L'Eroica Britannia 2014

L'Eroica Britannia 2014 gravel race

By Nick

L'Eroica Britannia 2014, a vintage cycling adventure through the English countryside.

There is no doubt that the L'Eroica Britania was and is a resounding success, everyone I spoke to loved the event, loved the route and would love to come back. Thats hard to achieve for a big event with the diversity of riders they attracted. I didn't even own a road bike before wanting to sign up. Registration was smooth, park here, camp there and enjoy. Within just a few minutes my tent was up and I was supping a Thornbridge ale in the sunshine surrounded by vintage bikes.

As afternoon became evening and with the sun slowly setting there was distant expectation for what was to come tomorrow. It already been a great event to attend and we hadn't even got on our bikes. I woke early, in fact so early I went for a shower and crawled back into my sleeping bag to doze off again. When I couldn't wait any longer I cooked some breakfast, made some coffee and put on my racing attire for the day.The start was at Water Street in Bakewell where the Master of Ceremonies set us on our way feeling proud, both to be British and be part of this event.

At the first incline not even a mile down the course I knew I was in for tough day, even this gentle incline up and over to Hassop station showed me that my lowest gear was not going to be a friend today. The tough day really started at Blackwell Dale a 7 mile climb out from Millers Dale. I pedaled as long as I could making sure that I didn't break before the first rider on a normal bike. Small victory, but it made me push that little bit harder on every climb.

Eventually we hit Highstone Lane the first in a series of White Roads and I soon discovered that on the flatter off road sections I could make up lost ground as barrelled past on my fatter tyres, I apologise if I caught a few people out. But I had take the speed when I had it.

As we approached Hartington along the understated but stunning Longdale, everyone was looking forward to the feed station. I was a little shocked how many riders there were. Up to that point you're just aware of your little pocket around you, but there must of been 200-300 riders with Hartington pretty much overrun.

The road out from Hartington past the YHA is steep so I made sure I made the junction with a little pace, hit the pedals and just hoped that someone got off their bike before me. I'm sure someone did but I was always expecting to walk this bit. The GPX of the route shows the long way round but I was pleased that we followed Highfield Lane, especially as 10 meters along the track there was an almighty bang with a tyre blowing like a Vespa back firing. I didn't wish ill of my fellow riders but I was paying for the bike I chose with every pedal stroke, so it was time that other riders paid for theirs.

They didnt skimp on the hills, this next section could of been flat if they wanted, you could pick up the Midshires way and be in Cromford in no time, but no chance. Down to Tissington through the ford up and over to Knockerdown and then on to Hopton to climb up to the top of the Middleton incline. I found it quite tough, mainly as I wasn't really expecting them to fit in so may hills.We all know that what goes up must come down. Most of the comments on my bike where that I should worry about the brakes, which was the shame as going down was going to be much more fun than going up. But to be honest the brakes where fine, along as you just didnt use them until the end. So if you could ride out the section, slow with the back brake and then come to a stop easing the front, they worked fine.

The ride past Black Rocks and down to the canal was brilliant fun, even more so for seeing riders dismount early on, my trusty all speed didn't miss a beat. I knew if got to the Cromford Canal then everything was all good, and although the drag up past John Smedleys and on to Totley moor was really hot and I was starting to overheat badly. I was determine to keep on my long sleeve merino jumper, hat and googles. At this point I started hallucinating as even the 70s Lyrca started looking cool.

I got loads of support throughout the day. "Good Effort Mate" "Keeping going mate" "How old?..... I meant the bike" they kept on coming throughout the day and they really helped me push on, I'd be letting the bike down if i didn't get it round. The drop down from Beeley Moor on the Chatsworth Easte is one I know fairly well and as long as I hugged the overgrown verge I'd be fine. It was a great decent and I didn't touch the brakes until I saw the Beeley sign, these were my few chances to pass a few riders. The short cut through the estate was really welcome, not because of the beautiful estate, but if we were forced up the public route I would of had to push where all the tourist were and the shame would have been to much to bare.

A Pimms stop outside the dukes back door was brilliant, but it was just a bit too comfortable. Deckchairs, free Pimms, finger food and a world class view. I had to move on. The final climb up Handley Lane was steep, bordering on cruel and in the end most pushed, respect to those that didn't. I didnt hesitate at the top, I was very very hot and needed a drink.

A quick decent with the full trust of my bike I passed a few more tentative riders. As always when you didn't think you had any energy I was speeding into the finish. "Nick Smith everyone a big hand for Nick Smith from Belper." errupted from the tannoy and everyone clapped and cheered.With a massive smile I collected my beer and food tokens and had my photo taken by Instagram.

The ride was amazing, tough climbs, UK strade bianchi and some challenging decents made a route that I can say I was truly proud of. Seeing all the photos of the original event in Tuscany, how could we compete? Well I can honestly say the route they chose was amazing. I'll be back next year but can't decide what to do about the bike. It was great to take a 60 year old bike and do practically nothing to it. Ifelt the event needs bikes like these, they are the real heroes. I can't imagine walking into a bike shop today with £600 quid and expecting the bike to last 60 years, which is a great testament to Great British engineering. Rule Britannia, Rule L'Erocia.

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