It’s really foggy in Gaiole, Chianti this morning. It was raining all night but the temperature is warm at 17 degrees. I was lucky in my accommodation, and find myself very near the Brolio Castle.

While I was getting to the starting grid to follow the new “Chianti Classico” route, a 115 km ride through some of the most famous vineyards in the world (Fonterutoli, San Giusto a Rentennano, Sante Dame to name but a few) and boasting around 50% of the ride over the fabled ‘Strade Bianchi’ white roads, along with climbs pitching up to 19%, I decided to stop and take some shots of the first riders. These are the ones who decided to pit themselves against the longest route and who are already getting to the first ‘white climb’ on the Brolio Castle way, illuminated as it is in the dawn by candles leading off into the mist.

Riders in vantage cycling clothing awaiting the start of L'Eroica, Italy.
A lady wearing a Brooks England jersey, riding Eroica, Italy
A smiling le coq sportif wearing participant in L'Eroica.

It is the 20th edition of this unique vintage “Granfondo”. The event has been growing and growing in size and legend each year since its first edition in 1997, reaching this year’s incredible number of 7000 riders.

They come from all over the world with their bicycles – all of which must be ‘within the rules’ of this celebration of the vintage: With the cages on the pedals, external cables and friction gearing; the true aficionados stay true to the golden era with the “rotating wheel” system, fixed gearing on a wheel with a sprocket on either side that must be manually switched over as the terrain dictates, one side with the ‘hard’ and the other with the ‘soft’ sprocket for the climbs.

Goggles, cap - this real Eroica!
Sublime scenery through the mist at Eroica, Italy
Lending a hand fixing a puncture, no co2 cartridges here!

Cycling needed something new and the riders need a motivation [...] This race is unique and special.".

Angelo Zomegnan
A classic Colnago track helmet - low on protection, heavy on vintage style

Every rider dotes upon their beloved “iron” like a treasure before the great adventure. Every cyclist, man or woman, old or young, can be seen polishing, greasing, preparing their bike especially for this one event in the middle of Tuscany’s iconic “Gallo Nero” just to say “I’ve done it!”.

L’Eroica is a real enterprise, where one can truly find the “taste of effort” to use the words of the man who dreamt up the idea for this now iconic endeavour, Giancarlo Brocci. The first race was born, almost as a joke, in 1997. Today it counts six editions all over the world and L’Eroica has become a brand celebrating not only the lovingly restored bikes but really a dedication to the style and a reverence for those early pioneers of the sport, the ‘convicts of the road’ who rose from the toil of the factories and farmland to seek their fortune through an entirely new form of suffering. Perhaps there is an irony in the fact that we now see hundreds of “hipsters”, sporting characteristic beards and moustaches, squared trousers and papillons, being drawn to the event.

Cycling in Eroica vintage event Italy

As always in Italy, such an event is becoming a style icon in its own right and in Gaiole there is a huge market of objects, jerseys and vintage spare parts.

But when the cock crows (the black one, of course) on Sunday morning, the festival gives way to the real enterprise. Please, do not be deceived by the carnival of vintage theatre on offer: L’Eroica is really a hard effort; style over substance alone will leave you cruelly found-out…

L’Eroica has its icons, like Mr Luciano Berruti, historically the number one, owner of the bike museum in Cosseria, Savona and always taking part of all the Eroicas, be they in Italy or abroad.

Let the images speak: faces, bikes, riders are ‘tasting the effort’ of a beautiful but demanding cycle event in of one of the most beautiful regions of the world.

Man mounting bicycle, Eroica, Italy
Portraits of Eroica
Portraits of Eroica
Portraits of Eroica
Portraits of Eroica
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About the Rider: Nicola Ughi
A camera toting, blog scribbling writer and all-round photographic prodigy, Nicola cut his teeth shooting everything from sportstars and cars to farm workers. Having cluttered his mantlepiece with shiny awards in the process, his photographic palmares are the cycling equivalent of at least a couple of Grand Tours, which is an impressive feat for a man concerned with shutter speeds rather than average speeds...
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