Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Martin's 2009 L'Eroica Adventure, Part II

Martin Appel's report of his 2009 L'Eroica adventure continues in Part II:

"Andreas hasn’t ridden his borrowed Patelli yet, and I haven’t sat on my “Rabe” for 2years. Position: unfamiliar. Brakes: they squeak as if they were the tortured antique pieces they are, but they seem to do their job. I don’t mind riding with toe straps as much as poor Andreas does. Shifting – well… I do have ten gears, but at a capacity of 50/47 front and 16/22 rear I’m beginning to have second thoughts about the ramps around this area. The trusty old Gran Sport shifts smoothly and precise, but somehow all gears feel the same way: hard.

We idly roll a couple of kilometers, have coffee in breathtaking scenery, wax philosophically about accommodation options for the coming years, and we test the “white roads”. I congratulate myself for my decision to put on the cross tires. My “Rabe” goes downhill like a tank! We see later that many of the more experienced riders did likewise. Andreas seems to have second thoughts about his narrow racing tires.

Tonight we hit the sack a bit earlier, after all tomorrow’s the Big Day. Our American friend Robin wants to ride to the start, which will give him an additional 25km per way on top of his already hefty 200km. Andreas and myself have opted for the 75km route, which is said to be the one with the most people and the best atmosphere. Apart from that, the two shorter distances only start after 8:30 – Robin plans his start at 4:00 in the morning – brrr!

As far as the local dog population allowed, we sleep well and arrive well awake, well fed and motivated in Gaiole on the Big Day. One of Andreas’ tires refuses service, but quickly a spare tire is stretched and glued in place – we are ready to go. Wool jerseys are seen all over the place, and some contemporary “ordinary” bikes with their riders in picturesque traditional costumes grace the village centre. The whole location has dressed up for the occasion, almost every shop displays a vintage bike or has a few wool jerseys decorated. Signore Chini, the village butcher, not only has a couple of jerseys hanging among his hams, but also displays his father's old delivery motorbike from 1953. He serves Chianti to the riders – “non per vendere, solo per amici”. It seems I’m one of his friends. Salute, there we go!

Slowly we get going. The warm air allows riding without arm or leg warmers even at 9 in the morning. The colourful field of riders supplies entertainment galore on the first few kilometers. Then, stylishly flanked by a portal, the entrance to the first gravel road! Quite steep, a narrow alley winds up towards a castle. A vintage Fiat Cinquecento labelled “Race assistance” passes us. Some riders already have to walk, but my “Rabe” does well except the occasional “autoshift” – the gear moves up a cog on itself. I don't mind much as this bike has to be ridden like a single speed anyway: Don’t think about gears, think about pedalling! The percentage is well in the two figures, nevertheless I reach the summit in the saddle. Some real heroes do the same on their prewar bikes.

Then the first descent on the lose road: It gets dusty, very dusty even. The brakes need a lot of pulling, but with the 32mm Challenge Grifo cross tire, I can descend like John Tomac. What did they invent Mountain bikes for? I pass uncounted participants, trembling downhill on their skinny 20mm-rubbers. Yippie! Also, the view gets very typical Tuscany-like: To the horizon hilltops with tree rows. I have plenty of time to admire this while waiting for my buddy, who is severely pneumatically challenged.

To be continued in Part III.

Photos by Martin Appel: riders at the start, the support car, my friend Andreas; images of riders on the "white roads"

Stories, including cycling trip stories, for the Italian Cycling Journal welcome; contact veronaman@gmail.com. See here for a chance to win a T-shirt for submitting a ride story; contest ends October 31st.