The first ever L'Eroica Britannia was held in 2014 and was a huge success. Over 30,000 people travelled from all over the World to make the event truly wonderful; the big question was would the follow up event live up to the billing of the first one ...
Eroica Britannia is a vintage cycling festival that span out of the L’Eroica event started by Giancarlo Brocci in 1997 who had a desire to preserve cycling history and the Strada Bianche (white gravel roads synonymous with the Giro stages) in his native Tuscany. Since then the event has grown beyond all expectations and the concept has travelled far and wide with Eroica Events now held in the USA, UK, Japan and Spain as well of course, the starting point Italy.
The event is a mixture of both festival, food, music, vintage dress, entertainment; including the family and cycling. To participate entrants are expected to ride a pre-1987 bicycle that conforms to the following rules:
Heroic bikes will only be permitted: Road racing bikes built before 1987 both with gears and without gears.
Heroic reproduction bikes will only be permitted. No mountain bikes or modern racing bikes
Gear shifters must be on the downtube
Pedals with toe clips and straps. Quick release are NOT allowed apart from Cinelli M71
Brake cables must pass outside the handlebars but other cables can pass inside the frame
Plus some other minor requirements … however, these rules are not enforced so the whole situation is left to the discretion of the riders and on the whole people followed the spirit of the event and rode on period bikes.
The bikes are only the start though … for many the dressing up is just as much a part of the event as the bikes and there were some very fine examples of vintage dress; and facial hair.
Last year’s event was such an overwhelming success that the 2015 version had a tough act to follow and I am delighted to report that the event was better in every dimension apart from the weather; yet despite the less than perfect conditions the event was still an improvement on the previous year.
Given the success of last year the 2015 event has sold out with almost double the amount of riders registered and add to that this year the festival goers were charged an entrance fee which obviously gave the organisers a much bigger budget to work with. This resulted in the vast improvement of the facilities in terms or toilets and showers which seemed to be the only gripe from the previous year.
The event started for us on Friday afternoon as we arrived after lunch in our VW Camper and were quickly camped up in the “home fields” and made our way to rider registration.
Registration was simple and the musette of goodies was handed over, with yet again an impressive contents including: Thornbridge Eroica exclusive beer, Hendrick’s gin, Fentiman’s lemonade, Lush cosmetics, Yorkshire tea and a traditional Bakewell Pudding plus rider numbers, rider card and maps.
The rest of the afternoon was spend enjoying the festival stalls that were retailing and/or promoting. There was a mixture of big name corporate sponsors promoting their goods but the vast majority of the vendors were small artisan outfits that were very much in keeping with the theme of the festival.
In the background there was constant entertainment on the main stage and other tents. There was also a fine selection of quality food outlets and of course a substantial beer tent.
On Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast I had decided to enter my bike in the Best in Show, there were a number of categories for best in show listed below.
BEST DRESSED FAMILY
BEST DRESSED DOG
BEST DRESSED FESTIVAL GO-ER 'MR'
BEST DRESSED FESTIVAL GO-ER 'MRS'
BEST DRESSED MISS
BEST DRESSED MASTER
BEST DRESSED RIDER
The Best Bike competition started with the various contenders with a vast array of machines parading around the show ring as the judges selected a number of bikes for a “short list”.
These bikes were then placed in stands in the Parade Ring where they could be admired and critiqued by the festival goers and judges alike.
My Pinarello Montello made the short list with a lot of interest from fellow cyclists, but did not make the final 10 … a travesty … although this later turned out to be a blessing as the finals over ran and would have interfered with our dinner arrangements!
Whilst the Best Bike category was popular and hotly contested the other categories had been approached with equal dedication and some impressive outfits and facial hair was on show …
The Best Bike was won by a chap called Macca (seen in the white jumper above) who had a very nicely restored Raleigh Panasonic Replica (sorry I don’t have a good photo of it). There were so many nice bikes on show spanning over 100 years of bicycle production the judges didn’t have an easy job.
Whilst all this was going on there was no end of available entertainment, drinking, eating and retail opportunities. The brass band deserve a special mention as they played outstandingly and the sound drifting across the festival grounds really did set the whole event off.
In the evening we had booked a meal with Seven Mile; a mobile event caterers. The three course dinner was very tasty with carefully selected wines per course if desired. It was nice to meet other festival goers over dinner and chat about the anticipated ride the next day.
