The East London club for all kinds of sports cycling


As most of the LVCC members were out marshalling the Comet 25 on the first Sunday in October, which I understand was wet and miserable, Derek Westpfel and myself were riding the Eroica 135km sportive in the Chianti region of Tuscany.

No that’s not us ... but riders are encouraged to ride on traditional bikes (pre -1960’s) and wear traditional cycling garb.

The cyclo-sportive event and its professional road race counterpart (won by Fabian Cancellara in 2008) has helped preserve the local ‘White Gravel’ roads in this part of Italy. Over the full race distance of 200 kms half the event is on the gravel roads and half on tarmac; and so there are parallels with that other event, Paris Roubaix, that has preserved the cobbled roads of Northern France.

Derek and I started in darkness (7am) having ridden 8 miles from our hotel in absolutely freezing conditions much for balmy Tuscan autumns! Already we were two hours behind the early starters but still there were hundreds (thousands even maybe) queued up at the signing on desks behind us. But not for long as we were soon passed by numerous chaingangs itching to get to that first patch of gravel.

The first section was fairly loose but by now fortunately the sun had come up and we could pick our way through using the harder packed centre of the road where possible .... and then it started descending and all those forgotten off road skills came to the fore ...or at least we managed to stay upright.

The course took us down to the outskirts of Siena and after many more farm tracks of gravel we eventually came to the first checkpoint and a chance to eat and drink something warming at last ... we avoided the chianti but many didn’t seem bothered that it was still only half past nine in the morning! It was still cold but bright and sunny and there was now time to savour those classic Tuscan landscapes of rolling hills, terracotta villas and sentinel cypress trees. And still the gravel sections came and went and just after midday the southernmost point of our route was reached and we turned for home.

And then the hills really started .... Derek walked down some of them as they were very scary and we both struggled to keep our traction on the steep ascents; even using a bottom gear of 30 x 29!

But eventually we came back to familiar roads (‘familiar’ as we’d done a 50 mile ride on the Saturday which we came to regret!) and by late afternoon we were on our last stretch of gravel and the downhill into the town of Giaole-in Chianti and the much awaited finish.

Fortunately the new owner of Graham Baxter Sporting Tours took pity on us and gave us a lift back to our hotel ... after 85 hilly miles we just couldn’t face anymore but soon we were talking about what a great event it had been and how we might do it again some day!

Footnote : Although I had looked at the weekend package for the event on ‘Graham Baxter’s’ website we eventually organised the accommodation, car hire, race entry, flights etc. ourselves and managed to do it for £200 less than advertised. If you’re thinking of entering in 2009 please get in contact with me for more details.

Sean Kerrigan