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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

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.”

I suppose the question answers itself if you are reading this blog. I think my dreams began as early as 2009, but certainly became vivid in 2010. I became aware of the ride while researching and curating links for a Facebook Group, Brooks Saddles. They have been a sponsor of the ride for a few years, though I’m not sure if they are now. (If you have a Facebook account, this link will get you to the Group: http://tinyurl.com/BrooksFB.)

Upon learning about L’Eroica, my interest went from the merely curious to the “I’d like to do that someday” to the “I’ve got to do this soon” to “I need to set a bookmark for the registration page” to sitting up at night to log in and be registered for the 2011 version. It all happend pretty quickly.

Grapes dreaming of their transformation into Chianti Classico.

The beauty of the dreaming was that it turned quickly to a sort of nightmare. I hadn’t ridden a single bike any distance greater than a few miles for the past ten years. Most of my riding was on a tandem with my wife, sometimes over great distances and on tour. That’s not the same because the handling, the effort, everything would be different, not to mention that everything I read told me that this is a very difficult ride.

If you are aware of L’Eroica and it seems like a ride that you must do, now is the time to start dreaming. If you are registered for it this year, your dreams must now shift to wide awake training. My own training last year began in earnest in January with several months in the gym until the weather became conducive to road riding. More on that later . . .

L’Eroica for the pros

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.

20120303-103950.jpg

That didn’t take long. Registrations for those of us who don’t live in Italy and are under 60 have ended. But, you knew that, right? Possibly the world’s most popular one-day cycling event is sure to sell out fast. There are ways to get in, but this post is really about the training, not the event. I’ll say more about registering in a moment.

If you even imagine that you will ride L’Eroica, now is the time to train. Need some inspiration? Watch tomorrow’s Montepaschi Strade Bianche on Universal Sports. Sad to say that my cable carrier doesn’t air US, but it is available online. You will view the very roads over which L’Eroica is ridden and get a sense of why this is a ride you will want to do sometime in your life.

But, training? I look out the window at the gray mornings that barely glow before 6:30 and question why I want to get out of bed. Last year, I was excited about the ride in a way that could be interpretted as really scared about how difficult it might be. And, how much I wanted to make a good showing. Motivation enough.

Here are a quick few suggestions that are by no means unique, but will get you started.

Stationary bikes or roller: Use them during the gloomy, dark days, but ride intervals. Nothing will give you a head start on the road like intervals inside.

Strength training: There are plenty of good books about strength training programs and there are coaches and personal trainers. I used the former, in particular, “Weight Training for Cyclists” along with other guides. When you face a 12 percent grade on the white roads, it’s not just strong legs and low gears that get you to the top.

Ride the sterrati or unpaved roads: Slap on the 28mm tires and leave them on the bike. Find some unpaved roads to ride, but make them part of a longer ride rather than just a practice piece. You’ll gain confidence on the stones and feel how they change the ride.

Since I never know quite what readers want, other than great pictures of bikes and components, leave comments about this and other posts. If you want more on training, I’ll spend some time with it.

Sold out registration? No problem. There will be at least two more chances to register, though at higher rates. Those will get you in and provide funds for the L’Eroica charity. Or, do it up right and contact inGamba about their tours. There is a long-weekend version and a full week along with additional tours that include L’Eroica. You’ll never eat, drink and ride so well. I might even see you there.

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.