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l’Eroica Support Bike

Testing my 2015 entry for a l’Eroica support vehicle.
Leroica support bike

If you are looking for some early season inspiration for your l’Eroica training today’s race through Chianti is your best bet. Not only is the race run over many of the same roads as l’Eroica, but today’s winner hails from a family, a tradition, of Italian cycling greats. Moreno Moser stood atop the podium today, but the real story for l’Eroica participants is the beauty and the beast of the strade bianche. The race, appropriately christened Monte Paschi Eroica when it was first contested, has become a preview of the northern European spring classics. But, it is really a story unto itself and a reminder of what racing was like in earlier times, even though today’s bikes weigh a fraction of what those early ones did. Even so, the sterrati are great equalizers, forcing carbon-bike perched pros to adopt tactics and the grit that today’s winner’s uncle and his family had to endure.

For some photo inspiration along with race highlights, go to Steephill TV Classics.

If this is your first L’Eroica, the memory will be sweet. By now, you are probably asleep or nearly there. The rest of us who weren’t with you this year envy you and at the same time are joyful. You have carried on a great tradition.

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I keep reminding myself that it was this time last year, 2011, that I was waking up in Lecchi-in-Chianti, enjoying the sunshine and blue skies and nervously looking forward to my first ride on the strade bianchi. I had scouted a short, 30K route that made a loop from our rental home and traversed what I later learned was part of one of the shorter rides that year.

Signs declaring 15% grades with falling stones were foreboding, but after a few slips and slides, I came to love the white gravel. I returned to the house after that first ride believing I knew what lay ahead, even if it was to be 5 times the distance.

For those lucky riders planning to participate this year, spend some training time on the gravel if you don’t normally get to ride it. And, don’t forget to look up and enjoy the incredible scenery that surrounds the L’Eroica route.

A view down my first downhill sector of gravel

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Giancarlo and all the good people of L’Eroica should be honored. In the home of Fausto Coppi comes La Mitica. While I have every intention of riding another L’Eroica, I’m eager to ride this and the Retro Ronde. It’s not a slavish interest in the minutiae of vintage bicycles; it’s the culture that surrounds the period when bike racing was not dominated by expensive sponsorships, radio communication with the team, armadas of support vehicles. Don’t get me wrong. I’d jump at the chance to spend some time as a spectator at Grand Tour events. And, I watch plenty of TV coverage of the pro circuit, attend local events and read as much as I can.

But, there is something that inspires me about participating in events like this. You feel somehow more connected to the origins of the sport and to a time and place that seems original. I fight the cynic in me that says these events are produced as a way to build tourism interest, especially among people “of a certain age” who have the means to travel and harbor nostalgia for a period they probably never lived through. No matter.

It can only be a matter of time before an event like L’Eroica or La Mitica is held here in Oregon. For that, I cannot wait.

(Thanks to Rory Mason and his blog, Masini’s Breaking Away blog, for alerting me. Links to that blog, please visit it, on the home page here.)

A vintage ride in the land of Coppi

Riding over the strade bianchi leaves more than just a satisfying impression and memory. Your bicycle collects a little bit of that history as either dust or mud or both. The 2011 version of L’Eroica was run under blue skies after more than a week of clear, autumn weather that hovered in the mid 80’s (High 20’s C). This left the white roads powdery on top of the stones.

The final sector, L'Eroica 2011

Climbing the final sector of gravel to Castello Brolio, L’Eroica 2011. Photo by Brad Sauber, InGamba

My several training rides included time on the gravel and often over some of the same sectors that I would enjoy on the day of the ride. I developed several layers of the buff-colored dust on my kit and the various frame parts and components. It was easy to submit my jersey and shorts to the washing machine. I couldn’t bring myself to wipe the dust off the bike.

I’ve heard that athletes are superstitious, baseball players being overachievers in that department. I don’t think of myself as an athlete, but I am sharing that particular characteristic. I don’t know what I imagine might happen if I remove the fine dust from a down tube or a chain stay, but I cannot seem to do it. Sure, the Moseman would benefit from a thorough cleaning. And, I’ve been careful to keep the drivetrain in good shape. But, that dust. It just won’t come off the rest of the bike.

Fear is a great motivator. If a bear is chasing you, you are more likely to run your best 100 meter dash compared to the annoyance that advances made by a squirrel might engender. Fear, or at least anxiety, animated my early season training in 2011. To channel that fear into something useful, I followed a few simple steps during the gloomy months of winter and early spring.

I had read as much as I could from 2010 on about the ride. The one clear message, apart from the glories of the ride and the food, was that the course, no matter the length, would be a challenge. Chianti is a hilly place. Roads are built right over the hills. The old roads especially were steep and often eroded.

I had been to the area in 1997, the first year of the ride, but about a month after it was concluded. I remembered only the great food and wine, but nothing of the roads even though we had traveled over many of them.

I knew from the turn of the new year in 2011, I would need to achieve a pretty high level of riding fitness as well as the endurance to simply ride a long distance. I got there by doing the following.

Stationary Bicycle: Whether you have rollers, a wind trainer or belong to a club, a stationary bicycle is unbeatable in the early season. But, the way to make it really work for you is by riding intervals. If you’re simply giving it a good spin for an hour, you’re missing the multiplier effect of interval training. Last year, I did it this way:

Intervals: 15 minute warm-up at a steady state that was taxing, but not a killer

10 minutes of intervals where I was at or above 80% maximum heart rate in this sequence, 2 minutes on, 2 minutes rest; 1.5 minutes on, 1.5 minutes rest and so on. In the 1/2 minute on segment, I switched into a nearly impossible gear, stood up and pumped until I nearly failed.

I repeated the above after a five minute “rest” at the steady state. I finished the 45 minute workout with five minutes of cool down at the steady state.

Strength training: With some dumb luck, experimentation and a guidebook, “Weight Training for Cyclists,” I did my best to achieve a sort of all over workout. The stationary bike riding I did three days per week. The strength training took the other two days. Weekends would find me on my single bike if weather permitted or on the tandem with my wife.

Stretching: I realized after a month and especially after I read the guidebook, that I needed to gain flexbility. Bicycling is a killer in that regard with limited range of motion. Before every session whether stationary bike or strength training, I added a set of stretches for the whole body. I’ve come to believe that this effort made it possible for me accelerate my training.

On the road: Once the weather improved, I skipped the stationary bike and hit the road. I put together early morning rides that incorporated steady spins and steep climbs. Since I only had an hour, I had to make the most of it. Weekends would now be focused on longer rides over more demanding terrain and the introduction of gravel.

By the numbers: I don’t have a heart monitor, but the training bike at the club provided RPM and watts averages along with calories burned. Though there is no way to validate the last two numbers, they would be consistent. I used them as measures of progress. On the road, it was a simple measure of distance and time. In every case, all of the information was recorded by writing it down or posting it to mapmyride.com.

What about Beethoven? The 3rd Symphony. Eroica. I tried The Clash and Billy Idol. Pandora served up what amounted to opera’s greatest hits. But, the one piece of music that provided the most inspiration and distraction was “lovely, lovely Ludwig Van.”

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