The Grand ‘Eroica’ Tour
Old bikes have been lovingly greased back to life and mustaches have been waxed into handlebars. Its Eroica season!
Article by Sam Clark
Moving their festival of cycle adulation to a new location after a rather soggy event last year, Eroica Britannia were rewarded with a beautiful sun drenched weekend. It felt like we had all be transported to sun baked hills of Tuscany rather than 10 minutes down the road from the previous location. The whole event had grown too on order to do justice to its new home. World-renowned DJ, Norman Jay got the crowd dancing on Friday night and new romantic local boys, ABC got us all suitably nostalgic on Saturday night. Lead singer, Martin Fry joined the riders on Sunday along with Eroica regulars and cycling luminaries David Millar and Chris Boardman. A highlight for us, on our way to bed after rocking out to ABC, was being audibly kidnapped by a pub sing-a-long in the Britannia Arms tent where the boundary between stage and audience was being enthusiastically blurred in a true Eroica style.
Maserati presented the three Sunday rides through the beautiful Derbyshire hills. A family friendly 25 miles, and for those sensibly seeking more ‘refreshments’ in the scorching conditions. A testing 55 miles that rewarded us with some exhilarating white tracks. Mamnick, the infamous local climb was back on the 100 mile route. In this heat it made the riders true heroes of the Eroica. As is now becoming my yearly mantra (although I may just get a T-shirt with this on), “Next year the 100!”
Around the World
If you’re eager for more, or heaven forbid, missed Eroica Britannia then fear not there is a still whole summer of opportunities to get your vintage racing jerseys on. The Eroica bike festivals were started in Italy 1997 to help preserve the Strade Bianche, old farmers ‘white roads’ and to celebrate the joys careering around on two wheels with friends sharing good food and drink. The joys of Eroica have spread around the world and nine events are currently held in eight countries (two in Italy). Your next Eroica adventure could be in California, Japan or South Africa.
Flush with a warm glow in my cheeks following my achievements in Eroica Britannia last year we headed into Europe to continue our grand tour in Holland at the inaugural Eroica Limburg. After the gritty hills of the Peak District, a jaunt through tulip fields past windmills was surly going to be a breeze…
Limburg is the Dutch region that extends down from the south eastern corner of Holland to tickle its European neighbors. Its turbulent history includes periods as a lawless no-mans land and 40 years ago it was a near apocalyptic landscape of desolate coal fields. The local authorities had the foresight to see the dwindling demand for coal, closed the mines in 1975 and set about ambitions plans to transform the land. Today, only the odd, conical shaped hills of former slag heaps peeping through the lush foliage give any clue to its bleak past. The landscape has been transformed into an award winning tourist destination. A dense blanket of green covers the landscape creating a natural playground in its folds.
This is an area that takes cycling very seriously. Many weekend riders turn out with more advanced technical kit than some of the professional teams. Local sporting heroes including former pro rider Marc Lotz joined Eroica Limburg riders. The Amstel Gold race is held here and race director, Leo van Vliet joined in too riding the Raleigh TT bike he won a stage of the 1979 Tour de France on.
The US cycle team have centralized their permanent training camp in Limburg. A former mental institution houses 30 beds, over 100 road, time trial and mountain bikes, more than 200 wheels and four permanent mechanics to keep it all moving. Chatting with the team manager he explained, “You can train anyone to be a decent climber but that isn’t worth anything if they can’t get to the bottom of the hill in good time.” Remarking on the popularity of cycling, “back home in the States I was lucky if I could gather half a dozen kids together once a week for a training race. Here they easily get over 60 riders coming out to race, every night of the week!” The unique geography of this area also raises a smile, “if I drive eight hours from my home in Colorado I will still be in Colorado. Eight hours from here I can be in eight different countries.”
In one of those countries, Belgium, and minutes away rather than hours is The Flanders’ Bike Valley which houses a 50 meter long wind tunnel specifically built to study cycling. It is the only wind tunnel in the world where they can test the effects of multiple riders cycling together. Not only looking for most streamline position but also how the wind flow and drag affects the pull of riders riding in a formation. The wind tunnel is wide enough to study how this affects a team or even a small peloton. It is also unique in that they can make the wheels of the test bike rotate and load the rear wheel to simulate a rider. The particles of smoke traditionally used in wind tunnels are, relatively speaking, quite large and follow their own path so for a far more accurate reading they use a mist of micro droplets of oil which they track with lasers. This is serious cycling!
The picturesque town of Valkenburg hosts Eroica Limburg which has more of an intimate ‘village fete’ feel compared to Eroica Britannia’s grand ‘Goodwood Revival’, but it’s no less passionate. Stalls tempt with cycling candy and the conversations in the bike jungle and around the bars are filled with the same enthusiasm and warmth communicated in the international language of ‘greasy-bits-of-metal.’
The usual three ride distances are on offer starting. Winding through the pretty streets, the route unexpectedly plunges underground giving the riders an introduction to the local pass-time of cave-biking. Zipping through caves mined for a yellow Marl stone created 70 million years ago on an ancient sea bed. We emerged blinking back into the sunlight to be greeted with… a hill! We shouldn’t have been surprised in a region with such a rich cycling pedigree and this wasn’t the last of our treats on what turned out to be wonderful, challenging and rewarding day out. Belgium and Germany make up the bread of this geographic sandwich and we freely crossed boarders in what was easily the most countries I cycled in one day. The scenery was beautiful, the ‘white roads’ were exciting and the rest stops were a feast of local cheese, meats and wine. You know you’re riding an Eroica when a man in a bow tie fills you biddion with sparkling water from a chilled carafe.
Eroica’s are always a very friendly affair and the international mix of riders and languages only helped to increase the sociable atmosphere. You make the best friends at an Eroica over a puncher. Offering a spare tube can make you friends for life, carrying a pump will make you king of the weekend! Completing the ride we were presented with a rather handsome medel with a built-in bottle opener! As the locals say, Proost!