of ribollita soup and a glass of chianti. Buonissimo!
7. The Celebration & Party
L’Eroica is a celebration of all things “vintage” cycling, and of riding for the enjoyment of riding. This is a week where it’s about going digital and data free, and riding the hills by feel. It’s about trying the foods that are only available at this time of year to celebrate the harvest of local produce and wines. It’s about going to the market and buying old school jerseys and shoes, and it’s about talking to “strangers” about bike collections and shared experiences over beers, while immersing in the Italian way of life. The lead up is full of anticipation and the after party in the piazza of Gaiole is magical, making the finale to the week-long celebration, so absolutely memorable.
8. The locals
The village of Gaiole in Chianti has 800 residents, all of whom embrace the event wholeheartedly and welcome the 20,000+ visitors during the week with open arms to experience their hospitality. L’Eroica was born out of a vision by a ‘local Gaiolese’ and until this day, is lived and breathed by the locals who recognize just how much the event has done for the town. Gaiole has now become our home town and it is an absolute joy to share the lead up to our favourite event with such proud, yet humble locals who’s warm embrace can be felt all year round.
9. The Riders & the Camaraderie
While this is an Italian event, it is one with a truly international audience…… German, Dutch, Irish, Swiss, Austrian, Belgian, English, Spanish, American…. the list goes on and on. I always feel a sense of openness, contentment and ease from the riders, and all involved with L’Eroica. Whether at the start or during the ride, people are always happy to try and help you on the road if needed, or over a beer at the finish, everyone’s ready to celebrate and share their experience …. with some debating whether the 209k distance is worth the extra hours, at the expense of the celebratory post ride beers…. an issue that is yet to be resolved.
This is a spectacular region within Tuscany that was inhabited by the Etruscans before the Romans before the Medici’s, and lies between Florence and Siena. It is a land of mostly forest and vineyards, and is dotted with hamlets sitting on hilltops, like quiet sentinels guarding the ancient villages below. As you expect, tourism in Tuscany is on a grand scale, however when you take to the back roads of Chianti, it is truly surprising how few cars you will see on a long ride. In my view, Chianti has some of the best riding in Italy and L’Eroica is the ride that brings together all that makes this region special.
If you want to experience a ride and a week long celebration of cycling, food and wine like no other, join us on our L’Eroica Cycling Tour in 2020. We have only a few spots left available so if you’re ready, secure your spot now or call us on 0410 651 573 if you have any questions.