Words: Ben Spurrier
"Frames must be pre 1987. Bicycles must have down tube shifters and cables must exit the brake lever hoods. Toe clips and straps only, and mountain bikes are forbidden. Contemporary parts such as handlebars and tyres are permitted but if you turn up flouting the rules, you will be laughed at and forced to eat copious amounts of polenta, especially if foreign..."
This is my loose translation of the Italian entry instructions on the L'Eroica website. Every year entry opens to 4000 Italians and only 500 foreigners, all of whom clamour for the chance to relive the legendary, heroic suffering of Coppi and Bartali et al. Over distances of 38 km, 75 km, 135 km and 205 km (anyone who finishes the longest ride in under 12hrs is awarded with a giant hamper).
For anyone with an appreciation of vintage machines and a bygone era, L'Eroica is a MUST – obviously period dress is almost mandatory! Despite the inevitability of glory and suffering, the emphasis of the day is placed as much on the surrounding elements that go with the ride, such as the glorious scenery, the chance to ride the infamous Strada Bianche (the white gravelled roads of Tuscany) and of course, the food stops. Usually crammed with energy drinks, jelly babies and bananas. The food stops of L'Eroica are piled high with Chiante, stews, meats and everything else you would expect from an Italian bistro.
Now, I've done my fair share of epic races in my time; Paris Roubaix MTB race twice, 3 Peaks CX 3 times, 10 24hr MTB races including 1 Solo. I've completed the Cape Epic and ridden both the Flanders and the (full distance) Paris-Roubaix sportives.
But since I learned of its existence, L'Eroica has been at the very top of my tick-list.
At a time when the cycling is rife with brands creating their own artificial heritages, we are lucky enough to work for one of the few who are the real thing. For the 2012 edition I will on board an original Paris Galibier, riding with the Brooks England team.
Paris is a brand established in North London by friend of (Condor Founder) Monty Young, Harry Rensch. When Harry died, Monty took on the name and continued production to ensure that the marque did not peter out. My Galibier comes fully equipped with a 1961 Simplex Jui Export 4 speed groupset, original black Brooks B17 Imperial leather saddle.
My colleague, Angel, will be riding an original 'Curly' Hetchins, complete with Shimano Crane (the original Dura Ace) and comprehensively drilled chainrings and brake levers with a brown Brooks Swift leather saddle.
Both are on loan from Condor friend Claude Kearley whose collection of vintage bikes and frames extends to nearly 100 - I will be taking my camera with me when I return the bikes and hoping also for a tour of his vintage car collection...