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June 23, 2015 No comments

Eroica Britannia – A Party On Two Wheels

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By Juliet Elliott
Eroica Britannia – A Party On Two Wheels
Being a member of Mid Devon CC - organisers of the legendary Dartmoor Classic sportive - and an ultra keen cyclist, you might wonder why I chose the weekend of the aforementioned race to do a runner from the beautiful county I call home. It’s pretty simple really – I’m just not 100% sold on sportives. As someone who enjoys exploring and doing my own thing, I’m never quite sure that I want to pay money to ride public roads I can ride any time of the year, simply so I can do it at the same time as lots of other people. And I’m not just talking about the Dartmoor Classic because it’s close to home, I feel that way about sportives wherever they are so it takes something a little different to sway my opinion. Eroica has that something different in spades, so I travelled to the Peak District at the weekend to get thoroughly stuck into this sportive with a twist, riding roads, gravel and purpose built cycle paths with thousands of cyclists from all over the world. So just what is it about Eroica that does it for me? Originally run solely in Tuscany, Eroica is a bike ride that (supposedly) celebrates the golden age of cycling, when Merckx and Moser were heroes and riders took wine and baguettes in their jersey pockets rather than EPO in their veins. To recreate those halcyon days, participants ride decrepit old steel framed bicycles without any fancy gear shifters, don woolen jerseys and ride along the gravel roads or strada bianche that used to be a part of the Giro D’Italia. Whilst the Italian Eroica is quite a purist affair crammed with cycle nerds comparing their ‘new old stock’ groupsets, the English version is a little more vintage party ‘dress-up’ and filled with people comparing their moustaches. For some reason, it also seems to be mainly populated by people celebrating the end of the Second World War rather than the Giro, but so what, because Eroica Britannia is all about fun - quite simply a party on two wheels! My husband Dave and I didn’t have much to dress up in because we don’t actually have anywhere to live at the moment and all our clothes are in storage, but luckily Brooks came to the rescue and gave us some jerseys. Bikmo Plus sorted out our tickets and Glory Days Bikes lent us an impeccable pair of  Mercians, so thanks to the generosity of others we were excitedly dancing about as we queued up in Bakewell to begin the 55 mile ride. Ok, only I was dancing – it’s a rarity to get Dave dancing in public but believe you me, he does it all the time at home. Off on our way, we pedaled straight up a hill to the Monsal Trail, where we left the road for the first of many times to cruise along an impeccably kept cycle path. There were whole families dressed up and pedaling along together, with kids in sparkly dresses riding old mountain bikes and babies in trailers smiling and wailing. The event was really all-embracing, far more so than the Italian version where they quite rigorously check you’re riding an age appropriate bicycle (pre ’87), so whilst I absolutely love the slightly more traditionalist vibe over there I found the full on heart-warming fun and inclusiveness of the UK version really special. At Hartington we stopped for cakes and sandwiches, gathering around the duck pond with a sneaky half of local ale and from there it was straight into a long climb that made me regret eating quite so much cake and cheese, but hey, I can never resist either. The route then meandered its way through limestone country with far reaching views framed by threateningly dark skies, but in the end we were only bothered by the most meager of rain showers and made it all the way to Chatsworth House for Prosecco without even getting wet. Disappointingly, our arrival at Chatsworth  meant we were only 5 miles from finishing the ride and thus we were  somewhat confused at how on earth the route was over so quickly. A glance at my phone revealed that it was actually already 4 o’clock so we’d been riding (and eating) all day. It was all over way too quickly and when we rolled back into the festival grounds I wished we ‘d taken a little longer to complete the ride, but as it often the case, being a grown-up got in the way and we had to whisk Dave back to the train station as he needed to return to Devon for work in the morning. So has Eroica changed my mind about Sportives? Well yes, and no. I’m not saying I need to play ‘dress-up’ in order to enjoy one, but it doesn’t hurt. Dave and I have got some amazing outfits planned for next year, so roll on Eroica Britannia 2016! By Juliet Elliott Photos: Juliet Elliott and Dave Noakes