As I had entered the 100 mile ride my starting slot was between 6am and 7:15am. The alarm went off at 5:30 and after a hurried breakfast I set off through a sleepy camp ground towards the start in the centre of Bakewell.
I did feel particularly sorry for the chap I saw fixing a puncture watched by his mates; they hadn’t even got to the start and they had problems; but it was all in hand.
At the start you get your card stamped; gather up and you are set off in waves of about 10 -20 riders.
You are soon out of Bakewell and after a few miles you are directed off the tarmac roads and onto the Monsal Trail. This is a wonderful trail that takes you through a number of tunnels in which it is of course compulsory to shout and whoop for the echoes … not long after that you hit the first food stop … or should that be feast stop.
The Eroica Britannia ride is not a race and it is certainly unlike a Sportive; it is a fun ride with so many fine food stops that I suspect it is the only 100 mile event where the majority of riders finish heavier than when they start.
The feast stops are not stocked with sugary, sticky processed energy products but with bacon and sausage baps, rolls, scones, cakes, ice creams, beer, cider, champagne and water … it has to be seen to be believed.
All this fine fare is served by wonderful willing supporters and volunteers and you really get the feeling that the people manning these stops in the various villages are enjoying the event as much as the riders.
Leaving the first food stop took us out onto the Peaks; the weather deteriorated a little and I endured a number of showers and some quite high winds although it never really got cold.
The toughest climb of the route was Mam Nic Tor (?) Last year I tackled this alone but this year given the increased numbers there was plenty of company … much of it walking with their bikes.
Vintage bikes come with vintage gears and with my smallest of 42x24 it was some effort to keep moving but, keep moving I did and made it over the whole route without walking.
The next feast stop was at a sailing club at Goyt Valley then on to get your card stamped at Hartington; the routes had merged just before this stop with the 100 & 55 milers all riding together so there were a lot of bikes on the road now and more company.
As seemed to be the pattern, a hill followed all feed stops; so cautious dining was recommended …
After 60 miles the routes split again and only the 100 milers were treated to a fine visit to the Ilam country house for another feast stop, card stamp and cool towels to freshen up provided by Volvo.
Then onwards again to Carsington Water where the routes once again merged to make the run into Chatsworth House a busy affair … the route has the privilege of using paths through the Chatsworth Estate to arrive at the final feast stop on the lawns of Chatsworth House where an impressive range of food and beverages were on offer … then off again for the final few miles.
Of course the organisers had the last laugh routing the riders over one more final tough climb before we rolled into the show ground.
The atmosphere in the show ground was great with the final route section being lined with hay bales and supporters cheering and applauding riders home as their names where announced over the tannoy by the event ringmaster who must have vocal chords of steel given his stamina on the microphone.
After the finish it was off for a shower and change then back to applaud home the other riders. Watching the finish was well worth it to see all the incredible bikes and outfits that the participants had ridden in. It was great to see so many old bikes still in use and quite where they all come from who knows.
It was a real mark of the spirit of the event that the final 10 riders to arrive were all held back whilst the ring master whipped the crowd up into a frenzy of applause to welcome the last 10 home at 7pm.
Then it was finally time to celebrate with music, food, festival beer, wine and of course a great British downpour of rain …
To summarise, it was a fantastic event. Everyone who attended got into the spirit of the festival. It was clear many has made a huge effort prior to the event with some impressive bikes, outfits and moustaches on show. We will be back next year.
Congratulations to all those who contributed to the successful running of the event. Bravo.
The terrain and descents ...
For those who are asking the route was quite technical in places
(which was good) with some rough surfaces and descents. I was glad
I had fitted 27mm tyres and had spent a good bit of time on a mountain
bike. For those who had only ridden on tarmac I would expect some
of the sections were a bit of a shock.
I observed lots of people being overcautious on gravelly descents;
I found it better to let the bike run rather than being on the brakes
heavily and crawling down. Some even resorted to walking down steep
sections which looked worse than riding to me; but each to their
Below is a sample of the surfaces; the worst ones are not shown
as I didn't want to take my hands off the bars to take a photo.
Note: The below 3 photos were taken in 2014 ... different bar tape ;-)
I think the varied terrain was great and I cycled some paths I
would have never taken left to my own choices; that made the event
a great challenge.
Also ... a final request to readers; if you have to walk up a hill please leave space for those who want to ride:-)