On October 5th I will undertake the greatest challenge of my cycling career, when I travel to Italy for the 18th edition of L'Eroica.
I am woefully unprepared--not only because I am perennially unfit, but also because all I really know about this event is the following:
--"L'Eroica" is Italian for "The Eroica;"
--The event website calls it "A Poem Written With A Bicycle," which is a problem, since even at my best I can barely manage to ride limericks;
--You must ride a bicycle built before 1987, at which time I was merely a kid who didn't know a Colnago from a colonoscopy.
Nevertheless, I've resolved to cram in as much preparation as possible before I slip on my Woolen Jersey of Shame and lash my feet to the pedals of my steel bicycle with those primitive toe clips. But how? I live in New York City, where it's not exactly easy to replicate the fabled Strade Bianche
So I was contemplating my predicament last week as I perused the day's cultural offerings in our newspaper of record
Where, between an interview with an aspiring gubernatorial candidate and an evening of "silent disco dancing," I saw those three magic words:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption=""Cannoli. Eating. Contest.""]
"That's it!," I exclaimed, flushing the toilet for emphasis. "I'll go to the cannoli-eating contest!"
Now, I realize the Brooks
website has a sophisticated readership, and that someone in a tweed blazer is bound to point out that the cannoli is a Sicilian pastry having little to do with Tuscany. This same fop will also doubtless turn up his nose at the idea of equating writing "A Poem Written With A Bicycle" with "Watching People Stuff Pastries Into Their Faces." Nevertheless, I decided to ride downtown to Little Italy that very afternoon, figuring that a brisk ride and immersion into ersatz Italian culture could be just the boon my training program needed.
Naturally I wanted to be in compliance with L'Eroica's exacting equipment rules, but the closest thing I had was this:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="Grow up, it's pronounced "Fah-JEEN.""]
I wasn't sure whether this frame made the pre-1987 cutoff. Furthermore, even if it did there was no way I'd be able to source all the period-correct components by that afternoon. Therefore, I decided I'd at least try to follow the spirit of the rules by riding the closest thing to a "vintage" bike I have, which is this:
It's made of steel, it's got low-profile 32-hole rims, and it's got bar-end shifters. There's not a scrap of crabon fribé
anywhere on the thing and alone should be retrogrouchy enough for you. Plus, it's got this saddle,
which was assembled for me personally at the Brooks factory by Eric "The Chamferer" Murray:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Silly Brits! Everybody knows there's only one "l" in "traveler.""]
I also fitted my integrated taillight/video camera so I could document my journey:
The next hurdle was my wardrobe, which needed to be suitably "retro" yet modest enough for a cannoli-eating contest. (It's indecorous to attend a competitive eating event in cycling shorts.) So I settled on a pair of cutoffs and a wool jersey
emblazoned with the word "Galibier," and instead of wrapping a tubular tire around my chest I'm wearing a hydration pack with the bladder removed. Here I am switching on the taillight cam:
And before you open your mouth to remind me that the Col du Galibier is in France, please feel free to stick a cannoli in it.
Sure, I may have been in voilation of not only L'Eroica's rules but also pretty much every standard of cycling fashion and good taste, but at least my shoes were both Italian and
retro-styled--though in retrospect the black socks were a bit of a mistake (albeit one of many):
All I was missing was a pair of sock garters.
Finally, I threw a leg over my World Travel(l)er,
and off I went:
There are no "white roads" between my home and Little Italy in downtown Manhattan, but there is the Great White Way--or "Broadway" as we know it up here--which by the time it reaches my neighborhood has left the theater district far behind and runs underneath the elevated subway tracks. These conditions offer cyclists an opportunity to hone their urban bike-handling skills, as you must thread your way through buses, support beams, and drivers lurching heedlessly into traffic:
From there, I cut over to this lush greenway in Upper Manhattan which runs along the Harlem River. This afforded me an opportunity to unwind and settle into a rhythm:
You don't often see tourists this far uptown, which is what I assume this couple were, since they were riding rental bikes:
Pausing only briefly to rob them, I continued on underneath the High Bridge that spans the Harlem River between Manhattan and the Bronx:
High Bridge was completed in 1848, and it once carried water to New York City from upstate, which was a big deal because the city was rife with cholera and yellow fever. The pointy thing on the left is an old water tower:
Here's how this exact spot looked before the turn of the (last) century when it was a horse-racing track called the Harlem River Speedway:
Back then this part of Manhattan was still bucolic and very much the country, and while those days are long gone you'll still find plenty of anglers:
As I passed I noticed a pair of sea robins flopping and gasping desperately in the sun:
I suspect this portends how I'll feel during L'Eroica.
Soon after, I returned to the city streets, where at each intersection I sized up opponents who had no idea they were my opponents:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Not sure I've ever seen anyone wait at a red light broadside before."]
