Right, let’s get something straight from the off. I like cycling, enjoy company and love red wine. Put all three together in Tuscany sounded perfect with nothing that could possibly deflect from sheer, unrelenting enjoyment. No matter what follows, I just want to be clear about that before I get started, that’s all.
L’Eroica (“the heroic one”) is an annual event in Tuscany that celebrates the great, bygone era of cycling before doping, science and sideburns were so prevalent. Based in Gaiole in Chianti, l’Eroica started in 1997 as a way to celebrate cycling history but also to halt the paving over of the strade bianche, the white dirt roads that cross cross the region. 15 years on, l’Eroica is wildly popular with entry list closing almost as fast as it opens – there is even a professional event in the Spring and the Giro has used the strade bianche in recent years too (cue images of ghostly looking riders, covered from head to toe in ‘Tuscan toothpaste’). The concept is simple – ride one of a series of distances, on an old bike, in period clothing, stopping only to snack on cured meats, local cheeses and robust red wines from the region. Bike wise there are really only three rules – downtube shifters, exposed brake cables and pedals with toeclips and straps although many take it further with 1930s (and earlier) bikes and period clothing including Breton style heavy sweaters and goggles. I’d had a go in 2010 on a relatively modern Nuovo Record equipped Raleigh Panasonic and this years running allowed for an extended stay in the region to coincide with my 46th birthday – what was not to like? Staying up until midnight to ensure an entry, I was in. So were James and Melvin. Bring on la belle epoch!