Dominique Rollin: L’Eroica

“The Heroes” of Tuscan gravel…

I remember the first bikes I ever raced on… steel, toe clips, exposed cables.  This was back in the 1990s, in Canada. Nothing like today’s machines built for pure speed and aerodynamics, but built with a romanticism, and history that doesn’t exist like it does today.

Perhaps, like the bikes we used, this is what L’Eroica aims to capture.  A time where time didn’t move quite so fast, (nor did the bikes.)  A rolling adventure in Tuscan hillsides, all done on pre 1987 bikes.

2015 was my second time doing the L’Eroica.  The route covers strade bianche, flats, hills, goes through vineyards, and is essentially as about picturesque Etruscan as you can imagine.  Last year I opted to ride the longest route of the three different lengths they offer: 205k, with a 5 am start… this year, as we were still finishing our dinner at 11:30 the night before, we decided the 75k course would suit our needs this year.

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75k took 7 hours though: 4 hours riding, 2 hours eating, 1 hour fixing bikes.  Last year I had three punctures and a jammed chain, this year two broken brakes and two punctures for our group of 5 riders.  There is something quite lovely though, to see everyone help other riders with their mechanicals, share food, tools and stories.

The event has grown a lot over the last years, this year I saw many pro colleagues and friends: Laurens Ten Dam, Brett Lancaster and Erik Zabel all started the event alongside me.  It really says something: most of us pros aren’t attending a non race cycling event unless we are being paid for publicity appearances.

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Everything we use on the bikes is pre 1987.  It’s a bit of a shock to the system, as it is so different to our normal equipment.  I wore a leather helmet and  old wool cycling kit. Granted, I thought I looked bloody fantastic.  But.  We had some rain throughout the day.  Let me tell you, I was damn lucky I brought a rain jacket.  That old wool kit does not dry the way our current neo-tech kit does.  And bless the sheep- wool also smells real funky when it’s wet.   I purchased a pair of period appropriate cycling shoes to work with my toe cages/straps pedals.  It was  a hard day on and off the bike with the punctures, stops, and different terrains and weathers.  I guess I could take it.  The shoes could not.  I reached the finish line to touch my foot to the ground and have the sole fully snap off the shoe. It had been hanging on by a thread, like a German Shepard tongue on a hot summer’s day.

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 Through all the tough bits, it is a truly fantastic way to close of a year of cycling. After a grueling season, this event always reminds me why I love to ride my bike.  It’s the best kick in the teeth, bring back to reality.  To meet people who ride passionately their entire lives, to ride with fans who respect me, but alongside amateurs who I revere….There is joy in this, there is friendship, and mates, and of course, fantastic food and wine.

 I want to ride my bike again.  And buy an old bike as well.

Words & Images: Dominique Rollin