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l’Eroica USA responds

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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The 2012 version of Montepaschi Strade Bianche is over and Fabian Cancellara has won. Here is a photo of him on the Monte Santa Marie climb in all it’s beautiful agony, at least for mortals.

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Registration for L’Eroica 2012 opens at 3:00 Pacific time for those followers in the western United States, or midnight in Italy, which is GMT or UCT -1 hour. Hell, I suppose it is only right to say Greenwich Mean Time when we’re talking about something as traditional as L’Eroica. Regardless, if you plan to go, get your mouse ready and login here at the official site here.

The best part of the ride

The organizers have expanded the registration limits for non-Italians. I’m not sure why, but there are now 800 slots open compared to my experience of last year where the limt was 500. No matter. If you have any inkling that you plan to attend, register and pay your fee. It’s not enough to compel you to go if you have a conflict or a problem. But, it’s one of those motivating factors that sticks with you when you are deciding whether to add a few more kilometers to your daily ride.

You might choose to skip registration on your own because you’ve decided to go with a tour company. If you’ve made the decision, or even thought about it, there is one that stands above all others and is a relative newcomer, In Gamba, or “in the know” as the idiom goes. I met these folks last year. We shared a village home base in Lecchi-in-Chianti. I’ll have more to say in other places about that experience.

They offer a range of tours in Italy and elsewhere that really have no comparison. Led by a former Cervelo pro, but focused as much on culture and community as riding, they give the serious cyclist everything and a great deal more. They also hold registrations for L’Eroica that clients use and the vintage bicycle is provided.

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I’ll have more to say on this soon and on the Brooks England blog, but this past weekend saw more dust on bikes and riders than even L’Eroica can claim. I’m talking about the Cross Crusade Series held in Bend, Oregon, where fall and winter rains have not yet arrived, making a race course that would otherwise be sloppy mud look like something out of a Mad Max film.

I plan to post something with Brooks on the cyclocross racing and the Oregon Handmade Bike Show from last weekend. Until then, enjoy a couple of photos.

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