L’Eroica - The spirit of ancient wisdom in a form of vintage cyclist culture
Against my rules in sport and life, I want to start from the finish line.
Crossing that ARRIVO in the centre of Gaoile in Chianti after 10 hours of cycling my pearl white Colnago Super (born in 1980!) gave me the kind of satisfaction I've never felt in any competitive races. The only thoughts that I had were: "I will do it again" and "One day, I will do it with my son".
Eroica could be considered one of the most grueling cycling experience on earth, try riding 200 km on dirt roads with steep hills and descent on a vintage bike, topped with a good dose of wind, rain and other unpredictable factors that Tuscany autumns have to offer.
The reality is, the spiritual sparkle that you get from Eroica makes you forget any sort of pain or suffering. Not the usual adrenaline from the race where you get high from the competition, but rather a mystical feeling of being back in time, being a cyclist "an Eroico" of the 60s, 70s or 80s. Coming from triathlon and especially the Ironman circuit, and having completed a 70.3 World Championship and training for Kona, this really marked the difference.
In essence, L'Eroica is the complete opposite of what could be considered a very close discipline of endurance.
Let's start with Aerodynamics, well, my friend and bike guru Tony would shiver seeing the position on those bikes... I can hear his voice saying the water bottles were not the most aero! The outfits, totally not the wind cutting lycra we are used to seeing, came in a wide array of vintage colors, completed with grandpas' hats and leather shoes.
The biggest "culture shock" was however, nutrition. What would an calories-counting Ironman do, when confronted with a celebration of delicious nutritious local food, cheese, ham, fresh fruits, nuts, hot bean and bread soup "ribollita" and wine (Hydration is important, right?) , every 4 stops? This festive, joyful environment celebrating life and sport opened my eyes to a very different angle of the sport.
What is the philosophy?
L’Eroica, such a powerful word. A word that ancient Greeks used to demonstrate somebody who is truly strong, fearless, invincible, a role model, the inspirer… This represents the passion for victory not only in sports but also in life. The perfect combination to achieve harmony and felicity, one more step to reach the divinity. The vision always was, is and will be, the main key to open the door to success. Of course, success also comes from our hard work and experience, as well as an indivisible piece of our character. Somebody said, “While most are dreaming of success, winners wake up and work hard to achieve it”. Such a great quote to describe the concept of a successful life in every aspect!
What is life? Life is a perfect circle, like a wheel of a bicycle. Life is also like the bike ride itself. Every route, every stage of our lives gives us different emotions, leaving us breathless sometimes, but we must keep going until the very end.
What is Eroica?
L’Eroica originated in 1997 thanks to a true lover of ancient wisdom called Giancarlo Brocci. He cherished the importance of old-style cycling so much that he had the urge to shift this passion to others. For him, the heritage that sparkled the Mediterranean and Italian history, literature, culture, and music. L’Eroica movement also established a foundation for the protection and maintenance of the last gravel roads in Tuscany. These visionary thoughts led to the concept of L’Eroica, an adventure that originally marked 92 “hunters of feelings and emotions”, as the originator Giancarlo Brocci called them.
Over 5,000 of enthusiasts and athletes are infected with the golden winds of cycling, and with their bicycles, they tried themselves to the last atoms of energy riding uphill and downhill in the vicinity of breathtaking Siena. The race at 205 km and 3,700 m of altitude difference also offer 15 sectors of the white road known as the macadam. Legendary roads have more than 200 km in length! Along with the wavy contour profile, there are also 15% ups that are 8+ km long.
Today, there are various events which grew from original Eroica. You can participate in Eroica Britannia, Hispania, California, Japan, as well as South Africa. All of them carry the same philosophy and feelings, but most of the participants around the globe prefer the original Italian event and all year long they look forward to the Eroica in picturesque and sensational Tuscany.
Participants who finish this race are called heroes by the Italians. Their bikes are heroic bikes. First and foremost what is needed for this event is a heroic bicycle, which gets the approval only if it meets certain criteria. It must be a road bike manufactured before 1987, it has to have a steel frame, gearboxes on the frame, a pedal with baskets and straps, at least 32 spokes on the wheel and a low profile handle, no more than 20mm. Time Trial and cyclocross bicycles are forbidden.
To go with heroic bicycle, one needs appropriate sprinter shoes, woolen t-shirts and cycling caps. The event is not intended exclusively for professionals. The spirit of this festival and celebration of history is open for all - the way it should be. There is also a shorter ride of 35 km where all forms of historical bicycles are permitted.
The celebration of cycling
It all begins with a rich program a few days before the race. There is everything a true lover of nature, slow life and ancient empowerment would ever want - from the presentation of historical documentaries about cycling, to the lectures on the life of Marco Pantani and lectures about Gino Bartali, to the museum exhibition of bicycles. Strolling down the streets surrounding the square, there is a very lively trade in bicycles and parts at different booths.
Start is performed in French mode from 5am to 7pm. Excitement fills the air. If you arrive at 5am chances are that you will not cross 45 minutes. You see nothing during a night ride, until the white road at the fifth kilometre going up to the Castle Brolio. Lit candles outline the road up to the castle, it was surreal, overwhelming, and yet, very romantic.
One of the heaviest stocks is that of Montalcino. It starts with a 15 percent asphalt mount replaced by a white road. On some serpentines, the ground is loose and it is not possible to continue driving if you accidentally stop.
Asciano's route is a bit easier, with the ride mostly on a white road. The traces of wheels on the road dust mix with footsteps. On the top of the road, the windmill on the ridge provides the most impressive view of the entire race. In this section you enjoy cycling to the full potential, the bike behaves well even on such a field.
Castelnuovo Berardenga and Montalcino are well-known points. After that, asphalt is finished and the night falls. The downhills become steeper and more dangerous - most participants get excited when they get to this point because they know the end is near.
L'Eroica is not another bicycle race, it is an event celebrating amazing human bonding and a harvest of personal achievements after the long journey of hard work.
“We want people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest”. Giancarlo Brocci
My last thoughts remain the same: "I will do it again" and "One day, I will do it with my son".
by Stefano Passarello
The Kapuhala Project Founder