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Crankk at the Eroica

Cycling journalist and friend of Crankk, Tom Owen, rode the Eroica this year in Tuscany, Italy. It was some of the worst weather they have ever had at an Eroica event. Eroica means heroic in Italian.

If you want to ride in the Eroica there are some rules you have to follow. First, you must ride a ‘heroic’ bike – a bike that was built before 1987, has the gear shifters on the down tube and is made from steel. You also have to ride without clips on your shoes (toe baskets only) and you have to dress in appropriate vintage cycling gear – that means wool jerseys and shorts, classic ‘casquette’ cycling caps and (if you can grow one) a big moustache on your face. Ladies don’t have to follow this last part.

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There are four routes you can test yourself on – 46km, 75km, 135km and 206km. The last one is for only the true heroes, though. Some of the people who did 206km took more than 15 hours to finish.

We rode the 135km, and it was perhaps one of the hardest things I have ever done on a bicycle. All the routes start in Gaiole, a small town in the Chianti wine region. We set off in the darkness before dawn and the first thing we do is descend 330m into the town of Gaiole. It was terrifying and really fun at the same time.

Once the sun comes up, the scenery is incredible and you spend most of the day riding the famous ‘strade bianche’ roads, which are basically just farm tracks. When it rains on the strade bianchi they turn into rivers of mud and dirt. It felt like riding in a cobbled classic, like Roubaix or the Ronde. It was hardcore man!

The only respite from the rain comes at the food stops. Instead of gels and energy bars though, everything is authentic Italian cuisine. Jam tarts, salami, olive oil and hot peach tea. We arrive and descend on the food tables like ravenous animals. Stuffing cake and nutella into our faces before we can chew. It feels good to be out of the rain, but eventually we realise we have to set off again.

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We pass over and around the rolling Tuscan hills. We see a bunch of vineyards and so many ancient-looking monasteries and castles.

Somebody in the group gets a flat and we have to beg strangers for a spare tubular tyre. Eventually somebody gives us one and we can carry on. Thank you Mauro from Milano. You are a true hero!

At the next food zone we eat steaming hot bowls of rigoletta, a specialty of the region. It’s a thick soup made with bread and spinach. It gives us strength. We also drink a lot of red wine at the stop. That gives us strength too.

Finally the sun comes out for the final 50km.

With the sun on our backs we feel inspired to carry on. To attack the climbs as hard as we can. I get off and push my bike a couple of times. I feel sad and unheroic, but then everybody else is pushing too it doesn’t feel quite as bad. Someone tells me, “There is no shame in pushing at the Eroica”.

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In the last few kilometres I get separated from my group. I continue on alone and get my reward – an incredible winding descent back into Gaiole. I hit every bend at the apex. Maximum speed. My old steel bike flies like an eagle.

The finish line is one big party. I find others from our group who rode the shorter distances and have been drinking for hours already. I join the party.

After riding 135km around Tuscany in woollen cycling kit I’m super grateful for modern fabrics and gear. Wet wool against your skin is the worst thing in the world! Especially when it won’t dry out and you have 60km more to pedal.

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