all of it!
Giaole in Chianti is a two day
drive from Jersey and was to be the final round of our second season
touring Europe's best bike events.
The L'Eroica is Italy's
equivalent of Paris-Roubaix. Instead of cobbles you race over the
strade-bianchi, the "white roads". An intrepid band of people are fighting to
keep them from being covered in tarmac. This event helps raise their
profile and keep them on the map. I thought the strade-bianchi would
be like our railway walk, smooth, shale covered roads. In fact, Jersey's equivalent
would be El Tico's car
park. Deep ruts, pot holes and industrial sized gravel. Just
acceptable for a car park but a little daunting for a public highway.
As ever, the Italian events
seem to have that little bit extra; the L'Eroica was no different.
Signing on took place in the town's sports centre which was filled with
bikes from the last century, with jerseys and riders to match! It
was worth the drive just to see the signing on. Forget all the ideas
about all sorts of Italian bikes being ridden by Italians. I can
tell you they ride and love only one; Bianchi. My Colnago stuck out like a
The full distance L'Eroica is a
monster. It's 200 kilometres, with 110 on the rough stuff.
Anyone who finishes in under 12 hours gets a massive Tuscan hamper.
That's how hard it is. I was up for the 140k ride but that started
at 5:30 am! Seeing as I was on holiday I decided to ride the 80k
event with Dianne, 40k of which was on the dreaded white road.
start was to be at 8:30. With typical Italian organisation there
were 600 riders all having their bike inspected for the best retro bike
prize, and only two inspectors. So at a little before nine we all
set off for the 10 kilometres downhill cruise to the first hill and first
casualty. A snapped chain on the climb to Lucignano saw the first
rider stranded by the roadside. Being Italy he soon had a
crowd to help, advise, remonstrate and shout him back on his way.
L'Eroica is an event for big
old boys on big old bikes in medium-sized old jerseys. Dianne's weight and youth!
helped her pass many of the riders on the climb. The sheer number of
riders squeezed into original retro jerseys only added to the nostalgia.
The fact that they obviously bought them when they were a little less
"stocky" than they now were is a fact not worth mentioning. But I
have and it gives you an inkling of the passion of these true hero's of
the road. Cycling really doesn't get much better than this.
Baptism of gravel
Once over the first climb,
comes the first descent and the first stretch of bianchi. Dianne's
skill to bravery quotient this time skewed to the less safe of the
options when she took a tumble, along with quite a few others, on the
descent. It wasn't so much a lack of skill as a lack of experience.
Her front wheel just "sunk" in to the soft gravel at the edge of
the road and stopped
the bike dead. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the
rider. A quick brush down and she was back on the road, climbing the
12% sloping bianchi to Pianella.
When you only weigh 50 kilos
climbing on gravel can be extremely tiresome. You don't have the weight to
handle" the bike over the pot holes and ruts. This means you can't build the momentum you
need to crash over them like a more powerful rider would. However,
due to your better power to weight ratio, your lack of weight allow you to pedal where many, many others have to walk . This
questionable advantage allowed Dianne to take back loads places on the many, many
the bianchi to Radda we're passed by the commissaire. The whole
event is held in conjunction with a vintage car rally running over the
same route. The commissaire is no exception. Dressed in period
costume he travels up and down the race shouting encouragement from a
speaker bigger than the inside of his Fiat!
As we reached the halfway point
the hills came thicker and faster! The "stocky" powerful riders who
dropped Dianne like a stone on the flat were now being picked off one by
one as she cycled the 10% climbs that followed. Even those off their
bike and pushing were shouting encouragement to her. With five
kilometres of climbing to the feed the gradient was relentless but she
pressed on and didn't grumble ~ much. (When she's tired she
gets a bit tetchy!)
We decided to take a drink once
we reached the top of the monstrous climb to Volpaia. At the top we
took a drink and tried not to let too many of those we passed retake us.
Trying not to get distracted by the typical Tuscan view, we pressed on as
a new section of bianchi lay before us.
By now Dianne was getting
tired. We were three hours into the ride and energy levels were
beginning to drop. I could tell from the way the bike was crashing
in to the stones and pot holes rather than bouncing through them.
There was also the tell-tale stare. You all know what I mean.
Looking three feet ahead of your front wheel, waiting for your second
wind, looking for inspiration and motivation to come from somewhere.
