26
Oct
13

L’Eroica

It would be stretching the truth at bit to say that I “just” got back from a trip to Italy – I’ve been back since the second week in October. I have, however, just gotten around to sorting through my pictures and figuring out how to show them to folks in a way that won’t bore them senseless. No one wants to read a sleep-inducing travelogue about some yutz (i.e. me) in a smelly wool jersey who decided to spend ten days with a bunch of crazy Australians, eating and drinking his way across some of the most gorgeous parts of Italy. And, more to the point, I’m really not up to writing that story quite yet.It took me 8 hours to ride this....

No, I figure that everyone would probably rather see pictures.

What follows is a photo record of my trip to Tuscany to ride in a Gran Fondo known as L’Eroica.  L’Eroica is an event that celebrates the “heroic” age of cycling – with a strong emphasis on vintage bikes and, in some cases, vintage riders. L’Eroica is run over the white gravel roads – the strada bianche – that criss-cross the region and connect the local farms and vinyards. Begun in 1997 with 82 riders, L’Eroica has grown in size and stature, with over 5,000 riders participating in 2013.

What you see here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what a visit to Tuscany has on offer or what the L’Eroica means to a growing group of dedicated cyclists.  The Big Life Lesson to take way from the experience is this:  L’Eroica is just inconceivably cool.

How I got to Italy and to L’Eroica also deserves a little bit of explanation.  The Other Big Life Lesson that I learned from this trip is one should always travel with Australians.  Australians are boon companions and always up for something fun.  Plus, you will never run out of beer.  I booked my trip with Peloton Cycling Tours (http://www.pelotoncyclingtours.com/) from (I think) Queensland, Australia. Run by Ashley Pettit, who is an absolute top bloke, Peloton Cyclng Tours put together a first class package of riding, bike stuff, and dining that made for a very memorable trip.  All of the cool things that you see below – and, really, I’m only capturing a fraction of it – were arranged by Ashley.

Nice Digs, Eh?

Castel Bigozzi – Home Sweet Home. Located about 30 minutes outside of Siena, Castel Bigozzi was our home base for the week. Built in the 1200s and located on the top of a hill that is surrounded by vinyards, you can’t get more Tuscan than this.

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The view from my room.

This is one of the coolest shops on the planet.

Ashley arranged for the group to visit two local framebuilders. Here we are disrupting work at Crisp Titanium. Darren Crisp (the guy in the white shirt on the right) is a fellow American. We visited his fantastic new shop that is located in the hills of historic Castiglion Fiorentino in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany. Darren designs and builds wicked cool titanium bikes. He’s also a fabulously nice guy, makes a mean espresso, and cheerfully put up with questions from a certain novice framebuilder. Check out his bikes: http://english.crisptitanium.com/

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Siena, Italy. Forget Rome, this place is ‘effing gorgeous.

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Me and Erik Zabel at a coffee shop in Gaiole, the day before L’Eroica. While Ashley arranged for just about everything on the trip, he didn’t exactly arrange this. He did, however, take the picture. (Thank you Ashley) In case you are wondering, Zabel is the guy on the left.

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The start of L’Eroica, 5:30am. Yes, it is dark. We were all crammed into the main street in the start town of Gaiole waiting for the offical “Bon Voyage” (wait, that’s not Italian..) and to get our “Passport” stamped. While we were waiting me and my Aussie buddy Dave were interviewed by a TV crew. The guy with the microphone went on and on asking us about our “passion” for cycling and L’Eroica. I’m afraid that I wasn’t terribly “passionate” at that hour of the morning. What I really wanted was a cup of coffee. The bike? That’s Old No. 1, the first frame that I brazed up last year.

UPDATE: The video showed up on YouTube – you can find it here.  I make an entrance at about 1:10.  Dave makes his appearance a little later.  I look and sound like I’m utterly deranged.

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Me and my Aussie buddy Dave early in the L’Eroica. The first hour or so of the ride – including some dirt sections – were in the dark. The organizers wisely required lights. Dave is riding what is probably the crappiest bike in the 2013 L’Eroica. Dave opted to ride a rental bike provided by the organizers. The pool of rental bikes was a bit of a lottery and poor Dave lost. The handlebars were bent and extremely narrow, the saddle was best described as an “ass hatchet,” a rather important cog on the the freewheel was shot, and it had no brakes. Its most charming trick, however, was that the front wheel would attempt to detach itself from the bike at inopportune moments. Instead of a quick release the bike came with big wingnuts on both the front and back wheels. The vibration from the road would cause the front wingnuts to back off. Brave Dave, however, was undeterred. A former motorcycle racer, he was an absolute demon on the descents. Dave had only one speed when the road pointed down – ludicrously fast. Mucho respect, both on and off the bike – a great guy.

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Me, A Cycling God (Outside of Siena)

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This is the other shop that we visited – the home of Tommasini bikes.

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This is the “Wall Of Tubes” in the heart of the Tommasini workshop. The woman in the blue shirt is Barbara Tommasini – she runs the show. We were basically given the run of the shop which, of course, was extraordinarly cool. Yes, I want a Tommasini bike.

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A stack of freshly-brazed Tommasini frames. I tried to stick one in my back pack, but it would not fit…

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Irio Tommasini, the founder. Mr. Tommasini has been working on bikes since 1948 – to say that he is a master frame-builder is an understatement. Best of all, he is a very nice guy. He was kind enough to take the time to look at pictures of my feeble attempts at frame-building (especially my Orange No. 2) and pronounced it “Bella! Bravo!” (And, yes, he did say it was “Merckx Orange.”)

