Eroica 2019 - Back to that heroic distance
Mike Lee joined me again for this adventure & in the name of good fun, we had to re-live what we did the first year…. the LONG distance. This year that was set at 209km, 4km greater than our 205 in the past.
Kalle Kangas joined our squad from the Netherlands & like Emma the year previous, was up for a new personal best.
Emma Fenton also returned for a bit more of an enjoyable adventure. Each rider loves the cultural setting of the cycling world as much as the adventure in the saddle itself. This year Mike & Kalle met me in a little town outside of Pisa, Torre del Lago Puccini. It's a small town that my friends Ale & Esme live in & have graciously hosted each year I've come to Italy. It's a great, quiet little spot with both the ocean and the lake very close. We met here as Mike needed to pick up a bike & drop some gear as we usually ride from Siena to Gaiole.
Arriving in Siena, the 'bike' portion begins. Kalle still needed to build his bike & Emma was coming in later that night so Mike & I hoped on with our bags & headed out. We did this the first time & this time as it adds a little more the trip. We like to replicate the idea of the legends who would ride to the events with their gear on their back, scouting out some of the course on route and enjoying the breathtaking scenery the Tuscan hillsides have to offer. Meeting Kalle in Gaiole, we check into our little apartment which had the best location, above a pizza shop & a cafe, 100m from the start line. Arriving on the Friday gave us time to settle in & make a preliminary lap around the market place as everyone was getting set up. It's always exciting coming to this event as friends I've made over the years are full of stories and there is much wine to enjoy & catch up with.
We got Kalle's bike put together, our registration sorted & now to just take in a little proper Italian culture. As we were getting ready for dinner, which is a bit later, Emma arrived & was ready to join the festivities. Now that everyone was there, a little pizza, some wine, music & the richness of our surroundings were enjoyed.
The Saturday before the event the town gets crazy. Anyone who hasn't picked up their registration yet arrives, the market is packed with all things cycling from any vintage you cna think of. From wooden wheels & classic jerseys, to any model of steel bike you can think of. It's a chance to acquire or appreciate that which has brought cycling to where it is today. If you're looking for a special part of a certain piece to complete a project or even do an upgrade, this is the spot. Vendors from across Europe carry with them the history of this great sport with them & it's exciting to see what people from different countries have.
That evening Kalle was convinced that the long route was his goal. His longest ride to date was 130km on the flat roads around the Netherlands, which is a great distance. Now though he wanted to add almost 80 more km and include the hills of Tuscany. It's funny what some wine, pasta & a little nudging can lead to . Emma was content on a more enjoyable day, which is smart. Wake up, have a cafe, enjoy the atmosphere, put in some solid saddle time & get back to enjoy more of the festival. A better strategy for sure ;) With that said the 70 & 90km courses are no slouch. The Italians have figured out that even if you aren't going as far, there are plenty of hills to send you up in the area to make you earn your wine & pasta.
Mike, Kalle & myself left around 530am. The game with the 'long game' is always LIGHTS!!! We had started with some and more is often better than less but from experience, it's the end of the ride you want to make sure you still have some for. The early departure is exhilarating as hundreds of riders are out to conquer the course, each with a different goal. Some to finish, some to beat their best friends and others to be back for aperitivo hour. We were rolling at a decent pace to start. A few little climbs to warm up the legs and finding that great little ridge line for when the sun comes up and begins to light up the Tuscan valley. As we kept rolling Kalle started to feel what those hills can do to your legs. That first food station is always a welcome stop. From fresh baked focaccia to cheeses, fresh or dried fruit to tasty pastry treats there was lots to enjoy. Oh yeah, the wine.... never forget the wine. Full of anti-oxidants & help keeping the blood thin for the hills, a little glass at each stop has become a ritual.
