Monday, May 4, 2015

Ciclismo come una volta (Cycling as it used to be)

Let's see. How best NOT to prepare for a challenging bike ride? First, take almost 4 weeks off from riding with family visits, getting sick and taking two rounds of three different antibiotics and then spend a few days driving a car and working on bicycles until the big day. That should do it!!!

But THIS is Eroica Primavera! We're going and we're RIDING, one way or another!! Larry already missed L-B-L due to sickness but he now seemed to be recovered enough...but just enough. As the song says, "You have to try. What would you be if you didn't try?" Above you can see a view out the window of our lodging in Montalcino.

And here's another. Sadly, while Larry was over the worst of his sickness, a common cold grabbed him on the way to Tuscany to meet Heather after collecting our bici d'epoca from our HQ in Piemonte. His taste buds went on strike as a result, so Heather was left to enjoy the great wine and food in Montalcino for him.

He actually felt a bit better by the next morning and was determined to ride (and enjoy) the great dirt roads only the 200+ km riders get to ride on L'Eroica in October. This Primavera event was a great idea with a start in Buonconvento to allow those who aren't hard-core crazies (and who don't want to start a ride in the dark for Pietro's sake!) and perhaps those put-off by the massive crowds at the original event to enjoy some of these roads and scenery. In addition to this Primavera edition there's now one in California, Japan, Spain and the UK. 

For us one of the most compelling reasons for riding the shorter loops is the reasonable starting time. Starting around 9 AM is just.. well...civilized. We have all day to enjoy riding and it's far from a race or something we're eager to "get over with" as the whole point is to enjoy seeing the other vintage bikes (and riders) and admire the beautiful scenery while experiencing the peaceful, almost car-free roads.

Here at the PARTENZA you see just how uncrowded it was. Even a guy riding the wrong way or Heather stopping for a photo is no big deal. This is how we imagine the early days of L'Eroica must have been, before everybody and his fratello decided to participate. While we're not going to begrudge the organizer his success or the popularity of his events, something is lost when crowds become too big, lines become too long and roads become slaloms (both up and down) because there are just too many people in the same place at the same time.

We've read a few accounts of the recent Eroica California event. One "journalist" who shall go un-named seemed to fail to grasp the concept. He whined about having to walk up a steep climb and about missing a turn, then made reference to using a GPS device. We think ANY sort of electronic device not available in 1987 should be banned, though we'll cut some slack for a cell phone discreetly tucked into a back pocket in case of emergency. Strava? Forget it! The same guy mentioned nothing about the rest stops (RISTORO in Italian) which are one of the highlights of this type of event. Above you see bike parking at the first one we came to. A cypress tree for every bike!

Each RISTORO is an opportunity to highlight the culinary delights of the region as well as provide energy for the riders. Above you can see Heather ready to dig into fettunta, (sliced, toasted bread with oil and salt) crostata (jam tart) pecorino cheese, prosciutto or salami panini, fresh fruit and your choice of water or Chianti. NO "energy" bars or drinks! Just REAL food and plenty of it. 

Luciano Berruti is a regular at the Eroica events. His photo is seen all over the website and other promotional materials for Eroica. He came up to us and said "What a beautiful couple!" pointing to our matching retro outfits. (Grazie to Soigneur, Nalini and Vittoria by the way) He told us about attending the recent California Eroica event.. this is a guy who "gets it". Larry couldn't help but ask if the RISTORI in California were like the one we were enjoying and he admitted they were not quite the same, but it was the first time for the event and he was confident that eventually they would get it right. California produces some great wine and other things so it should be a no-brainer to stock their rest-stops with the delights of the region.

We counted back numbers up to 1000+, far from the cut-off of 5000 at the original event held in October of each year. While we think the Primavera version could have been just fine with perhaps 2000 participants, we were happy it was small. No elbowing to get your card stamped, no long lines anywhere. Everybody was friendly, a true no-stress event for the participants, quite different from the October version, which is a bit over-the-top these days. Larry has a theory about doubling the number of participants in an activity resulting in the number of jerks involved increasing by an exponent of 10, so perhaps 1000 or so enjoying these events keeps them enjoyable for everyone?

