Blood, Sweat and Tweed
Maserati present a surprising challenge for man and machine at Eroica Britannia
Article by Sam Clark, images courtesy of Maserati
Eroica Britannia is a glorious celebration of the bicycle. It’s Goodwood on two wheels. The Tweed Run gone mad. For three days in the summer the picturesque market town of Bakewell and its surrounding Peak District hills are filled with the clatter of vintage cycles and a rainbow of classic Tour jerseys.
In just three years this award winning event has established itself as a favorite on both the Cycling and Festival calenders with a joyous mix of music, vintage style and entertainment for all the family.
The festival is packed with swinging live music, local food and drink, a world famous bike jumble to loose yourself in and stylish boutiques and stalls including one of Riddle’s favourite bespoke tailors, Brita Hirsch. A former tailor to the late, great and possibly not too cycling prone, Luciano Pavaritti, Brita now tailors for local customers and clients world wide with cloths sourced locally from her studio based amongst the skilled weavers and textile producers of Northern England.
The hub of this two wheel extravaganza is a grand cycling tour through the beautiful Derbyshire country side organized and facilitated by Maserati. The 4,500 strong peloton ride pre-1987 bicycles dressed in suitably vintage attire.
Don’t tell my fellow riders but in a heartbeat, I would have swapped all the bikes there for the 4 wheel gas guzzler that sat quietly in the corner of the Maserati stand. A 1971 4.9-litre V8 Ghibli SS. One of your five a day ‘Verde Gemma’ paint with a deliciously, lung-busting ‘Tobacco’ leather interior. Sadly Maserati weren’t interested in a trade for my piece of Nottinghamshire transportation history, so I was back on my Raleigh and off for a ride in the pictures hills and dales of the Derbyshire.
One of the great things about the Eroica is that you get to ride and experience the same route together with some cycling heroes. This year joining the riders on the start line were Olympic champion Chris Boardman MBE, British road racing champion David Millar and cycling gentleman Barry Hoban, eight time Tour de France stage winner back in the 1970s against the likes of the indomitable Eddie Merckx.
David Millar knows the area well after enjoying time here convalescing after a suspension for his temptation over to the dark, chemically enhanced, side of cycling. He says it was here, on climbs like Long Hill from Whaley Bridge that he ‘got his life back’ and ‘rediscovered his love of cycling’. He returned to professional cycling with a renewed enthusiasm, winning stages in the Tour de France, Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia and becoming the first British rider to wear the leader’s jersey in all three.
In a magazine interview back in 1995, David mentioned his dream car was the Maserati Ghibli II 2.8 GT. As job interviews go this was quite a disjointed and prolonged one, but his comments have finally been recognised and now – with the wry smile of a cat who’s got all the cream plus a bucket of fish and a fancy car to eat them in – he is relishing his new role as a Maserati ambassador.
Of the three ride options, Chris Boardman and David were going for the mid distance, 55 miles. David explained, “unlike a sport like tennis, in cycling as soon as you stop training as a pro you lose your magic, It’s an old pro thing – keep it average!”
Chris had his own bike that his dad had built for him from “loads of old bits.” Showing his age, or perhaps more ours, David didn’t get his first bike until 1992, well after the entry cut off for Eroica bikes so he was borrowing one for the ride.
The three route options comprise of:
The Short ‘Tourist’ Route: We saw riders leave with smiles on this 30 mile route and return with wider smiles and excited stories of beer handed out at the Thornbridge Hall refreshment break.
The Medium ‘Sportsman’ Route: If it’s good enough for Chris Boardman then it’s good enough for us. 55 miles with just under half on white tracks.
The Long ‘Hero’ Route: The clue is in the name. After judging the best dressed competition, Savile Row’s Patrick Grant tackled these 100 miles. So the gauntlet has been thrown down, we may have to return next year…
All three rides are a mix of tarmac and white, off-road gravel tracks to test your metal and your beloved old transportation. They are regularly punctuated with rest stops well stocked with local food and drink. On the medium ride the Duke of Devonshire treated us to strawberries and cream washed down with Aperol on his Chatsworth Estate.
But don’t be fooled by the pictures of smiling riders in jaunty attire, cruising along as the sun flickers through tree lined tracks. This gets pretty hard pretty quick. After our first impromptu coffee break, just two and half miles in, the routes split and we immediately questioned our decision to follow the old pros.
The song of the Eroica is the sound of crunching gears as riders turn a corner and desperately search an oily cog to aid them up another surprise assent. Why do old bikes have such high gear ratios? Was the world a flatter place, or were we much fitter?
Our tip for the Eroica, is to carry a few spare inner-tubes. If you’re lucky enough to avoid puncturing on the bumpy tracks yourself then they are a great way to make new, less fortunate, friends. In a moment of particular distress when our party suffered two flats at the same time, we were saved by a couple of French gentlemen. I usually avoid stereotyping but these two old garçons couldn’t have looked more Asterix and Obelix if they swapped their Peugeot cycles for a couple of menhir’s. Through the international language of men pointing at oily bits of metal and arguing who is the strongest at pumping up tires, two old Frenchmen taught five English lads the best way to change a tire. The only English spoken was a lot of spirited promises of “Whisky in the next tavern!”
At one point we ducked for cover as the back tire on a tandem hurtling down the hill blew out in spectacular fashion. This was all just part of a wonderful day out! There was a little blood too, when gravity dealt me a swift lesson in toe clips and the importance of releasing them well before arriving at a junction.
With the problems and scandal facing professional sport and competition, not just in cycling, the Eroica is a breath of fresh air. It is a reminder of the joys of just getting out and enjoying time with family and old friends, talking about old bits of beautifully crafted metal with new friends and the rewarding glow of accomplishment earned after a ride in the great outdoors.