On Sunday 19th June 2016, an intrepid Wheeler took part in this historic cycle event in the Peak District.
This is Paul’s account of this event.
What is “L’Eroica?” you may well ask. Well it started in 1997 in the Tuscan town of Gaiole and was founded by Giancarlo Brocci, designed to mimic the famous Strade Bianche held in Tuscany, a UCI tour event. For the uninitiated Strade Bianche means white streets and the route uses the gravel tracks around Tuscany which kick up huge plumes of white dust as the rider’s cycle along.
So, some bright spark decided to take this event farther afield and you can now find this event in California, Japan, South Africa, and closer to home in Europe.
So why did I take part? Well I love cycling, and I love the history of the sport, and I love good real Ale, and as one of my favourite breweries (Thornbridge) was sponsoring the event I thought it would be a good opportunity get involved.
So, the first task was to find a bike, which had to be pre 1987, with the gear levers on the down tubes, brake cables passing outside the handlebars, and toe clips. These were just three of the rules.
My first thought was to purchase an old Bianchi, and indeed there are lots of them around on auction web sites, but the refurbished ones come in at over £700 so I eventually managed to find a serviced “Motobecane” which is a French built bike using the classic Reynolds 531 frame.
I took this for a spin and was amazed by how good a ride it was, and once you get used to the more aggressive riding position, I found I could get up a good head of speed, unfortunately whilst it was great on the flat as soon as I hit an incline, my legs struggled to turn over the pedals quick enough to stay upright.
A quick check of the gearing, revealed the problem. Somebody had put a tiny cassette on the back wheel. Surely no one could be expected to cycle up a hill on that?
Anyway, I persevered in my training for the event, and even began to enjoy the challenge of cycling up Cleeve Hill with legs and arms burning, trying to turn over the huge gear.
So on Friday 17th June four of us set off for Bakewell. My mate Bob, and our two long suffering wives, who were looking forward to the event for different reasons. Unfortunately, drinking Prosecco is not an Olympic sport, but if it was these two would be gold medal winners.
On the morning of the ride, Bob and I left our cottage in Birchover and headed into Bakewell, joining the 4,500 other riders. What a great sight to see so many immaculately presented old bikes, and immaculately presented riders. Historic woollen cycling jerseys were the order of the day, and a refreshing lack of lycra.
Waved off by Chris Boardman with a huge Union flag and safe in the knowledge that David Miller was participating in the event on a vintage Colnago, we set off from Bakewell on a 55 mile ride. Within 200 yards we hit the first hill, and my legs strained against the gradient, but soon enough we were up and flying. Zipping along at a healthy 18 mph it felt like a club ride, until we were directed off the road down a dirt track, which lead into a tunnel.
As we cycled along the Victorian tunnel with meagre lighting we could hear melodious sounds coming from the light at the end of the tunnel, and sure enough as we hit the light we were greeted by a choir, which confirmed this was no ordinary sportive.
A few miles up the road, at a Tea stop, two riders had decided to stop and whip out their Ukuleles, knocking out a rendition of the classic Beetles song “Here comes the sun” Not much of that in evidence, but we could be thankful for a dry day, continuing up hill and down dale until reaching Chatsworth manor, and the last tea stop of the day. Sat at bottom of a big finishing climb we were delighted to realise that instead of Tea, were offered a prosecco cocktail with scones and strawberries. Fortified by these delights we set off up the last hill and were within 1 mile of the finish when my mate Bob screamed out in agony and fell to the floor.
A small crowd had gathered around, and people were asking if he was with anyone. I trudged back down the path to say that he was my responsibility. So the crowd parted and I instantly recognised the problem. Bob hadn’t had a beer for 16 hours. He was suffering from cramp, so I decided the best thing was to enjoy his pain and take a couple of photographs. I think the crowd were a little disappointed with my 1st aid skills.
He eventually gained some fortitude and eased himself back onto his 1982 Viking bike and we set off for the showground. As we approached we could hear the sound of Spitfire’s buzzing the crowd and a general atmosphere of good hearted banter, no doubt fuelled by the most excellent Thornbridge Brewery’s “Handsome Ale”, brewed especially for the event.
The crowds greeting us made it feel very special, and we soon spotted out lovely ladies dressed as land girls cheering and clapping.
With tired legs and happy hearts we were reunited with these gorgeous girls who had clearly enjoyed their day. After a few photographs we hydrated in the beer tent before cycling the 5 miles back to our cottage and a fine Sunday roast dinner, toasting our “heroic” day out.