Above you can see one of the tougher climbs on the CORTO route. Most we talked with commented on the climbs in this region being less challenging than the ones on the routes up near Gaiole. We agreed, though with so little cycling form they were plenty challenging enough for us, even with our low gears. Many, many people are forced to walk these as their vintage bikes simply don't have gears low enough, which really makes one appreciate the efforts the old legends of cycling had to make while racing over roads like these. Since we didn't attend the California event we can't say for sure about those hills, but the journalist who whined about having to dismount and walk must not have any passion for or understanding of the legends of the sport. Think of the days when racers had to dismount, remove a rear wheel and turn it around to change gear or operate a lever system on the seat-stay that loosened the rear wheel, then you pedaled backwards to a different gear before securing the wheel (you  hoped) and continuing on your way.

Unlike the California "journalist", we had a GREAT time, despite Larry being sick and both of us short-of-form. We started slow and tapered off from there like we do so often. Interestingly enough, on the flatter, rolling or downhill sections we often caught up to those who'd dropped us on the previous climb, though now and then they'd pass us again on the next climb. Events like these remind us of why we got into this sport in the first place. The friendly atmosphere and the beautiful machines combined with that Italian "hospitality-gene" (could that have been missing in CA?) make these events 100% fun...if you have the right attitude.

We think Eroica and the other bici d'epoca events (which these days are almost every weekend somewhere in Italy) are the cycling equivalent of vintage car rallies but without the beard-stroking, tut-tutting and comments about someone's radiator cap not being "period correct". While some have a "concours" type display, the real fun is the riding of the bikes and admiring them in their true, dusty element. Even when you stop and help a guy who's obviously never changed a tubular in his life (he had no glue so I hope he was careful in the turns!) and is struggling get his rear wheel off, it's fun.

When you're finally off the bike and sitting down at the "pasta party" it's still fun, especially when they put a plate of pasta, various cold-cuts and cheese in front of you along with a bottle of Tuscan Sangiovese. Then they bring you more of those tasty crostate for dessert! On top of this they hand you a specially-marked bottle of Rosso di Montalcino as a trophy just for finishing, as long as you get your route card stamped at each checkpoint, something Larry failed to do in October, missing out on the special bottle of Chianti Classico.

We feel sorry for those who can't enjoy cycling without carbon-fiber, engineered food and electronic devices to monitor "performance". Cycling was (and is) a wonderful sport and activity before ANY of those things were available. This is the spirit we try to re-create with our tours, though we'll still welcome you with your carbon bike and we'll even avert our eyes if you unwrap and eat engineered food between meals! But with us, it will still be like...



  1. I attended Eroica CA. I'd say that the event pretty much met the spirit that you describe....but that perhaps some participants expected something else. Sure, I walked some what? There was one hill, right after the first rest stop, which I didn't see anyone manage to ride to the top as it was pretty steep and very loose dirt which offered no traction. IMO the only real area where things were lacking was the food stops. The people manning the stops were nice and friendly and the food was great, there just wasn't enough of it nor a huge variety of choices. I did bring my GPS along but only to record the ride - it was tucked in the pocket of my wool jersey. Oh, and one noticeable difference in the pics of your event and the one in CA is the number of people wearing helmets....I wasn't, but I was certainly in the minority. Overall I thought it was a great experience and I plan to attend again next year.

  2. Scott, Thanks for the details on Eroica CA! We'd hoped the comments from the "journalist" reflected his lack of understanding on what these events are all about and your comments make that obvious. That is good news. Was the rider turnout more than expected, or were the participants more hungry than usual? The only complaint could come up with for Eroica Primavera was waiting while they uncorked more vino at the first control point/rest stop! We're happy to hear that helmets were not required in CA as they really (for us anyway) spoil the "come una volta" atmosphere that is so essential to enjoyment of these events. If we're stuck in the USA next April I hope to be able to make it out there to experience Eroica CA for myself.

  3. You're welcome. The registration was limited to 1000 people and I have read from the organizer (Wesley) that a little over 700 attended. I would say that the deficit in food was related to it being the first year for the event and those doing the food stops not really knowing what to expect more than anything else. I think it pretty much all of the flaws in the event could be attributed to that and I'm sure that they've learned from the experience. You would have liked the first rest stop (at a winery), they were giving out water bottles - your choice of water or vino. You might enjoy this -

    A similar event you should check out is Cino Heroica. I attended last year and it was a great time.

    1. Thanks for rest of the story. There's a bici d'epoca event almost every weekend somewhere in Italy. We have a tough time fitting time for them in around our summer guided tour schedule but we plan to enjoy a few more in the future. Happy to hear the first Eroica CA was so enjoyable for you.