The People of L'Eroica in Gaiole
March 15, 2016
I thought it was just about old bikes and handlebar mustaches. Boy was I wrong! I can’t really recall the first images I saw of L’Eroica. It looked like fun, but it also looked like a lot of work – restoring a historic racing bike and locating the appropriate wool jersey. Yeah, a lot of work to ride on a bike that was implicitly slower than the speed machines of today. Call me slow on the uptake if you like, but it was only in the past year, that I have come back around again to embrace the inherent qualities of steel. I started missing the elegant lines and immaculate paint job of my early 90’s Eddy Merckx. And when I saw a similar model on Ebay for 200 Euros, I didn’t hesitate. As a result, I no longer saw L’Eroica as an event lost in time, but rather, timeless. And when two friends, Dominique Rollin and Kevin Reza—both professional cyclists—spoke glowingly of their participation last year, I knew I had to make the journey! But while I was tempted to bring my bike and ride the L’Eroica, I also wanted to document the event, especially its participants. Arriving on Saturday, I immediately understood that I had made the right choice. Gaiole in Chianti—the host town—was filled with people from around the world sporting the colors of their favorite vintage team. There was a spirit of Woodstock in the air as this small village was suddenly transformed by a festive international event. Chianti—the world-renowned Italian wine—is a highly visible partner of the event, and its red wine flowed generously from the local bars as well as the special wine-tasting stands in place for the event. I thought back on old black and white images of the Tour de France that showed cyclists sitting under a tree or along a stream as they took a break from the race for a make-shift roadside picnic. Back in the day, sport and leisure were more deeply rooted. The sport was more pastoral, it seemed, and a bike race was simply a quick stop away from a dejeuner sur l’herbe. It was easy to see understand the motivations of the L’Eroica, and their effort to return to the essence of our sport. The mood dampened somewhat the next day as rain greeted riders at the start. But spirits remained visibly high as the thousands of participants braved the elements in full regalia. Many donned their heavy wool jerseys, while others broke out an outfit all their own. Shortly after the final participants set out, I installed my make-shift studio just after the finish line. And as the first participants started to trickle in, I would photograph those I could catch momentarily. The questions were always the same. When were you born? Where do you live? What do you do? Why L’Eroica? But the answers were as wide-ranging as the people responding. I met people from nearby Florence and the Far East. And I met people from plenty of places in between. I met engineers and doctors, students, mechanics and mothers. Each had their own motivation for riding L’Eroica. Some were serious about the ride, others were more excited about getting together with friends. Some had trained seriously, others not at all. But what I remember most were their quick smiles. Not one, it seemed, was having a bad day. Just about everyone I spoke with hoped to return, and so do I. Only next year, I hope to bring my bike!