It’s been 20 years since the first edition of l’Eroica rolled out of the piazza in Gaiole, and a lot has changed. The first edition involved less than 100 riders, mainly locals who wanted to celebrate the cycling of yesteryear while also bringing some attention to the Tuscan countryside in order to protect it. Two decades on, and some 7,000 people descend on this sleepy corner of Chianti for what is undoubtedly one of the world’s most iconic and unmissable cycling festivals.
The town now seems to double in size on L’Eroica weekend, with cycling fans, riders and vintage equipment aficionados sharing a coffee, a beer or some of the local cuisine. And for anyone in need of a little retail therapy, the market is always teeming with rare treasures, from complete bikes, shining like new, to those hard-to-find finishing touches to your own restoration project at home.
More than 2,000 of the riders are now foreign – people who have in many cases come from the other side of the globe. That’s a daunting task for any event, but traveling with a vintage bike presents plenty of problems. Parts are hard to come by and they are usually less reliable. One wrong move can put you and your steed out of action, which is not what you want to happen on your dream vacation.
Luckily for the inGamba crew, that wasn’t an issue. We’ve got a red-hot fleet of vintage steeds and plenty of support along the route. We’ve also got our crew of professional mechanics to look after them – so we felt a little sorry for all those riders we saw stuck with broken bikes on the side of the road as we rolled by. We also had some serious peloton experience leading our way – with Eros Poli and Manuel Cardoso setting a serious pace and picking the best lines down every dusty descent. So even with the 3am meeting, the chilly start, the pitch black of the opening kilometers and thick mist, we knew we were in good shape. Or at least, better shape than anyone else.
Riding a museum piece on gruelling gravel roads is always a roll of the dice, but we aim to take as much of the uncertainty out of it as possible. Mechanicals and punctures along the way can actually be part of the fun – l’Eroica isn’t a race, it’s an experience – but it’s a whole lot more enjoyable when you know that a trained pair of hands is never far away with a spare wheel or a toolkit.
We’re all about sweating the little stuff so you have more time to enjoy one of the best days on a bicycle that you’ll ever have. Whatever route you choose to ride – there are now five, from 46km to a whopping 209km – it’ll be a personal challenge and an adventure into another era. There’s nothing easy here, and you’ll finish it with a newfound respect for the heroes of times past and for the rich culture of the sport we all love. And once you’ve washed the dust off and allowed your legs to recover, you’ll be dreaming of next year’s event, just like we do.