Over the first June weekend, the 5th – 7th, some 600 cyclists descended upon the small village of Cenicero, in La Rioja. The region is Spain’s most famous wine growing country and the host of the first edition of L’Eroica on Spanish soil. The Italian organisation which annually holds the world’s largest and best known period-era ride has expanded to 6 events on 3 continents, all of them under the same mandate: to reconnect with the values and heritage of classic cycling and “rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the taste of accomplishment”.
This was our first event in the L’Eroica circuit and we were uncertain what to expect. The name (heroic, in Italian) should have given an obvious clue of what the ride would entail, but still – a ride through the beautiful vineyards of La Rioja with some of the best bodegas in the country within arms’ reach … how hard could that really be??
We chose the medium route, which initially was announced to be about 106 km but was later extended to 125km with some added strade. Alternative routes included a shorter 60km and the long route at about 200 km. All routes required participants to use “historical bikes” (built before 1987), or “vintage style bikes”. Wool clothing is the norm and vintage accessories are encouraged.
The event provided what it promised – great scenery, great route, and a great weekend. Due to it being the first year of the event, it perhaps under-delivered on rest stop quality, way-finding at a few points and a general “know-what-the-hell-you’re-getting into.” Related to that, it certainly delivered on ‘heroic’, or over delivered? One couldn’t help questioning the ‘rat-in-a-maze’ feeling as your skin crackled under the blistering sun. Or as every 500m you saw a group re-patching previous flats. Rolling through a long, straight, uphill stretch about 10km out of Cenicero, a near parade (no hyperbole) of exhausted, zombie-like participants pushed their bikes, inching toward the finish. They’d long given up on riding. In the words of Pedro Delgado who also did the medium route, and happens to have won the 1988 Tour de France. “Ha sido un día duro, muy, muy, duro.”
So, will we go back? Of course. It was an incredible event with a lot of character. It’s little fault of the organizers for the preparedness of the riders, but they also shouldn’t be totally absolved. Finishing an event sweaty, salt-crusted and exhausted is one of the pleasures of cycling, especially when simulating a style of riding from a previous era. However, there is a benefit to knowing ahead of time roughly what you’re getting into – for tire/cassette selection in the least. Especially when some of those cassettes are 5 speed. So, you’ve been warned, at least by us. Ride 700×30’s, prepare for short, sharp climbs (like 15%+) and be thankful. I at least rode 30’s and I didn’t flat once. Be prepared for a true cycling challenge and don’t underestimate the difficulty. Grab your classic bike, your wooly and have a ton of fun. We’ll see you there June 3 – 5, 2016.