What is the Eroica
The Eroica is first and foremost a cycling event that has been taking place since 1997 in the lands near Siena, along the magnificent Tuscan hills. The features characterizing this event are:
(i) the route: it takes place largely on gravel roads (so-called “strade bianche”);
(ii) the goal: this event is aimed at evoking the cycling of the old days, the “heroic” ones;
(iii) in light of the aforementioned objective, the permitted bicycles are only “vintage” racing bikes that must meet certain criteria: e.g. steel frame; gear levers on the down tube of the frame; etc.
(iv) it is not a race, and therefore the start is free within a certain time slot (so-called French Start) and there is no final classification.
The “Classic Eroica” is usually held in October, but it is not suitable for everyone, also because not everyone has a vintage bike. However other events are organized on the same route, where participation with any type of bike is allowed.
The route of the Eroica
In the official events the routes are of different lengths, so that people who are not very trained can participate. The “Long Route” runs for 205 km with 3,891 meters in altitude.
As mentioned above, the peculiarity is that there are numerous gravel sectors with numerous ups and downs. Below the map of the route, downloaded from the official website.
The route of the Eroica is a “permanent route”, in the sense that at each intersection you will find road signs indicating the road to follow; so it is easily rideble even without the gpx file; in any case, the latter can be downloaded from the official website.
Our Eroica, in 4 stages
205 km of road and almost 4 thousand meters in altitude, half of which on gravel roads, are really hard; rectius: they too many to do in one day.
Therefore, Alberto, Federico and I covered them in 4 stages; in particular we rode the Eroica route 4 rings, each 55 – 80 km long. The starting point (and the arrival) where suitable for parking a campervan. This means that in the end we covered over 230 km, since it was necessary “to close” the rings. The total difference in height exceeded 4 thousand meters.
Alberto and I raced with road bikes, with 25 mm tires. Federico with a tubeless gravel bike.
From the point of view of cycling technique, we immediately specify that:
(i) we have never punctured, despite the fact that the gravel sectors have been longer than expected;
(ii) even if the dirt roads are open to vehicular traffic, cars do not bother since there are very few of them. More numerous and intrusive are the motorcyclists;
(iii) the difference in height is considerable, given that the entire route is characterized by continuous ups and downs; there are no sectors in the plains;
(iv) sometimes the climbs are really steep; they are not very long but they are demanding with road bikes because it is impossible to get up on the pedals due to lack of grip;
(v) the overall feeling is to have traveled 200 km (out of a total of 230 km) in a sort of reserved cycle path, in a wonderful environment.
1st stage: the Eroica of Chianti
We left Treviso, near Venice, in the morning of Thursday 2 June 2022, we arrived in Gaiole in Chianti just in time for lunch.
We chose Gaiole in Chianti for two reasons:
(i) There is a parking area for campers, free of charge;
(ii) It is the place of departure and arrival of the Eroica, the official one.
In a wine bar we all three ate “pappa al pomodoro” (a tomato and bread soup, typical of Florence); while waiting for our dish I could not help but notice how 90% of the people sitting in the various places in the square of Gaiole were cyclists. The shop in front of our wine bar was the official shop of the Eroica: it is beautifully furnished, with bikes, accessories and vintage garments. In short, we were really ready to ride.
At 4.30 pm we left for the bike ride, along the Chianti ring. The length of the first stage is about 50 km, with 6 gravel sections. We did it clockwise, passing through
- il Castello di Brolio
- Radda in Chianti
- Castello di San Donato in Perano
The Chianti hills are wonderful; obviously, there are many grape varieties. The had several stops to admire the landscape and take pictures. We were surprised that even in the asphalted sections the vehicular traffic was practically irrilevant.
The most beatiful part of the stage was the final descent from Radda in Chianti towards Gaiole, on the dirt road that passes through the Castle of San Donato in Perano. Unfortunately we could not enjoy it together because one of us did not feel very well and therefore skipped it. In any case, it remains one of the most iconic places in Chianti.
