The beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest
   Edition 2024

The headlights cut through the darkness like a blade at half past three in the morning.

The start of the longest route of L'Eroica is at least an hour away and, as always, on the road from Castelnuovo Berardenga to Gaiole in Chianti along a thousand, exhausting hairpin bends, the question is always the same: "Why do I do it?”.

There is no rational answer. Because it is not possible to explain to someone who has never been there, and understandably has no intention of going, at least not to cycle 209 km of terrible roads on a bicycle that is a chunk of old iron! How can you explain exactly what has been driving thousands of people to follow the irresistible call that Giancarlo Brocci launched to the world on two wheels 26 years ago? 

What brings about twenty friends back year after year to the same farmhouse, 25 km from Gaiole, paying top dollar on the night before L'Eroica is truly surprising. However, the constantly growing number of participants and the ever-increasing resonance of the most famous historic cycling event in the world are facts that incontrovertibly demonstrate that a reason, however mysterious, must exist. For me and my friends, but I'm sure it is the same for the vast majority of participants, there is no doubt that the explanation lies in the encounter, or rather, encounters. Dinner in the farmhouse on the Friday evening before the event is our annual encounter.

During the year we see each other occasionally and only when work or family commitments permit. Average age over 50, we are all cyclists who occasionally go out in small groups around Milan. Over time, many have abandoned the most famous granfondo rides, not only because their physical shape is what it is, but above all because the fun has gone out of them. Participants in a competitive trance, convinced they are in the Giro d'Italia, are likely to cause an accident just to finish among the first hundred.

L’Eroica is something else, and thank God there are no signs that it will change. For those starting out, the first encounter is usually with those who have already done it and still have the images and flavours of the last edition in their eyes and mouths. We talk about ribollita (typical Tuscan vegetable soup), finocchiona (a type of salami) and wine, punctures, the length of the routes, precipitous dirt roads and Dantesque-style climbs, derailleurs and chains that pop out, the spectacle of Piazza del Campo in Siena, in more recent years, and the Crete Senesi. Then there is the encounter with the bike, with those who give you one or help you put the forty-year-old chain that you had in your basement back on. Of course, the bike must be looked after carefully and attentively if you want to cross the finish line in the saddle. For months we talk about spare parts, preferably original, about gear sets, clinchers that are better than tubulars, even if they are less vintage, wondering "What jersey are you wearing?" and “Which route will you choose?”.

Then there are the most obvious, but no less surprising, encounters during the "race" with cyclists who come from all over the world. Because we all know perfectly well that L'Eroica is not a competition, but deep down each of us at least wants to reach the top of the toughest climb before that man or woman (the women, who are strong riders, increase year after year) who has been riding alongside you or, worse still, has just passed you out. Impressions, jokes, encouragement, sometimes curses are exchanged if someone cuts out in front of you or falls in your path while you trudge up the slopes of the Sante Marie, where you encounter one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world and the air is impregnated with the smells of early autumn. At the refreshment stops, the sound that most strikes you is the echo of laughter, even among strangers who have come from who knows where. At least at the first refreshment stops, because after a while in the saddle, you return to the question you asked yourself in the car: "Why do I do it?".

To find yourself at the finish line with the same friends you set off with but who you lost sight of along the way – because everyone pedals at their own pace – with whom you analyse and dissect every moment of L'Eroica. That is why you do it. It is precisely then that nostalgia for what you have just finished takes hold of you, and you can't wait to do it all over again at the next edition.

Giuseppe Guastella // Correire della Sera 

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