The Spring Classics in the pro tour are viewed usually through the lens of a gray sky, often with rain or sleet or snow blowing sideways. The hardened riders, whose bicycles bounce and sometimes break over the cobblestones, grimace from faces darkened by the grit and grime of the ancient northern European roads. This romantic view has been upended by an upstart: Strade Bianche Eroica Pro nee Montepaschi Strade Bianche nee Monte Paschi Eroica.
The pro peloton rolls along a sector of gravel
Begun in 2007 under the watchful eye of Giancarlo Brocci, Italy entered the Spring Classics fray with an early season race that included many sectors of “white gravel,” the strade bianche. This is often run under Chianti’s spring skies with more dust than mud and more blue above than gray.
This year’s version, Saturday, March 7, leaves San Gimignano and finishes, appropriately, in Siena. In just a few short years, this potential “Monument” has attracted many of the top riders in the pro peloton with familiar names raising their arms at the finish including Fabian Cancellara.
If you are fortunate enough to have access to the telecast, it will inspire you to give the “fondo” version of the ride a try. Or, if by some unlikely chance you are a pro racer and entered in this year’s event, good luck.
That headline is both literal and figurative. It is a struggle to get registered, unless you are of Medicare age. One of my work colleagues said she had successfully signed up. I admire her. She no doubt stayed up late into the night or early morning. But the real struggle, once you have submitted your form and money, is the training for the ride. Sure, some registrants are on their bikes all year anyway. They won’t need much extra effort. But, many of us find that the act of registering is a foundational act for training.
Like a vestigial organ or limb, registration time at l’Eroica gives me a certain boost. Today, I rode over the first stretch of gravel that was my training ground four years ago. Every pedal stroke, every labored breath reminded me of the trepidation I had about the ride. Could I complete it? The reports make it sound challenging. Was I up to it?
To really prepare for l’Eroica, whether you are an accomplished cyclist or not, you have to consider the struggle, the challenge. I think this video should be inspiration.
If there is a symbolic difference between the age of the steel bike and the more recent developments in titanium, aluminum, carbon fiber, not to mention wood and bamboo, it must be the slow disappearance of the Frame Pump. According to the Velominati, there can be only one exception to abandoning the Frame Pump and it comes with quite a few requirements. Although I do not follow those rules in full, I do qualify for coverage under Rule 30 by carrying a Silca frame pump and, yes, it has a Campagnolo metal head, on the Moseman. I didn’t know I was making the correct choice 30 years ago, but I’m now very relieved that I did.
But, I am no retro-grouch and as recent readers will see, I’ve embraced the duality of the cycling enthusiast of a certain age: traditional brazed steel and full carbon fiber monocoque frame and fork. And, I’ve made a halting move to eliminate the Frame Pump on the R3 by carrying CO2 cartridges, albeit in a seat pack in direct violation of all things the Velominati hold dear.
While CO2 cartridges work just fine, at least if applied correctly and you only need one or two on a ride, the modern cyclist is left looking over his shoulder. I carry two at a time, but always wonder what happens if I goof up with the first, use the second, then have another flat? Should I carry the discrete mini pump in the pocket of my kit as a backup? If so, what’s the point of CO2?
I’ve concluded that CO2 is fine for jaunts around town or within close proximity to light rail, buses and taxi cab territory. For longer rides, it’s better to enjoy CO2 in that certain malt beverage recovery drink than as an inflator of punctured tires.
Approved for Frame Pumps. From Velominati.com. photo:bike tester.com
A Wesley Hatakeyama commented on my post “The Commercialization of l’Eroica” with the following. I publish it here, directly, in a post because comments can often be unseen. And, I think it’s important enough to lift it from the place of just a comment about my own ramblings.
L’Eroica California is organized with the same sprit as the original L’Eroica in Gaiole in Chianti, Italy. The founder Giancarlo Brocci personally came here to Paso Robles,California and he has ridden our “White-Roads” on a bicycle and approved the routes himself. He is very passionate about spreading the L’Eroica sprit to the world. The Brooks did indeed purchase theL’Eroica name, but they are actually helping Giancarlo and his group in Italy to spread the spirit of L’Eroica so the people who can not travel to Italy can experience it in their own country. We are here to offer that experience. We are working very close with Giancarlo and his Italian group to bring the experience that is very similar to L’Eroica in Italy. Well, obviously we can’t duplicate the history, but we have the same spirit. So before you talk down about our event please come and experience it yourself and be the judge of it. Our goal here is to preserve our own “unpaved back roads” of California Coastal Mountains and share the wonderful world of vintage cycling. Also we are working with Hospice of San Luis Obispo (100% volunteer based Hospice) and a part of proceeds from L’Eroica California will benefit this wonderful Charity. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to contact us.
As I said in my opening sentence on that post, and will repeat here for clarity, I am neither “talking down” l’Eroica USA nor criticizing the attempts to bring the l’Eroica spirit to other rides around the world. I think it’s a great gesture. As I said, the two three of us here in Portland, Oregon who have ridden it have had similar thoughts about organizing an “Oregon” l’Eroica. I wish the organizers good luck and I hope a strong turnout. I cannot be there, but I’m sure others will report on the joys and struggles. I would make a modest suggestion, though, that the organizers look to Oregon for the ideal environment for a l’Eroica USA ride. We have the overly enthusiastic bike community, some great gravel roads–look at the route for Gorge Roubaix–and enough good beer and wine to make any “ristoro” a welcome stop along the percorso.
