Riding L’Eroica Britannia

Ian Parr takes to his vintage steel steed and rides in the inaugural L'Eroica Britannia in the Peak District. Photos by Andy Jones and Ian Parr

By Ian Parr

The wonderful Tuscan vintage bike race L’Eroica came to The Peak District on June 22 and turned a beautiful little corner of England into Bianchishire for the day.

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A team of enthusiasts have designed a festival weekend around the ride which proved incredibly popular and I feel sure will just get bigger and better. Great food stalls, lots of vintage clothes outlets, all sorts of attractions and distractions for adults and children alike, great music, a very palatable special Eroica ale in the beer tent and an enormous array of rare bikes and parts at the jumble made it a very interesting and enjoyable few days.

It was perfect for a family outing, even if all the family aren’t into cycling, as there really was something for everyone. Most of people I spoke with had camped and were very happy with the facilities laid on. Parking and camping is guaranteed and included in the ride entry fee.

The ride itself was very special. I’ve ridden more sportives than I can count but I can’t remember one where I’ve spoken to so many people. L’Eroica is as much about the social side of cycling as the riding. The atmosphere was wonderful and everyone was laughing and joking as they compared bikes and period outfits.

The feed stations were incredibly well stocked with goodies, were in great locations and the volunteers dishing it out could not have been more helpful and jolly. Having beer, wine and ice cream at feed stops was certainly a first for me and it all went down a storm with the riders.

There was a truly international feel to the day too as people had travelled from various parts of Europe and America to participate. This is particularly noteworthy for a first running of an event on British soil as it shows how well the event had been promoted and the fact that everything went so smoothly is a credit to all involved.

Three routes were on offer – 30, 55 or 100 miles. Once you’d decided which distance would suit both yourself and your vintage velocipede it was a case of enjoying the beautiful Peak District and taking on this very different challenge.

I don’t use the word ‘challenge’ lightly as this is not just a gentle tootle around a few pretty lanes on old bikes. The 30 mile route, whilst not completely flat and easy, would suit those new to cycling or those wanting a less testing ride. The 55 and 100 mile routes do require a decent level of fitness, however.

The original Tuscan event covers sizeable distances of ‘strade bianchi’, or white roads, and the organisers used a lot of gravelly cycle paths to replicate the Italian sections. Some included tunnels which were absolutely fantastic to pedal through- if a tiny bit eerie.

It all worked beautifully – but some sections, especially descents, were rather tricky and meant you were relying more on your bike handling skills than anything else. These sections, as well as probably being the most challenging, were the ones we were all talking about and feeling most pleased with ourselves about at the end as we sipped the special brew on offer and allowed our legs to rest.

The legs definitely need resting after L’Eroica as there are a few decent climbs to tackle which might be easy on your superlight modern machine with a million gears but are a different matter on a heavy steel steed with none or very few. The middle route involves a height gain of a little under 2000m and the long, a shade under 3000m. So, you need to be prepared for a fabulous day with a bit of the suffering we cyclists know very well.

The ride does make you fully appreciate that, whilst the pros of today are hardly slouches, the guys in the olden days really were true heroes, or ‘veri eroi’ as the founders of this event would say.

Richard Abraham’s piece is in Cycling Weekly magazine on sale from Thursday, June 26 2014. Have a look at the Tuscan version here: www.eroica.it and the British version here: www.eroicabritannia.co.uk

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L’Eroica comes to Britain

L'Eroica Britannia will take place in the Peak District National Park over June 20-22 2014, recreating the classic Italian event