This article was written for publication in the American Randonneur magazine, Winter 2014 edition.

Luciano Berutti, the face of vintage cycling

Luciano Berutti, the face of vintage cycling

There is a new subcategory in cycling events these days, one that has much in common with randonneuring including: love for the traditions of cycling; the camaraderie of overcoming a challenging course with your fellow riders; and the personal rewards gained through a courageous effort. There is no popular name for this genre of cycling yet, but Classic or Vintage Cycling events seem to describe it the best. These events are somewhat of a cross between a celebration and a sporting event with a good measure of “party” thrown in. The category may be a little hard to define, but like many unique events you will know it when you see it.

Classic cycling is undergoing something of a revival in Europe, with ground zero being in Italy, but the movement is branching out. The grandfather of these events is L’Eroica Italia with its inaugural event being held in Tuscany in October of 1997. The event drew 92 hearty participants that first year. Since then the event has grown to 5500 riders with entry now limited to that number. Lucky riders are determined by a lottery system with only 1000 spots available for non-Italians. Interest in vintage cycling events has grown so large in Italy that there is now a whole series of 15 vintage races under the organization of Giro Italia d’Epoca.

The growing popularity of these events has led others to create similar events around the world. Here are a few of the more noteworthy of these.

  • Anjou Vintage Velo, in France. 3500 riders
  • l’Intrepida also in Italy, now in its 3rd year with 1000 riders
  • Cino Heroica in the US each September (160 rider limit)

Update! Since this article was written two new event locations for the L’Eroica franchise have been announced for 2015. L’Eroica Hispania will be held on June 5-7 in Cenicero Spain, known for its Rioja wines. Also, L’Eroica California will be held on April 10-12 in Paso Robles, in the heart of the wine country of central California.

These are not simply costume parties on bikes. These are real rides tackling whatever terrain the region has to offer. Usually, at least half of the route will be on dirt roads, old rail beds and even some single-track dirt trails. The courses that are chosen often cover routes that were raced on in the past by such legends of cycling as Gino Bartail and Fausto Coppi. Distances of 160 to 200 km are typical, with climbing totals of 3000 to 4000 meters in their courses. Events like L’Eroica are actually run as ACP brevets, complete with controls, brevet cards and time limits. img_0860abw This year the vintage cycling movement gained a solid foothold in Britain with the introduction of L’Eroica Britannia. Based in Derbyshire in the village of Bakewell, the event offered an incredible route which toured the valleys, moors and villages of the Peak District National Park. I was lucky enough to be able to participate in this inaugural event. By the numbers, some 2000 riders attended this first year event. Approximately 600 riders joined me in riding the long route (100 mile), which is about 40% on dirt roads or paths, and included almost 10,000 feet of climbing on grades of up to 25%! The bike that I chose to ride was a 1962 Legnano Gran Premio, which was almost completely original. I made only minor modifications to the gearing to achieve the needed range for the expected climbing, and put on 32mm wide tires for a better ride on the rougher sections. This bike was very similar to the 1974 Legnano that I rode in L’Eroica Italia in 2012. The event began at 6:00 am and we were started in waves of 30 riders at 2 minute intervals. I was off in the first wave as we made our way out of Bakewell and onto the Monsal Trail, a spectacular section of reclaimed rail-trail spanned by many bridges and passing through numerous tunnels. The Monsal Trail led us to the first control at Tisdale, after which the route was a continuous procession of climbing up to the moors, then dropping down into the next valley. The climbs and descents were often steep and rarely straight but once you were up on the moors the riding was more gentle and quite spectacular. Most of the rest stops were in the valleys below and you could be almost certain that after a rest you would begin climbing again immediately. IMG_0841bw The controls at Derbyshire Bridge, Hartington Village, Ilam Hall, Cromford-on-the-water all came and went in turn. Each control / rest stop offered a different variety of refreshment ranging from a local sausage and beer, to High Tea complete with fresh scones! Each of these stops were situated in unique and historic locations and each required that you get your card stamped as proof of passage before you departed. One favorite part of the event for me was riding the Tissington Trail on the way to Carsington Water. It was another rail-trail, a firm and fast dirt path with a gentle down grade of 1% or so. Fast cruising at over 20 mph for 6 or so miles of this section was both extraordinary and unforgettable! The last control at Chatsworth House, which was only 6 miles from the finish, was located on the sprawling 25 square mile estate of the Duke of Devonshire. The Duke generously opened the estate grounds for the event and we passed through on quite paths that are generally not open to the public. Upon reaching Chatsworth House, we were treated to what is certainly a first for me at any cycling event, a glass of champagne! The last few miles of the route were as challenging as any, but they went quickly and I soon found myself dropping back down into Bakewell and through the finishing chute. The crowds were spectacular and each finisher received a hearty round of applause and cheers. A costumed course marshal then stamped your card and with a pat on the back then directed you to the beer tent. If nothing else this event had style! IMG_0908bw To participate in events like L’Eroica you will need a bike from 1987 or earlier, with the main criteria being; indexed shifting, aero cable routing or clip-less pedals are NOT allowed. Then, by tradition you should be dressed in cycling gear that is period correct to your bike. Remember, you are celebrating the classic era of cycling and modern cycling shoes or a camelback would tarnish the image. Wool shorts, a vintage team jersey, leather shoes, even a leather helmet are considered part of a “proper” kit! Each of the L’Eroica events has its own unique character as do the other vintage events on the growing scene. Participation in any one of them may well remind you of the simple pleasures of bicycling, good food and the joy of adventuring in the countryside with friends!  These basics are often forgotten in the sport of cycling today and are what events like L’Eroica are trying to remind us of!

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