Which is the only reason I was able to dispatch them:
Next I entered Central Park, where I immediately began ascending the 110th Street Hill, which at over one hundred (100) feet was the ride's "Cima Coppi:"
As I crested the summit I felt pretty good about my climbing skills, especially because I was able to drop the tourists on the rental tandem--though a short while later I was passed by a "Fred:"
L'Eroica rules strictly prohibit competing with cyclists who are using modern equipment. Otherwise, I totally would have dropped him like a debutante dropping her hanky.
Leaving the park, I next passed the World's Most British Bicycle:
is among the fastest-folding and easily-portaged bicycles in the world, which is why it's extremely puzzling to me that you often see them locked up outside.
Here is a representative cross-section of the traffic in this part of town, and the cooperation you'll find among drivers here is remarkable:
From left to right, the way it works is that the slow-moving pedicab (they charge by the minute) forces you out into traffic, the luxury car service sideswipes you, and then the Access-A-Ride paratransit vehicle finishes you off.
Next, I successfully ran the Central Park South SUV Limousine Gauntlet:
Then I rounded the corner and passed by the Apple Store:
I'm not sure if the people in front of the store were protesting or simply camped out for the latest iPhone, and I'm also not sure if it even matters.
Around 42nd Street I became engaged in a standoff with the mysterious Masked Rider of Midtown:
And from there I surfed a yellow wave of taxis down 5th Avenue:
Dodged a particularly feisty specimen of North American Stripey-Socked Bike Salmon:
And finally washed up on the green shores of a bike lane:
Where I joined an elite escape group consisting of a food delivery rider, the maillot jaune
, and myself:
By the way, in addition to regular bike salmon, I also encountered the usual array of Scooter Salmon:
A mutation of the common bike salmon known as the Bike Share Salmon:
And of course plenty of Skateboard Salmon:
I also observed that rarest of species, the Brakeless Freewheel Track Bike Rider:
Yes, his bike did indeed have a freewheel and no brakes, and if you're going to ride around town on a bicycle that requires you to stop Fred Flintstone-style, sandals seem like an odd choice of footwear:
Maybe he's got a more robust change of shoes in his backpack along with the kitchen sink.
Finally, I reached Little Italy, where no Italian has lived since Martin Scorsese wrapped production of "Mean Streets" in 1973:
I knew the cannoli-eating contest was going to be a big deal, because the channel 11 news van was on the scene:
You know an event is important when the local news takes a break from reporting on the evils of cyclists and bike lanes.
Sure enough, upon arriving at the much-anticipated contest I found a capacity crowd:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Can you believe this many people have time on a weekday to watch a bunch of gluttons scarf cannoli?"]
Complete with sketch artists:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Sketching cannoli-eating contests was how Leonardo da Vinci got started."]
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="He doesn't want an eater's autograph. He wants an autograph from an actual cannoli."]
And a nonplussed emcee in a folksy straw hat with an uncanny resemblance to actor Jeff Daniels:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption=""It shoulda been me in 'The Newsroom.'""]
Incredibly, the Brooks and I managed get a spot right next to the stage:
And moments later the cannoli arrived like so many artery-clogging angels:
It has been said that the most digusting six minutes of your life is an evening in bed with Mario Cipollini, but those people have never been to a professional cannoli-eating contest:
Tactics varied widely among the competitors. For example, the guy in the headphones brought an entire box of Starbucks coffee
to wash down his cannoli.
You know you're watching human behavior at its most vital when National Geographic is on the scene:
Meanwhile, as these brave gastrointestinal gladiators gorged themselves, the paparazzi popped:
The sketchers sketched:
And future competitive eaters looked on in awe:
That kid's got the making of a champion, which is why I signed him to a management contract right there on the spot.
It's amazing what parents will do for twenty bucks.
As the cannoli consumption continued, the eaters increasingly emitted globs of spit and filling as they ate, and I began to seriously fear that the Brooks and I would soon be sprayed with cream and saliva--or, worse yet, vomit. However, clearly I was dealing with professionals, because everything stayed down, the clock stopped, and a man I took to be the official began his count:
Though by the looks of his beard, he was also a competitor. These things can be hard to tell, because at a cannoli-eating contest the roles are as blurry as the floor is repulsive:
And here is your winner, holding aloft his Luciano Pavarotti boxed set:
He ate 34 cannoli in six minutes. That's [I can't be bothered to do the math] seconds per cannoli! Furthermore, it's at least 30 more cannoli than you should eat in a single 12-month period.
I should add that the event was sponsored by Ferrara Bakery, though in my opinion this sponsorship backfired, because after watching this revolting display I'm pretty sure I'll ever eat cannoli again:
[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Ugh. No thanks."]
Fortunately, it's extremely unlikely I'll encounter any in Tuscany.
Find more from the Bike Snob NYC over on his blog: http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.co.uk