2nd stage: the Eroica of the Crete Senesi
On Friday 3 June we moved the camperva to Monteroni d’Arbia, the starting point of the ring that goes into the Crete Senesi.
This was the most frightening stage, because it was 80 km long, with 7 long gravel sectors. It also includes the king of the mountains award of Monte Sante Marie, which is considered the most difficult part of the race for the professionals of the Strade Bianche.
The ring has been riden counterclockwise:
– from Monteroni d0Arbia to Bolsinina you run south for 5 km on the dirt road parallel to the Cassia main road. This is one of those sectors that are not part of the Eroica route, but which are necessary to “close the ring”;
– in the locality of Bolsinina you enter the Eroica route and start climbing towards Asciano, along a long gravel road;
– immediately after Asciano begins the long gravel sector (11.5 kilometers) that passes through Monte Sante Marie, with the steep climb dedicated to Fabian Cancellara, three-time winner of the professional competition. After the mountain the gravel road becomes easier thanks to a fun undulating stretch that ends in the locality of Torre a Castello;
– from Torre a Castello you reach Pianella where the route of the Eroica goes south again. From here you can see the center of Siena and the Torre del Mangia;
– in Colle Malamerenda, on the southern outskirts of Siena, we left the track of the Eroica to take the SS Cassia to return to the campervan in Monteroni d’Arbia.
In the afternoon we moved the campervan to Rapolano Terme, where there is a nice campground attached to the spa. In our plans we should have spent the afternoon at the spa, but the heat and fatigue led us to rest in the campervan. We only went out to have dinner.
3° Tappa: l’Eroica nella Val d’Arbia
Saturday 4 June we returned to Monteroni d’Arbia, the starting point of the third stage, which is the simplest stage of the entire tour. In fact it is a ring of about 50 km, all on gravel roads (only 4 sectors of asphalt), with a modest difference in height.
We left Monteroni d’Arbia, like the previous day (this is my favorite place, because it is convenient for parking the campervan, with a large supermarket and a bike workshop).
To resume the Eroica route in Colle Malamerenda (in the southern outskirts of Siena, where we left it the previous day), we traveled the Via Francigena northwards, along a road adorned with cypresses, as you can see in the postcards.
Once we reached the Eroica route, we passed through Radi, Murlo, Vescovado, and then made a stop in Buonconvento, where we filled the water bottles in the drinking fountains near the north gate of the magnificent Tuscan village.
The return to Monteroni was always made along the Via Francigena.
At the end, this proved to be the simplest stage of the program; the next year I would like to do it with my wife and children. And indeed, the relative simplicity of the tour is accompanied by beautiful landscapes.
Basically this is the tour we did in 2019, with some off-road detours (click HERE for the 2019 tale, in Italian language).
In the afternoon we went to Bagno Vignoni, the famous village because the main square is made up of a large pool of thermal water.
We also took a bath in one of the natural pools (free admission) located downstream from the village; the sulphurous hot water has wonderful for our tired legs.
4th Stage: the Eroica of Montalcino
The last stage of the tour included a ring of about 60 km, with a climb up to Montalcino.
We parked the campervan in Torrenieri and a very long gravel road took us to the small village of Lucignano d’Asso (in the photo below). For tens of kilometers we have cycled immersed in nature; there was only a few farmhouse or farm and nothing else!).
After passing through Buonconvento, the route of the Eroica climbs with a long, steep and unpaved climb up to Montalcino. We did the entire tour of the village by bicycle, and filled the water bottle in the fountain in front of the cathedral. A spectacular descent brought us back to Torrenieri.
After the lunch of bruschetta and Tuscan cold cuts and cheeses, we spent six hours traveling back home (the counter-exodus of the June bridge). On the way back, however, we stopped to take several photos of the cypresses of San Quirico d’Orcia.
Alberto and I also participated in the Paris – Roubaix for amateurs: click HERE for the story in English.
For other articles in English from this blog, click HERE.
Hereinafter some full screen pictures of the Eroica: