This is a long overdue post! As anticipated in previous posts, Ale and me signed up to Eroica Britannia 2016. We both spent a considerable amount of time repairing a couple of “old ladies” (Raleigh and Holdsworth) which required a lot of TLC, and spent even more time trying to find the right kit to wear… The hardest was to find some appropriate shoes:it appears that in the 70s/80s, people had extremely narrow feet! Suffice to say that at the last minute, I decided to avoid the ballerina-style shoes I had found and went for a very broad pair of black “Giro Rumble” with cleats removed. I decided to find a Francesco Moser’s jersey (the cycling hero of my home region in Italy), and luckily found the 1984 GIS TUC jersey he wore when he won Giro d’Italia in 1984 (not “the” jersey obviously…).
On the Friday before the ride we packed all our gear, families (including little Pietro and half of his wardrobe and all his gear) into a rented van, and headed for the Peak District . We found a lovely cottage to stay (the Post Office Cottage) in Matlock, just a few kilometres from Bakewell, and on the route of the ride.
On the Saturday, we went to visit the Eroica festival in Bakewell and get our “race pack”. In perfect British festival style, it had rained for the best part of the previous two weeks and the fairground was a bit swampy… but at least it didn’t rain so we managed to take a look to the huge bike jumble inside the festival. If you are missing any bike piece or kit item, you can be sure to find it there. Had we known it was this big, we could have spent less time on Ebay and more time there, although I’m not sure the prices are that competitive. I even found a bike that had been sold by a bike shop in my hometown in Italy!
Having a 7 month old boy with us meant we went back to the cottage quite early, which was good considering we had to wake up at 5am to be at the start line in time for the “epic” ride (100 miles/160 km).
On Sunday morning, the temperature was “fresh” as I like to say when I need to wear arm warmers… and a jacket. A good bowl of porridge, coffee, banana, and we are ready to go! Silvia drove us to the start line in the van. There we met Adam, who last minute took the place of Mo who couldn’t make it back from Dubai.
The first part of the ride was absolutely fantastic: the roads were mostly empty, along the old railroad the “strada bianca” was as smooth as tarmac, and we ate up the first kilometres very easily. A bit of sun even came out! It was all nice and warm, and we stoped at the first feeding station where they were serving bacon rolls and hot tea (we just went for flapjacks, thank you very much…). And then, the hills came… those would have been hard on our modern bikes, and having only 5/6 cogs doesn’t make it any easier. But we managed (I actually overtook quite a number of riders). And then came the descent, which I took very very slowly (and was overtaken but those riders I overtook on the climb), but better safe than sorry, especially with those bendy callipers and those wobbly wheels. At some point, my chain came off and I noticed that all five chain ring bolts were loose…
The sunny weather of course didn’t last very long, the wind set in and the up and downs piled up. Before the second feeding station, at the top of a short climb, we had to suddenly stop because of a road block… remember those pedals with cages and straps? Not good when you need to stop suddenly! I just tried to take my foot out but it just didn’t move and I crashed on my left side, scratching the brand new Turbo saddle (and my elbow).
After around 100 km, Adam, who didn’t train at all for the ride, just gave up and headed back to Bakewell. Ale and me started feeling quite hungry, and ate the last two bars we wisely took with us (maybe we should have had that bacon roll after all…). After what seemed to be ages, we reached the main feeding station (it could have been a bit earlier to be honest) and stuffed our faces with cucumber sandwiches (and some other food as well). So British! There was a chap who actually wore the “maglia rosa” of Francesco Moser and had the exact replica of his bike: I wish I had it instead. He also called me “rubbish domestique” when I overtook him!
After this longer break, the road immediately went up and we hardly managed to get to the top with the lunch still on our stomachs: one criticism I would make to the organisers is that all feeding stations are at the bottom of a hill, and as anyone knows it is not very pleasing to start cycling with a full stomach straight up a hill.
The weather now started to get worse, and a bit of rain started to come down. Eventually we arrived at Matlock where we were greeted by our three fans, and then at Chatsworth House, where the drink station offered some Aperol Spritz: nothing better after 140 km! We pushed through the last hills against the headwind and rain, and finally made to Bakewell!
The finish line was set in the centre of the festival, with an elbow turn just 20 meters before. Remember the swamp? Now it rained for a few hours, and people spread mud all over the road. So when I took the last curve at a ridiculous 15km/h, my front wheel just flew out from behind me and I was on the floor again, this time scratching my right side and the right side of the Turbo saddle (and the brand new bar tape). I managed to straighten the bike and cycle the last few meters, covered in mud. I must say that looked a bit like the famous Francesco Moser photo at the Paris-Roubaix (ok, maybe not). Anyway, the arrival was a bit of an anticlimax for various reason: my fall, the fact that nobody was there to cheer because of the rain, the sea of mud to reach the infirmary to patch my arm. But we made it! The TUC crackers I carried with me from start to finish in the back pocket were completely unharmed by the double fall, and I enjoyed them together with the local ale we got as a reward for finishing the ride.
I must say it wasn’t as hard as I thought: the day after my legs were absolutely fine. We did it very slowly and tried to enjoy the ride, which is what it is all about: you are not there to race! All in all, a great experience which we will try to replicate at another location (we are thinking Eroica Limburg in the Netherlands/Belgium/Germany), and hope for a less “British” weather!