If you have any interest in vintage bikes, you have to go to this event in Tuscany – even just to watch – it was fantastic.
L’Eroica Gaiole is held on the first Sunday of October, however the village of Gaiole in Chianti is taken over for the whole weekend with varying events/entertainment in addition to the actual rides themselves.
Primary attraction for me this year was the vintage market where I hoped to pick up a few parts for my own build (more on that later), but also to be inspired by the bikes and research the terrain in anticipation of future participation once my build is complete.
Tuscany is beautiful whichever way you turn, quite hilly and has possibly the worst phone signal I’ve experienced for years – don’t expect 3G let alone 4G!
When we were there the weather was dry & sunny, in the early 20’s – except Sunday October 1st, the day of L’Eroica’s cycling events, when it was raining on & off for most of the day.
Although I took many photos, I’m only sharing a few here – instead I’ll point you at the L’Eroica 2017 Photo Gallery over at Cycling Tips where there are some great photos by Luigi Sestili, courtesy of Bianchi and also pictures at the L’Eroica Gaiole website itself.
If you plan on going, book your hotel early as it gets very busy – we were lucky to get a hotel in Radda in Chianti, the next village over from Gaiole and also one of the refreshment/validation stops.
The refreshment stop itself was something to see – if you’ve only ever seen food stops at UK cycling events with the drums of energy drinks, water and some fruit/cake, the stops at L’Eroica where they are serving up classic Tuscan dishes such as stew, salami, tarts and of course gallons of Chianti wine will be an eye-opener.
It was “refreshing” to see cyclists milling around the stop quaffing glasses of Chianti 🍷
Also at the stop they had a service area where 3 old bike mechanics were working all sorts of magic to repair bikes and get them back on the road – the speed they could strip down a bottom bracket was amazing.
At one point I could see that the next cyclist up for repair had his crank fitted with cotter pins – ah, this will take them a bit longer I said to my wife. Wrong!! The mechanic had the cranks off, BB fixed and cranks re-fitted in no time at all – they were unbelievably good.
By the number of BB’s needing tightened the Strada Bianche is obviously very hard on the bikes, not to mention the riders – it was actually hard enough driving over it! (don’t ask, wrong turning due to loss of 3G/ Sat Nav signal on the phone 😡).
There were so many beautiful bikes – many of the usual suspects – with Bianchi, Colnago, Gios, Olmo, Legnano, Rossini, Peugeot and Merckx being the bikes I saw most often but also a lot of the more boutique brands.
Over the whole weekend I only saw 2 Losa branded bikes (Exotic Requirement: ✔️) – 1 in the event and 1 for sale in the market. However I saw so many others bearing his distinctive lugwork that he must have built for those other brands – it was getting to the point that my wife was pointing them out as well.
Gios themselves had a stand at the market, where they had Roger de Vlaeminck’s bike from the ’77 Paris-Roubaix and Fons de Wolf’s bike from (I think) Milan-San Remo in ’81. Fons de Wolf himself was there and took part in the event, as did one of the all-time great cyclists Felice Gimondi, now 74 years old, who was resplendent in his old Bianchi gear (photo below by Luigi Sestili from the Cycling Tips gallery link above).
Speaking of the gear, everyone was kitted out in vintage kit of some kind or another and was great to see not just the old original kit but also the reproduction & event kits from the likes of Tre-Emme who were doing a roaring trade in wool jerseys/shorts at the market.
Chapeau to these guys who did a very hilly course on some quite old, single-speed bikes (vintage facial hair not compulsory) – hmmm, wait minute…. single-speed, facial hair & satchels?? Vintage Hipsters?!?!?!😜
(These guys were very popular for photos, as they also appear on the Cycling Tips gallery & the Eroica Gaiole site.)
By sheer coincidence, the last 2 bikes we walked past in Gaiole as we made our way back to the car were a Cinelli Super Corsa & a Pep Magni – the 2 bikes Losa is most remembered for (although I think the SC may have been before his time).
And so to the primary reason for my visit – the market. It was amazing, there were so many stalls of bike bits & paraphernalia of all ages & conditions – if you needed a part for your bike you would find it there and unlike the marketplace at Eroica Britannia, where there is a wider vintage/retro feel, these stalls were purely bike related. There were even some vendors renting bikes out on the Saturday for use in the event on the Sunday (the bikes were then available to buy after the event).
I spent a few hours on the Saturday going round seeing what was available and buying parts (my wife said it was more like 8 hours, but in my defence I’m sure significant chunks of that were standing cursing my phone signal as I tried in vain to check components against VeloBase…).
Having seen what was available, I went back to haggle over a Nuovo Record (after-market) triple crankset, only to find a C-Record triple buried in a box of cranks at the same stall (I will add that having now seen the hills and the number of bikes that had triples or long cage mods during the event, I absolutely feel no shame).
With the crankset purchased, it was a case of heading round the market again (& again) trying to remember where I saw components to match/compliment and so the day would repeat as I would leave my wife parked in the sunshine and head off to buy the next related piece…
A few parts I went back to buy had been sold, while others were avoided after closer inspection (is that derailleur cage really meant to be at that angle???).
At the end of the day I have a nice collection of (mostly) C-Record parts for my Losa, the majority actually all bought from the same stall – a Marseille bike shop, Road Art 13.
I’m regretting not filling my suitcase up with spares, as was significantly cheaper than online prices. Actually, just thinking about it as I type – for the parts I bought, I’ve probably saved more than the cost of my flights looking at the rates that some people are asking on eBay (admittedly, they were with RyanAir)!!. It wasn’t just parts either, as full bikes were going for a lot less than they are being sold for online. That said, there were some stalls that provoked a “you’re having a laugh” with some of the prices quoted – unsurprisingly, they seemed to have most of their stock left at the end of the weekend…
All in all a very worthwhile trip, Tuscany is beautiful, the whole event/atmosphere was fantastic and it’s based in Chianti – what’s not to like 🍷🍷🍷!
Finally, perhaps most surprisingly, RyanAir didn’t cancel our flights and my luggage/parts arrived home safely – with only a small panic at the end when we could only see 1 of our cases on the luggage belt… …”it’s ok, that’s my case – the parts have arrived” – “I don’t care about bike bits, what about my clothes!!!!” Oooops….
(never fear, my wife’s case did appear shortly)