Then it arrived, the feed stop.
At 55k bang in the middle of a
10k stretch of bianchi was a throw back to times past. Girls in
period traditional dress were handing out water, grapes, figs and garlic
bread (garlic and bread?) dipped in olive oil. There were also a few
dubious cheeses. Brandy and ale were also being freely passed around.
Apparently this is the traditional fair of our ancestral hero's of the
road. Playing safe, we stuck to our self-supplied power bars and the
local mineral water.
After a short rest, a regrouping and getting our carnet stamped, we set off
to complete the rest of the bianchi and the run-in to the finish.
Which was very, very much,
uphill. Dianne started to zig-zag to keep the gear turning but just
didn't have the power to keep the bike moving at a speed that would keep
her upright. So far all climbing had been done in the middle ring
but this 15 percenter was just too much. All around us there were
people walking and shaking their heads. This was a cruel, cruel
section so soon after the rest stop.
Dismounted and with the top
still a kilometre away, Dianne rode back down the hill to a flattened out
bend. She dropped it on the small chain ring on the way down, turned
on the flat bit, then rode back up to the top to the astonishment of the
riders who were walking up when she was riding down. Once off this
section it was a 10k road thrash to the next one at San Donato.
through the ride we'd been swapping places with a group of around eight
riders who were working together. They'd form a chain gang on the
flat main roads and open up a gap on us but come the hills they'd break up
and go backwards. We could stretch them on the bianchi and open a
gap on the uphill sections but they always got us back on the flats as
Dianne was not strong enough to hold their wheel when they came past.
They may have been gentlemen of a certain age but they'd lost none of their
class. We decided to
attack on the last flat section of bianchi, give it 100% on the bianchi
descent, then try to hold our own, and the gap, to the finish.
The end of the San Donato
bianchi is at an altitude of 566 metres. Giaole sits 260 metres and
10 kilometres from it. Half the downhill is bianchi, the other half
tarmac. By now Dianne was very tired and it was important that we
finished in one piece tired but happy, rather than the less favourable
It's so easy to make mistakes
when your blood sugar is down. Your brain can only run on sugar,
unlike the body which can burn fat as fuel when the glucose has run out.
So although your body is capable of pushing your bike at 40 mph down hill
your brain may only be operating at 20 mph. I've seen so many people
come a cropper on a big descent on corners that are little more than
kinks. Their brain and perception has let them down, not their
ability. It's important to keep focussed and suggared-up, so I force her to take a
As we approach the town we can
see our stronger chasers getting closer. With two corners to go,
approaching a sharp right hand junction, Dianne overshoots
and locks a back wheel. She gets it all back together then fires the
bike down the last steep run in to the flamme rouge at the bottom of the
hill where our car is parked. We turn a sharp left and they're now
entering the corner as we are leaving it. I go to the front and give
her her very first lead-out.
We pass the crowd at the
entrance to the town square and she comes off my wheel to enter the square
first. Then some crazy parent lets their two year old kick a ball
across the finish line and chase it! Dianne slams the brakes on and
somehow gets around the child without killing it or scratching her bike.
The others scream in behind, but it doesn't matter because she's already
crossed the line to finish in a time of just over five, very hard, hours.
The longest and hardest ride she's done in her eighteen months of owning a
new friends are now the organiser who remembered her from the
morning sign on (I think she had her top open) who was genuinely
interested and asked how she got on
and congratulated her for finishing.
The other is Luciano Berruti, the
face of L'Eroica. During sign-on he invited Dianne to sit on his
Bianchi while she had her photo taken. This is the second photo.
Couldn't use the first one as
he was looking down her top when I pushed the button. And she
did say he wasn't just holding the saddle! Don't you just love
A fantastic end to a fantastic season. From April to
October we had wind and rain, snow and ice, and wind and heat. From
the cobbles of Belgium to the gravel of Italy with the odd Alp thrown in
for good measure. Dianne's biggest triumph was riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege
and Het Volk in the middle ring because she forgot she could change down.
Her biggest disappointment was getting within 20 metres of the top of La
Redoute and not realising she could change down! Oh that and walking
in to a metal bed post in the middle of the night and having six stitches.
We still have unfinished Picarde business for next year.
You can read more about L'Eroica in Cycling Weekly (Nov
12th 2005) or you can visit the website below to get the full atmosphere.