I'd like to preface this third l'Eroica post by saying that I fear that my frame of mind was not ideal for the ride. We had been preparing for the l'Eroica trip for a year. I'd built up the sweet old Gios the previous year, then realized that I had a suitable mount for vintage events. And in the fall of 2013, there were many magazine articles about l'Eroica, the coolest vintage ride.
The planning of the trip and the many, many decisions involved were mostly Tamar's work, but the dozens of decisions were scary and we had to make choices about places and timing about which we knew nothing. I had been learning Italian via Duolingo, but that smattering of it helped not at all, not at home nor in Italy.
I worried and worried about my bike. That's the thing about taking your beloved vintage bike to an overseas event: Getting it there and getting it home without injuring it or losing it in transit. I really do like my somewhat battered old Gios Torino. I hated the thought of entrusting it to some baggage handler -- not once, but many times: Denver-Chicago, Chicago-Munich, Munich-Pisa and back home again.
When I unpacked the bike in Colle, it was fine. You knew it would be. I had to straighten one brake lever on the handlebar, that's all. The soft case had protected it. I was truly relieved. On Sunday morning, we loaded Larry's and Heather's and my bike into the CycleItalia van, and the three of us and Tamar took off for Gaiole and the start. The plan was for the three of us to ride and Tamar to hang out with Tena during the event.
At the start, you saw things you'd never imagined. There were guys in WWI uniforms, Italian Army I guess, riding WWI Italian army bikes, single speeders that must've weighed 50 pounds. The uniforms were heavy wool, absolutely unsuited to the lovely sunny day in Gaiole...let alone the endless hills on the route.
There were men and women on old pro bikes in full team kit from the era of their bikes. There were what looked like casual riders. There were gimmick riders, looking like some character from legend or literature.
It was not at all like a rolling concours, not a showcase for museum-quality bikes. There were many of them, but there were also ride-to-work bikes and fixed-gear bikes (shudder) and ancient bikes that looked ancient.
Old bikes in Italy are not merely prestige items. They are celebrated but they are not paraded around, they are ridden. And the atmosphere at l'Eroica is inclusive: Everyone is happy to be there and happy that you are there too. There was no scent of snobbery.
I rode the 80 kilometer version. So did Larry and Heather of CycleItalia, not their first time there. John, from Contra Costa County, CA, rode the long version, 120K if my memory is correct. I was glad I'd chosen the shorter route. I was toast at the end, overjoyed to see the finish line and Tamar waiting and cheering for me.
We rolled out of Gaiole on paved road, but I can scarcely remember any paved road after that. I'm sure there was some, but it was a fleeting mile here and another there. Almost all the l'Eroica I remember was "white road," gravel road that in Tuscany is sacred, as I understand it, for l'Eroica and the Strade Bianche pro race early in the season.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is no flat road in Tuscany, or none that Tamar and I saw. So the gravel roads of l'Eroica go up and back down, up and back down. The climbs are long and steep...and the descents are long and steep.
I should tell you bike riders that I had 53-39 chain rings and a 13-26 cluster. I used the 39-26 a lot. Really a lot. I was pretty fit for an old guy at that point. Tired from the trip, probably, emotionally a little upset, I'll bet, but I felt okay, or thought I did. My friend John had a triple on his old Masi, probably a good idea.
After the first climb, on which I did fine, thank you very much, I reached the summit and looked down the descent and freaked a little. It was dirt and gravel and bumpy and steep. I thought: I can't ride down that hill. I'll crash and get hurt here far from home. I could smell that hospital smell.
I got off and walked down the first descent. I'm sorry if I've disappointed you but that is what happened.
I was wearing my ancient Adidas Eddy Merckx plastic-soled shoes - and using old Dura-Ace clip-'n'-strap pedals, given to me by my old friend Jim F of Berkeley. I'll just say at this point that I walked maybe two, maybe three l'Eroica miles in those shoes. Luckily I had new cleats; I'd have worn an old pair to nothing.
I hardly ever walk any distance in my cycling shoes, so I walked ten years' worth that day.
I did not walk any more descents, I'm happy to say, but I did walk uphill. If you got stuck behind another bike or bikes at the start of a climb, you were walking. I will say that - at l'Eroica - you never walk alone.
More about the ride tomorrow.... I thought I'd tell the whole story today, but.... Sorry.