I stand by my position, though, that you can ride anywhere in the world on any l’Eroica event, but you must ride l’Eroica from Piazza Ricasoli on an early October morning and return that afternoon. It is a singular experience.
Perhaps as a sort of voodoo ritual to ward off advancing decline, I have regressed to a point more than 30 years ago. I’ve registered to race. The impulse was generated watching my son-in-law, not that many years my junior, race cyclocross these past two seasons. In Oregon and elsewhere, cyclocross is not the serious, but somewhat less demanding, off-season sport for amateurs and pros. Here, it is part race, part side show and part beer bash. Occasionally, there is a costume party. The more I observed, the more I became curious and, perhaps in a misguided way, thought that I might be able to compete. I then realized that I would need a cyclocross bike since none in the stable are really capable of being raced through the mud and muck of that kind of course. Since these impulses typically occur at the end of the season, it was obvious that the racing bug would have to wait for a new bike and another year or . . . .
Sign up for some other kind of racing. The obvious and surely the safest would be the time trial. Lucky for me, a local clinic is offered in just two weeks. I quickly registered with the local sanctioning body, Oregon Bicycle Racing Association, booked a spot in the clinic and promptly, and coincidentally, caught a bad cold. Holidays and the cold interrupted a decent jump on off-season training, so I looked a bit farther down the calendar. And, there it was. The Gorge Roubaix.
The name implied, and the description of the course confirmed, that this was a race partially over rough roads, the Oregon version of the strade bianchi. With more than three months in front of me, I figured what could be more suitable? And, there was always the option of violating a Velominati rule of some kind, wimping out and riding the difficult Fondo version of the race, the Gorge Gravel Grinder, on Sunday.
Now, I find myself in that somewhat terrified state of four years ago when I registered for l’Eroica. I’ve signed up for something that I’m not really sure suits me. Will I be pushing my 2-wheeler up a dusty gravel track, wondering whether I’ll get back to the starting line before dark? Or, will I find myself under a pile of carbon, aluminum and steel in some crucial turn near the end? Perhaps a pile up caused by my own lack of experience? More to follow.
For l’Eroica, it’s obvious. You do not have to worry about registering by staying up half the night to get in the internet line. Unless the rules have changed, anyone 60 years-old and up can register for the event regardless of the total number of registrants. I presume the organizers know that there aren’t that many of us who will want to ride. But, looking at the pictures of the event, you may wonder if anyone “under” that age is registered.
Another value or state of reaching such an age is the Landmark Birthday Gift. At least, for me that was the case. It was an easy choice for my wife, who simply said, “I want you to get a new bike.” The sub-text was that this may be the last bike you will get to buy, unless we’re talking about a used beater for going to the grocery store. Or, put another way, the gift would close the door on the Velominati Rule 12 proposition.
It felt like cheating, though, to consider a new bike. The Moseman pictured on this site has served me well for more than 30 years. Would I be turning away from an old friend, a trusted partner, in favor of some bright shiny object? Yes, and no. In the end, I had to at least get a taste of modernity. My choice? A Cervelo R3 (Ultegra build). The choice seemed congruent since that particular frame has been used in the Spring Classics, which run over some less-than-modern roads. Good excuse, though, right?
I suppose I might have gone with another steel bike, perhaps a more contemporary ride with all the latest components. But, I decided to go all out, at least at that price point. I cannot say there is no going back. I will be back on the Moseman again. I just don’t know when. But, at 60, my l’Eroica options are wide open.
Stop. Before you read any implied criticism in the title, it is not meant to be. It’s merely a statement of fact or at least my observations. And here’s why. According to what I’ve heard from a reliable source and fellow lungo percorso finisher, Brooks England have “purchased” l’Eroica from Giancarlo Brocci and his group. I cannot verify a transaction and perhaps it’s merely the licensing of the brand, but Eroica Brittannia is the first “brand extension” that was made. The inaugural ride was earlier this year. On the heels of my learning about this purchase, I was alerted to the coming of Eroica to California. Need more proof? Just click on the link in the Blog Roll here and see what’s in store for the rest of the world.
Do I find this exciting, troubling, beneficial? Maybe all of those reactions and more. In some sense, l’Eroica can only be the event held in October in Tuscany where the old roads (strade bianchi) and the old way of life are celebrated. In another sense, why not gather enthusiasts to experience a bit about what riding was like before carbon fiber monocoque frames and clipless pedals.
It’s not as if this is the only vintage or retro ride in the world. La Mittica, Retro Ronde and La Pedals de Clip are just a few on the European continent. My reliable source, cited above, asked me why we shouldn’t have such a ride here (Oregon, United States). He was suggesting that perhaps he and I could somehow inspire others to actually put together something like l’Eroica. Perhaps he wasn’t counting the Gorge Roubaix race and Fondo to be held in the spring with 40% of the ride running over gravel roads in the ranch country of eastern Oregon.
A benefit of multiple “Eroica” rides means it perhaps takes the pressure off of l’Eroica hosting so many people. Of course, those of us who have ridden l’Eroica will probably claim that no matter what Eroica sponsored ride you participate in, you can never claim pilgrimage or full palmarès until you have ridden from Gaiole on the first Sunday in October.