With everyone fuelled up, the adventure continued. Mike was on a bit of a mission this trip with his recent skills evolving more into the photo & film world, he wanted to capture this adventure for us. It's always difficult to describe what the adventure, the scenery, the fellow riders is like so with a little 360 cam, his goal was to share this experience. As I write this, the footage is currently in 'production' status so I'm excited to see how it turns out. It will be a wonderful way to entice more of you to join us on an adventure :)
My goal with events like the Eroica is not to set a personal best or record time. It's to ensure that everyone I ride with has an excellent experience. From flat tires, to broken chains, tubular changes to something falls off of your bike, anything is possible on this days adventure and it's always a bit easier with a few people to assist.
Our day continued to be enjoyed in true classic fashion. Ride, tell a few stories, enjoy a vista, take in the local snacks, sample the wine & than repeat. Around 5 o'clock though, there is a little sense of urgency. What happens is certain parts of routes are closed off if you do not pass through at cut-off times. That's where we were. Funny enough, same spot Mike & I had found our selves in previously. Kalle was hurting and Mike was enjoying filming so I went ahead to make sure that we could still get the correct directions on the course. I arrived to the cutoff area as they were beginning to pack up. Not to worry, the gents weren't far behind and as such I made sure we were able to complete the big loop. At this point we had about 30km or so left on the course. Doesn't sound to bad.... until you realize the hills you still have to get up. We had agreed that I would go ahead, make sure that one of us got the 'official' stamps of completion for the squad as a little trophy for us. With that as the goal, off I went. Remember what I mentioned before, needing lights at the end of the ride? Well it was getting to thsi time of day where the sun would begin to set and the race was now against mother nature as I only had one little blinker with any power left. Pedal hard and try to meet up with others, draft if possible & as it began to get darker, the goal was to hopefully use their lights to stay alive. I had managed to catch a group and do exactly this. A little friendly chit chat and enough english from them to introduce myself and I was in. Everything was good until we got to the first town. Getting dark, the fellas figured they would stop & have a beer & enjoy a bit. I decided that pressing on would be best to still get one last stamp so I did. Riding under the Tuscan moon (a little different than the Tuscan Sun) made for a very moody & exciting style of a ride. Eventually meeting up with another on the road, we agreed that our goal was the same, to get that last stamp. His little light helped us as we rolled into the town now under streetlight power. Timing..... perfect. The two gentleman were ready to call it a day & had started to pack the table and wine into the car. We were able to get both a little sip & that elusive last stamp. By now, the weather had taken a bit of a turn to a the cooler side as we cruised down the hills and the value of proper merino attire was paying divideneds. 'Keeps you cool when it's hot & warm when it's cool.' This was that perfect time. A baselayer, knitted classic jersey & merino shorts with merino socks.... I was ready for the bowl of pasta.
We decended a familiar steep switch back road, which I knew had Cingale amongst it. (Cingale for the record are wild boars that can be lethal & have injured small pets and humans in the past) . The goal now, keep the rubber down and arrive to what I knew would be a little party. Rolling in at about 9pm made for a very long day. After arriving, putting the bike away, a quick shower and now to enjoy some proper 'recovery' while waiting for Mike & Kalle to finish. No sooner did I enjoy my first sip than I got a message from Mike saying there was a crash. It had turned out that Mike still had a broken spoke (which he actually bought a golden one to replace it) & at some point had loosened the rear brakes so that they didn't really function. With that, any decents were than front brake only, which, can make life interesting. Turns out Mike was ahead of Kalle and had hit his front brakes a bit to hard, went over the handle bars and ended up in the ditch. Kalle found him, luckily, and they were able to sort out a plan to get back. When Mike arrived, his finger did look a little 'out of place' and after a shower, it was decided that he was off to the hospital. Kudos here to Emma who accompanied him, speaking enough Italian to 'make his finger straight again' which sounded like it took 2 tries to do.
There were stories, and wine for the remaining of the nite & even a little pizza and pasta. Ahh the adventure of the Eroica. The next day we packed up our gear, had a proper coffee & pastries, said bye to a bunch of our new friends and than slowly disbanded. Mike & Kalle were heading back to Siena & I went with Emma to a winery close by that we have visited every year. It's beautiful spot to just chill, eat delicious food, drink the wine & take in as much of Tuscany as we could. This event continues to be a favourite & I hope you join us on one of these adventures soon.