Saturday, October 20, 2012

My 2012 l'Eroica

It's been a couple of weeks now, I'm stuck inside sick all weekend, so I might as well get around to this! When I last checked in, I was headed out the door in the wee hours to get to the start line in Gaiole. When the marshals steered my car into a parking lot a mile away from Gaiole, it presented a new but minor twist. I guess I've never approached town from the South before!

Anyway, I made it to the square and waited among the first eager starters. I did a quick interview for somebody with a large camera - let me know if you see something out there! And then, just ten minutes til five, my front tire went soft! In a panic, I found a pump, filled it and headed off, a little preoccupied by the low air in my tire, but that thought quickly left me on the road towards Brolio.

The first part of the ride went by quickly and I found Dave on the road. Dave is an old friend from Cannondale, one of the few with more time in than I. He had come over with his wife and was riding a Cannondale from the first year of production. He was waiting on one of the guys in his group and, understanding my time crunch (rather, knowing that I was soon going to die on my three-speed horse that afternoon), he let me bomb the downhills and gravel sections, as he was taking a steadier pace.

Right about then, I began fielding questions from a group of Americans interested in 'that guy on the old bike'. After some demonstrations of the shifting, we made the connection. It was Todd Gogulski of NBC Sports. We had exchanged emails earlier in the race season and he was stunned to finally meet me in this manner! They gave me big props on the bike and I lost them when I slowed, realising there were two tacks in my front tire! This was just past Siena and then it became obvious... there were tons of guys pulled over changing flats. Someone had thrown tacks on the roads of Siena!

Somehow, my tire didn't lose any air until after the first big climb fifty km later! I had just finished eating and drinking (some wine) at the Montalcino rest stop when my tire went totally flat. A five minute change from my large cross tubular to my reinforced Roubaix road tubular and I was back on the road... this time with a dirty, half-inflated, knobby tire around my neck. I heard a yell from Todd, who arrived after his groups dealt with their flats.

The next section was a bit of a blur, but I believe it was on the seventh sector that I was passed by a line of a dozen or more vintage cars... finally! I hadn't seen any of this in previous years, and am not even sure this was connected with l'Eroica. Most likely a great coincidence that this Sunday group outing hit that segment of road just as we did! I took these three with my phone, from the saddle, on gravel!

As the miles sped by, I knew I was close to my time from '10 without really checking and doing the math that usually fills my mind on rides like this. At this point, you start to worry about the closing times of the control stations, but I wasn't going to worry too much about it this time... or was I just getting tired?

The run in to the Asciano rest stop is just the beginning of the torture. Having done this thing twice already, I knew it was coming but blocked the memory of the pain. It still hit me... hard. Either my lack of gearing, the weight of this old anchor of a bike, my lack of any real form evidenced by my rather chubby white legs or just being plumb wasted - probably a combination of all of the above - did me in. Not too terribly, just enough that I ended up walking the same hills I (and most others) usually do. That's why those calculations don't matter... you usually don't factor your average walking speed, and it's tough to guess how long it'll take you to push your sled over that next hill... which turns out to not be the last.

This guy is always at Asciano offering up fresh eggs laid by vintage birds! It's a welcome sight, but the climb right out of Asciano isn't. It's just the first in a very long, tough series of hills that you have to trudge up (not unlike they actually did in the 30's).

Then came death. As usual, at Castelnuovo Berardengo. The name alone makes me tired, as it's now three years in a row that I've suffered the cruelest of bonks at this rest stop. Luckily, trusty Michele and Francesca found me just before the stop, and loaded me up with Fanta and Coke. While Michele trued my front wheel and made a couple other adjustments to the bike... I passed out. He woke me up twenty minutes later, pushing me to get going. I fell asleep at a horrible angle on the stone tiles, too tired to unload my pockets and with a banana in hand, resting on my chest! Another new friend, Fabio snapped this just before I woke back up!

Like Lazarus, I jumped back on and bombed the downhill and flew over the remaining sectors of ghiaia (a great Italian term for the dusty gravel). Michele and Francesca followed me after Radda to lend me their car's headlights (mine once again died for the dusk arrival). They were once again surprised that I rode so well after being so dead earlier, but I passed rider after rider in the dark final kilometers heading back to Gaiole. The finish line was far busier than last year, meaning I had regained my 'normal' time on a bike twenty years older than last year's! Fourteen and a half hours total, twelve twenty in the saddle! 

But that wasn't all. I had a secret in my pocket! On the photo podium, I reached into my front jersey pocket, grabbed my comb and spruced up for my photo, a la Hugo Koblet! It earned an extra cheer from the fans still waiting for their arrival, or those already drunk on the festivities!

Final thought before posting the my tips and mistakes to avoid...? It remains the greatest day you can spend on a bike. And next year, I'll go back yet another decade to the 20's!


  1. Great story, thanks for (finally) sharing it. We're working on our own bici d'epoca but they won't be as old as ANY of yours! Odd to think Cannondale bikes are old enough to qualify. One of these days we'll be there again to enjoy the atmosphere that reminds us both of why we took up cycling in the first place.

  2. Well done! I was on the 205k as well but managed to avoid the tacks near Siena. The cretin who did it should be thrown in an industrial tumbler along with 1000 tacks.

  3. Really nice piece. Just read your article in Road Bike Action about your previous ride with the Masini. I did l'Eroica last year (the Medio version) and was nearly in tears on the ride/walk after Ascanio. It is brave of you to ride these wonky ancient bikes on the full route: respect! And I am glad there were no tacks in 2011.

  4. Wonderful write up of your L’Eroica experience. What a milestone to achieve. You should be proud. Many men dream of riding in this event. Me included.
    Also, to let you know, I have linked you on my site, The Simplicity of Vintage Cycles.
    Again, well done and thanks for sharing your European adventure.