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No. 1, In Its Natural Habitat.

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Number 988

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Chi ha capo di cera non vada al sole.

Ashley took this picture - I swiped it off of Facebook.

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The last morning in Tuscany, from my room.

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9 Responses to “L’Eroica”


  1. 1 Benjamin Less
    November 4, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Brilliant piece of reporting Gregory! Love your Number 1 in the photos. Was also nice to see Mr. Irio Tommasini gave his blessings on your Number 2, the Orange frame you built as well. Dave was courageous to ride the run-a-way front wheel and no brakes -rental. LOL

    Great writing. Thank you for sharing.

    • November 4, 2013 at 8:52 pm

      Benjamin –

      Thanks for the kind words! Meeting Mr. Tommasini was a blast – he is a spectacularly friendly guy and was very generous in taking the time to talk with me. I think that he appreciated the passion and enthusiasm and was willing to look kindly on my bikes. Ditto Darren Crisp. He’s a very nice fellow who genuinely took an interest in what I was building. Neither Darren nor Mr. Tommasini were patronising or dismissive of my attempts at building a bike, although their skill and accomplishments would have justified it. Interestingly, Spirito is also a frame builder, and he too was riding one of his creations at L’Eroica. Mr. Tommasini also took a look at his work and you could tell that he was genuinely impressed. Spirito’s bike was pretty dang nice!

      Greg

  2. 3 Anonymous
    November 4, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    You sir, have a mean streak……. rubbing our noses in your glory.

    TOUCH0GRAY

  3. 5 Anonymous
    November 4, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    Absolutely stunning and looks like a tour of a lifetime.

  4. November 5, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    G’day Mate (it’s how we say hello friend in Australia)
    I’m glad you had a great time. It was my pleasure having you on the tour. I had a blast also. I hope to see more of your friends next year. We’ll look after you and they’ll be drinking like an aussie by the end of the trip.
    Kind regards Ash
    ps. have you seen Ron?

  5. 7 Anonymous
    November 6, 2013 at 1:06 am

    At a loss for words but envious seems to apply–wish I had been there.
    Nick

  6. 8 Roger Curtis
    December 5, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Greg, you are a cycling God. 🙂 I had to share your account with my better half–we spent the last week of August in Rome and she agrees that perhaps Tuscanny would have been a better choice. Your account captured our imagination.

    I trust your bike performed flawlessly over the roads it was born to run on. By the way, my Colnago just told me that it wants to be a Taylor when it grows up. Naturally I put on my best Aussie accent and told it to be away with the pixies.

    Was Mr. Zabel also participating in the event or was meeting him a matter of chance? I must admit I’d have mixed feelings about such an encounter. Never the less, if he’s participating I’d love to see a sprint finish should there be one with him in it.

    Was that a Legnano or a Torpado stage right, fifth last photo? The lime green brought back lots of memories of younger years spent drooling over the Italian stallions at the local bike shop. Hmm, is that what they mean by ‘turning green with envy’?!

    Wish you’d write here more often.

    Roger ‘Snow Goose’ Curtis
    The Great White North

    • December 6, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Goose!

      You of all people should get thyself over to Tuscany next year and partake of L’Eroica! Rome is cool and all, but the Tuscany that we saw on the trip had all of the good things that you think of when you think of Italy. Food. Wine. Scenery. Bikes. More food. More wine. More scenery. More Bikes.

      Yes, the bike performed flawlessly on the strada bianche. And when I say “strada bianche” what I am really saying is “really cool gravel roads that occasionaly tilt crazily up and down with the random rut or big rock thrown in to spice it up and keep you on your toes.” Riding it was a total hoot, sort of like riding a cross bike on a fire road. There was a point in the proceedings where I was having way too much fun screaming down a steep hill and bunny-hopping some washouts and potholes when it struck me that “You know, I’ve never really beat on this particular frame quite this hard…and if something was going to break, it would probably happen about now…” And it didn’t. Ol’ Number One is a good bike.

      (Number 3 is being built as we speak. Columbus SL tubing, Cinelli lugs. Should be nice.)

      As for Mr. Zabel, he was there in an official capacity. Bianchi is a sponsor of L’Eroica, and so I think that is the connection. I’m not sure. Yes, he admitted to doping but…hell…that’s apparently the way it was back then. Our group bumped into him a couple of times, and each time he was spectacularly nice. I think that most folks are willing to forgive his doping because he always was friendly and funny when he was riding, and that has carried over into his post-riding career. Good guy.

      The bike stage right on the fifth last photo is actuallly an old Centurion that was repainted. However, it is funny that you mention Legnano. I would be willing to wager that a healthy percentage of the total production of lime-green Legnanos found its way to the L’Eroica. Seriously. For example, there was a massive flea market for bikes and parts on the Saturday before the ride, and it seemed like there was some sort of EU requirement that each stall had to have at least one lime-green Legnano for sale. This also held true for the ride; anywhere you cast an eye as you rolled along under the Tuscan sun you would eventually see a lime-green Legnano. They were so ubiquitous that it actually became a topic of conversation in our little group.

      Stay in touch – I am riding more, and that usually clears up the writer’s block.

      Greg


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