This blog is part II of Kev's preparation for L'Eroica.
After months of training, as it got colder and wetter in Sydney, my preparation for L'eroica was complete. I am not a world champion by any means, but I was in good shape for an average guy in his mid 50s. I want to put out a special thanks to the MC Cyclery team for their always-on group rides and their regular encouragement - the best club, I reckon. So I was in decent shape and ready to tackle what would be the hardest ever ride for me. Harvey, Andy many many thanks.
Now it was just a small matter of packing things up and getting ready for my flights. Harvey got me a Tacx Pakgo X, which is the ideal bike travel box, especially if you are travelling with a bike that is somewhat precious to you. It has a built-in stand and it has simple instructions for getting the bike into the box. It could not have been easier to pack and then wheeling it around the airports, it was a dream.
Off I went first to Rome, where I caught up with an old mate, and then onto Florence where I was to meet the A'qto Tour. The tour group assembled at the Florence train station and from there we were whisked away by van to the wonderful town of Gaiole, in Chianti. Even if you don't ride bikes, this region of Italy is so beautiful. But if you do ride, you will be enchanted.
Once settled in the most incredible B&B (thanks to A'qto), we were as close as we dared to be to the start and end of the big event - L'eroica XXV. Quick introductions and we started assembling our bikes and getting ready for the first of a week of preparation rides.
Damian, our tour guide, had the most difficult task of getting our group of riders, of varying abilities, each the best prep possible. I think that he achieved that goal. I started these rides using my familiar clipless pedals as I had yet to source the required vintage leather bike shoes. Even though we had a mixed bag of weather conditions, I quickly grew in confidence with each ride over all the bits of gravel that Damian could find us, to get mentally prepared for the difficulties that lay ahead. Would not starting the prep with the shoes and pedals I would use on the day be a big mistake? I had assumed not.
With final preparations completed and the correct shoes pedals and installed, we got up early to start in darkness for what, regardless of the outcome, would be the most incredible day. The rain that had followed us in our preparation week stayed away for the main event. Riding in the dark using your lights as we got to the first sections of gravel was enthralling but I was already starting to have problems with my shoes and cleats. As the sun rose and you could see the mist covering the landscape, and many of us stopped to take photos even though we knew the photos would never capture what the dazzling lights were doing to the naked eye. Sorry but you had to be there.
I hadn't really understood it at the time but the cleats on the shoes were not staying in position so it was getting hard to get shoes and pedals to work as they should, so the shoe was coming out at inappropriate times, and then sometimes locking in when I needed to be able to release it. And things were only going to get harder during the day. In the end, I lost confidence in the shoes and pedals that I was using, and I was forced to walk most of the gravel climbs - and let me tell you, there were a lot of gravel climbs. With climbs there is generally a gnarly descent that follows so they turned it into a white knuckle, heart in your throat, exercise.
Regardless of how hard this ride was becoming, let me say that I had a smile from ear to ear the whole time. Everyone riding around you was smiling, and it was infectious. The scenery was amazing and bewildering, the joy you got when you completed what seemed likely the hardest gravel section ever only to find the next one tougher, was incredible. The refreshment stops along the way had a great way of cheering you up, and just the ongoing support from the side of the ride was so unexpected.
When I finally crawled into the finish some 9 hours later, having covered 135kms through the rolling hills of Tuscany, initially indeed there was a sense of relief that it was done, but that quickly was replaced by the thought that this was a ride that would be hard to surpass - the sheer enjoyment and overriding sense of accomplishment.
Bring me the vino I'm done!!!
Get a feel for the L'Eroica event and the whole experience with this video of the day Kev 'enjoyed'!