Cycling is a passion for many people in Italy. Whether for recreation or sport, it’s a natural pairing for a land where ravishing side roads wind through scented hills draped in vineyards and olive groves. Yet cycling has a deeper appeal for Italians, expressly for the rewards of its physical demands. The vintage bicycling event L’Eroica or ‘heroism,’ celebrates this noble struggle; the burning muscles, perspiration and mud-spattered jerseys that precede the sweet release of the breeze cooling a sweat-stained face, and a joyful draught of wine at the finish.
L’Eroica also embodies cycling’s powerful tradition of fellowship. Bike racers were Italy’s idols in the mid 20th century when frenzied throngs pursued champions like Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali, both for the drama they brought to racing and to marvel at their intense bond as teammates. Crowds were enthralled as the pair egged each other on through demonic uphill climbs, shared a water bottle on the wearisome straightaway, even dismounted midrace when the other was in need. This deep camaraderie and staggering resilience inspired Giancarlo Brocci to launch L’Eroica in 1997, a bike event that honors cycling as it was practiced decades ago, in it’s rawest form.
Several times a year, on Italy’s dazzling strade bianche or ‘white roads,’ the era could be 1970, or 1940, or with a deep squint even 1910, as L’Eroica cyclers sweep through on their Bici Eroiche or vintage bikes. The event is open to anyone willing to take on one of the courses, which range from leisurely to hellish, on bicycles built before 1987 or their replicas. No mountain bikes or featherweight marvels are permitted; only classic frames of steel or wood, with old-fashioned gears or no gears at all, creating a captivating procession of postman’s bikes, granddad’s work cycles, and rare 19th century machines. Even the attire must be historic, with participants clad in wool jerseys, leather shoes with cleats to grip vintage pedals, and bib shorts with suspenders. Sweat wicking shirts, even modern water bottles are banned, although a certified helmet is required. To founder Brocci, these limitations are precisely the point, as they push riders to “seek out our physical boundaries, where thirst, hunger, and exhaustion are felt with all their strength, spreading respect and creating bonds between loyal opponents.”
L’Eroica’s sponsors are a likeminded breed, an assembly of time-honored bicycle and saddle makers founded in the 19th century, 70 Italy Bike Hotels set on the forest trails, sea fronts, and medieval villages best seen from two wheels, and Global Sponsors such as the wine estate Ricasoli, keepers of Chianti Classico culture for 32 generations. Beyond supporting L’Eroica worldwide, Ricasoli creates a magical atmosphere on the L’Eroica course around their home in Gaiole, Chianti Classico by illuminating bikers’ pre-dawn climb to their 11th century Brolio Castle with dozens of candles, designing a dramatic stopping point at their Agribar Eroica Caffè, and welcoming returning cyclists with soul-stirring classic dishes of the Chianti Classico region.
Nearly a dozen L’Eroica events now span the globe from California, to Japan, to South Africa’s Cape Winelands, Rioja in Spain, Germany’s Rheingau, and four locations in Italy, most in winegrowing regions whose inhabitants share L’Eroica’s values of historic preservation, sustainability, and the gratification that comes from honest effort. To Giancarlo Brocci the rewards are clear: Rediscovering the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest, so that everyone may be a hero in their own way.