Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011 l'Eroica!

I guess now that it's over a month old now, I should get around to reporting on my l'Eroica this past October. When we left off, we had settled down for an early night's sleep, due to the 3:45 wakeup call! The van was packed and ready for a quick drive from Montevarchi to Gaiole. I finally had the joy of waking Daisy up earlier than she preferred, instead of our usual routine (small dogs have equally small bladders that need relief at PRECISELY 5:00 am... every day). We were up quickly, moving frantically to get as many calories into my belly as quickly as possible! A twisty drive into the darkness took us to Gaiole again, but this time we went up and over the center and parked at the gas station on the outskirts.

I made my final preparations... light, leather helmet, goggles, arm warmers, gloves and one more brioche. With that, the Mrs. loaded my custom POI's to take her to each stop and feed station, in order. Then, it was off to the start line!

The hushed atmosphere at the sign-in is somewhat spooky. The anticipation of the enjoyment and suffering to come looms in the darkness. There was RAI's Alessandra De Stefano doing interviews. I had bumped into her the previous day and, without my Liquigas garb, she didn't immediately recognize me, especially with my blue and yellow Masini kit and repro goggles on!

The start was way different for me this year, knowing how to better judge the course that was to come. I was looking forward to the arrival to the Brolio castle again, where Janelle and Daisy would be waiting. The climb up the twisty gravel road is traditionally lit with candles on the sides, which give a great effect in the still-dark morning, just 10km in, 209km to go!

This year, the descent from Brolio was a bit tougher due to the Masini's really stiff brake levers. This would continue to be a problem throughout the day. The next 35km into Radi are a little blurry due to the lack of light, but the course is fairly easy at this point, with the climbs either short or of gradual pitch. At one point near Siena, I found myself alone on the part of the course which is not so well marked. I caught a couple of stragglers and we cautiously kept going, fearing the backtracking we'd have to do once we found out we missed the turn... but we eventually found the next sign, assuring us we were on course.

At the first Radi ristoro, my support crew was waiting for my arrival, still a little tired themselves at this point. I filled up a bit on the various offerings, and was met by a couple of 'heroes.' Max, who I met last year and was riding his cambio corsa Galetti again, and the guy I want to emulate in a future l'Eroica... fully kitted in 1920's gear and riding a flip-flop! Bravi, tutti! I was seven minutes ahead of 2010 at Radi... that would soon change!

The lead-in to the Montalcino climb (the toughest of the day by far) is itself misleading on the course profile. The long gradual slope and energy-sapping gravel sections between Radi and the climb leave you tired by the time you start climbing at just 71km in! The climb starts not-so gradually, slowly twisting your way up. After Radi, the Masini was starting to give me a problem that would dictate the rest of my day... under power, my granny (itself not too easy at just 40 x 21) would catch on the chain and give a jolting 'ping' before dropping to the 19, which would eventually do the same and drop down once more! The cause? I had custom-made the five-speed cluster from various Regina freewheels. The largest two cogs had slotted and squared-off teeth, perfect for catching on a fixed-tension system like the Paris-Roubaix. It didn't display this tendency in my training, mainly due to the fact that the climbs I had tried at home didn't require this much effort evidently! End result? I checked into Montalcino sixteen minutes later than 2010, and far more sapped of energy.

After this, I bombed the paved descent and the next few sections of white roads, picking up seven minutes on the 2010 Legnano time! On one section of road, a fancy moto pulled up alongside me. I smiled, and the moto stayed there longer than normal. I gave another look and finally recognized Michele and Francesca, our dear friends from Leonardi Racing in Sansepolcro. We had stopped there on our way down to get Itlaian SIM cards and catch up. They mentioned making the trip over, which in my tired state, I had basically forgotten. It was a relief to see them. They gave some much-needed encouragement and followed me for about 10km, snapping some great photos, a couple of which now adorn their homepage rotation.

At Pieve a Salti, I was 24 minutes down and by Asciano I was getting worried. My support crew wasn't there, probably lost or thought I had passed. An eventual phone call later, I found out it was the latter. They were already at Castelnuovo, which I was told was going to close at 4:00! The short stop and the ensuing chase was brutal. Brutal. By this time, the heat was unbearable. My water bottle cage had broken, leaving my bottle dangling from the handlebars. In addition, the section between, these two stops feature in my opinion the toughest part of the course. The steep pitches force walking up most of these sections, if you are on a bike sufficiently 'limited.' I'm starting to use this term to describe the technical difficulties of riding a very old bike this far.

After my frantic chase, I finally arrived to Castelnuovo at 4:38... technically past their closing time, but still 'ok' in the spirit of l'Eroica. They stamped my card with no comments, other than on my apparent ghost-like complexion. The support crew let me rest and contemplate packing it in... really. We all knew I wouldn't stop, but it felt good to consider it! I basically passed out for twenty minutes in a chair. I was told I snored! A Coke, some water, ribollita, and anything else I could stuff in, got me going and in a much better mood.

At Vagliagli, I passed an older gent with an unfortunate flat. I lost about a half hour trying to help him, but the tire just wouldn't stay on the rim and we managed to use up both of my spare tubes and CO2 cartridges. We called his friends to come get him, he thanked me and I was off again into the dusk.

At the end of the long stretch of gravel before Radda, I was met again by a motorcycle light. It was Michele and Francesca again! They gave me some water and encouragement and then proceeded to lead me into the darkness with their moto's light - mine was useless, the batteries dead for the past ten kilometers!

After Radda, we met two other stragglers who shared the light for a few km. Using my handling skills, I bombed down the final gravel stretch into Gaiole and into the finish line area... at 8:20 pm. Fifteen hours, twenty minutes! Just over an hour slower than 2010. Just as happy to have finished another of the greatest bike rides ever.

Post-race judges again impressed by the feat on an old bike! Maybe next year I'll get a lower number than 9!

My moto escorts!

The support crew!

Broken bottle cage, dust!

The navigator


  1. Terrific story and photos!

  2. Respect! I took me 10 1/2 hours to do the 132 km ride and I still have nightmares about the Astanio-Castelnuovo segment!