A friend from the team, Marco, set up with me to drive us both down to close to Gaiole, where we were staying. An hour or so before he was to pick me up, he sent a message to verify I had lights - both front and rear - on the bike, as we would be starting around 5 am. I had thought only the long course started that early, but the medium / long length course also starts then, so I quickly switched my lights from my city bike, and they worked fine. We arrived barely in time to pick up everything needed for the race / event, the official envelope with jersey number, controllo booklet, bike number, and pocket map. We also received a "paco de gara" which is a nice metal box with a special bottle of wine from one of the locations we rode through, a cool hat, and some other things. The small town of Gaiole was full, really full of people, as this is a major international event. 76 different countries represented in the 6000 people who made the registry either with a package, a donation, or as I did, by "winning" a lottery of people who tried to be in the event. There were people dressed in old cycling costume, and many, many places with old bike parts, and even some museum quality old bikes. This event is all about older bikes and costume and the bike one uses has to be pre-1987. Mine is a 1973 Bianchi with mostly original equipment.
It is not required, but almost everyone dresses in old jerseys and some even have the old leather helmets. It is also about road conditions in the past and the course is around 50% strada bianca, which are literally white roads, but it simply means dirt roads. Most were in pretty good shape, but some, due to the amount of rain during the ride were quite difficult. The event was super well run, with excellent ristoros, full of food, and a wonderful pasta party at the end with pretty much no waiting. Normally at an event like this, there is a line for the pasta party that makes one give up on it. This is different in that there are 4 distances with 2 start windows, so people finish throughout the day starting around 12:00.
The highlights of the day were getting up at 3:30 to be at the start close to 5, only to end up spending around 20 minutes trying to help one of the guys get his car out of a ditch he mistakenly ended up rtrying to park in. He finally told Marco and I to go ahead and he needed a tow truck to get him out. The others we were planning on riding with had found us as we tried to get the car out and Lorenzo and Flavio waited for Marco and I there. So we were down to 4 from 5 at that point.
It is pretty cool to start a ride with lots of people in the pitch dark with only lights on bikes. We descended, then climbed to Castello di Brolio, where another highlight was. It is an old castle and very beautiful. I had taken clients there before and toured the castle. For the Eroica, they line around 1-1/2 kilometers on the approach to and a small amount of the descent from the castle with large candle type things that show the way. Truly spectacular at around 5:45 am. After this we had our first strada bianca which starts with a descent aroung 10%, kind of steep, particularly in the dark. Hang on to those brakes!
On the second strada bianca, Lorenzo received a call, and Flavio, who we had recently re-grouped with, had a broken derailleur, which put him out for the day. Down to 3. Another 1/2 hour or so into it and Marco had some trouble with one of his pedals, and eventually the whole crank arm / pedal piece came off. I put this in my bag / pack and Lorenzo and I took turns giving him a push on the flatter sections on a long strada bianca piece and he walked up the steeper climbs. The first ristoro was around 10 k away, and it had a mechanical help area, and we all were sure that it could be easily fixed. This was true, but it took a while. By the time it was done, almost all of that time was Marco waiting in line, it started to rain lightly, then truly pour. So, from then on, all the strada bianca was slick and muddy, making it much more difficult. The three of us stayed together, only separating on climbs where everyone went their own pace.
One descent, which Lorenzo had warned was quite technical, was an interesting highlight. It basically turned into steep, muddy, single track down a dirt road. I was the only person I saw stay on the bike, which I believe is due to the amount of time I have spent riding mountain bikes in the past. It was truly wild. Some comments during the 15 minutes or so I waited for Lorenzo and Marco were, Incredible! I can''t believe this. Wow, that was hard and it rained on us the whole time. One group of Americans represented the wide range of opinions from wow, that was awesome to well, at least it creates a memory, to that was F'ing stupid.
The hardest part left was a three section climb on strada bianca to Monte Santa Maria. All three sections end up with a grade around 10 to 15% on slick muddy dirt. I surprised myself by riding all three sections, which very few did. With a 42 tooth front sprocket in the front as the easiest, it was truly hard. Again, my mountain bike time made it work for me, I think. From there, it was just hanging in there and enjoying another couple of excellent ristoros. The three of us returned together, and it was a spectacular day. Around 3 hours of real rain, maybe an hour of sun, around 2 hours in the dark, over 8 hours in the saddle, with only 138 kilometers ridden with 2500 meters of climbing. An amazing event which I would definitely recommend to anyone truly passionate about cycling and older bikes.
Not a good picture, but the start area after we went through and had
our control booklets stamped.
Hiding under a tree while Marco had his bike repaired just
after the rain had started. Lots of people the whole way.
The scene in Asciano at another ristoro. A cool town and
fun break. I even used fountain water to clean a little muck
off the bike. This was after the crazy descent.
Lorenzo, Marco, and I at the top of Monte Santa Maria in a
rare sun break.
The last ristoro in Castelnuova Berardegna. Sweet, not too far to go.
Marco and my bikes parked outside the pasta party tent
Look hard and you can see lots of dried mud.
The bike in the apartment, clean and as shiny as it gets, pre race.