Since I have the chance, I decided to have a crack at the Eroica parcours on Monday. The weather forecast said it was going to be around 25c on Monday, then storms later. Since the Mrs is arriving on Wednesday, I decided it was now or never. The story is first, if you can't be bothered reading it, I've put some comments on doing the course solo at the end, and a link to a few pictures.
Got up at 5:00 to get the first train to Siena (the Mrs was more impressed at this than any of the other stuff). The course links up with Siena, which is easier to reach than the official start up North. I had to wait around for a bike shop to open to pick up a spare tubular, and set off about 9:00.
The first sign this was going to be an ill fated affair was when the shifter for my rear derailleur broke off about 5km into the route. Since this was a bit of an all or nothing affair, I decided to crack on regardless. I worked out how to shift by unscrewing the shifter bolt, moving the stump of the shifter, then quickly doing up the bolt again.
Next bit of sh1te luck was when my back tube started going flat about 30km in. I stopped to fix it, and found the spare which I had put in a bag under my saddle had fallen off. Bloody velcro! Didn't feel like going back over the previous 30km trying to find the lost tube (it certainly wasn't anywhere near where I stopped), so I pumped up the tube and set off for Montalcino, 'only' about 15km further on. Unfortunately, that 15km included about 10 km of climbing with sections of up to 15%. And suicidal wildlife. And Germans in huge BMW SUVs with evil fat blonde kids who stared at me like I was a circus freak as they cut me up. And some Berkshire Hunt who decided to use a tractor spray water over the road to stop the dust blowing over his golf course. Just as I was cycling past him. The wetness made the gravel stick to my tyres like barnacles to the bottom of a trawler.
In any case, I made it to Montalcino. Montalcino might be a nice town, but it has NO useful bike shop. I actually searched the ever reliable internet before I left, and there is a bike shop listed, but it turned out to be a decidedly dodgy place renting out crap mountain bikes to the more adventurous podgy Americans infesting the town. The best bit of Montalcino was the two urchins who followed me around and shouted 'buona fortuna' as I left. Thanks, urchins.
With my tyre still leaking, I had to cut out a 35km loop of the course and headed to the next town, called Buonconvento. Luckily, they have a decent bike shop there that had tubulars in stock, so a bit of glue sniffing later and I was back on the road properly.
The next section was the part that includes the Monte Sante Maria, one of the toughest clims. This area is just incredible. It is like riding round in a Van Gogh painting. Desolate, dusty, awe-inspiring. This was the bit that made me glad I tried doing the route solo The loneliness added something to it.
The climbs are not to be underestimated. Lots of signs saying 15%, probably more in some sections. It was also very windy, and I got blasted sideways at a couple of points.
I pushed on to a town called Pianalle (or something), but at this point it was starting to get dark, and I had to be back in Siena for a train at 21:30, so very reluctantly I had to cut the course short. I think I managed about 150km or so. I don't know if I could have done the whole thing in a day, I lost some time due to the mechanical problems, but the enforced rest helped. I know there is a lot of hype talked about these sorts of challenges, but this is without a doubt the hardest thing I've done cycling wise, not to be underestimated. I hope I can go back and do it properly one day soon.
Most amusing moment was when I passed a lone hiker walking the opposite way to me, about 100km in. I waved and croaked 'ciao' at her, and she looked at me and said in a Scottish accent, 'Jesus mate, are you alright?'
Here are some random thoughts about doing the course solo:
1) The roads are public highways, not bridleways, so you come across traffic.
2) The signposting is excellent, really easy to find your way around.
3) Most of the towns listed on the route are tiny, you will be lucky to find a pump with fresh water, let alone food, and don't dream of a bike shop in most of them. The big towns I went through on the route are Siena, Montalcino (where you can buy overpriced chianti and not much else), buonconvento, which has an ok bike shop and a supermarke, and castelnuovo de berardenga. So if you are solo, take supplies with you.
4) I was lucky with the weather, it was about 25c, which was manageable, despite the wind.
5) I was stuck with the trains that there were, earliest I could get to Siena was about 8:00. I would start earlier if you can, as soon as it gets light round 6:00. You will need all the light you can get if you want to do the whole course in a day.
6) I rode a 42-28, which I needed on the tougher climbs. I used 23 tubes, which were comfortable enough, but obviously a bit of a problem if you get a flat. Cyclocross tyres would probably be best
In any case, this was an amazing experience, just wished I had done the whole thing. I actually wish I was out there right now...
Link to a few photos:
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set= ... 7513290e8b