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L’Eroica vintage sportive: Riding into cycling history on the strade bianche

GAOILE, Italy (VN) — If asked to describe an iconic photo from the early days of cycling, we would all come up with different images, but there would be an underlying theme: There would be a black-and-white image of a cyclist on a bike that looked a little too large for him. He would be wearing a loose-fitting woolen jersey and shorts, with a cycling cap and goggles. His bike would be a basic machine, with few gears, and shifters on the frame. Finally there would be a certain look to the rider; if racing there would be suffering eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead; if posing he would have a proud, neutral look on his face. No carbon fiber, aero profiles or race radios would be seen, just the uncomplicated image of bike and rider.

Every year on the first weekend of October there is the opportunity for us all to have a small slice of this history. L’Eroica or “The Heroic” is the event, and Italy is the location.

“Gaiole in Chianti” is a small town in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Fifteen kilometers from Siena, this small town is famous not only for the wine produced in the region and being named by Forbes Magazine as the “Most idyllic place in Europe” to live, but also for L’Eroica.

L’Eroica is a unique bike event that celebrates the glorious days of the pioneers of cycling. It is a vintage sportive where riders have to ride bikes built pre-1989 following three strictly enforced rules: NO clipless pedals, NO internal cables and ONLY downtube shifters.

Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov on the strade bianche.
Cadel Evans on the strade bianche in the 2010 Giro d'Italia. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

The event is the brainchild of Gaiole in Chianti native, Giancarlo Brocci. In 1997, with his passion for the history of cycling and his region, he started the event. Brocci explains “This is not a race, but a ride. It celebrates the pioneers of modern cycling and also my beautiful region. I wanted to save the historic Strade Bianche from being paved.”

The strade bianche or “white roads” are Chianti’s version of Flandrian cobbles. Made out of white gravel, they are a central feature of L’Eroica.

If you look back to the old photos of cycling, strade bianche is the surface that many of the races took place on.

“It is the strade bianche which gives L’Eroica is unique flair,” Brocci explains. “We include sections of it in all the four different length events to allow the riders to experience the hardships that riders such as Coppi and Bartali (a Chianti native) faced. There is definitely a technique needed to ride it. The extra dimension that the strade bianche adds to L’Eroica makes it much harder and more rewarding to finish.”

This surface is so tough that Brocci also organises a professional race which follows in the footsteps of the L’Eroica. In April every year, since 2006, the world’s top pros race the strade bianche. Additionally, the strade bianche was used during the 2010 Giro d’Italia, which saw Cadel Evans win the stage, while Vincent Nibali lost his pink jersey. That day the white roads did not glimmer in the Italian sun, but were turned to a silty mud by a heavy downpour.

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