L’Eroica California: Gaiole comes to Paso Robles
by Ron Miriello
In the heart of Tuscany, in the small town of Gaiole in Chianti, lives a man named Giancarlo Brocci. In 1997, Giancarlo started a small cycling event inspired by the cycling traditions of old Italy. His event took place on the hard-packed dirt roads of Tuscany, on simple mechanical bicycles, the type of riding associated more with the names of gloried classic riders like Coppi, Bartali and Gimondi than with Armstrong, Wiggins and Contador. He called his event L’Eroica and within a few years time, thousands were coming to Gaiole in Chianti for the October tour through the back roads and vineyards, on their steel-framed bikes and woolen jerseys. Giancarlo has struck a vein in the cycling community, offering a look back to the simple values of the sport. Says Brocci, “L’Eroica is a return to the deep roots of cycling, rediscovering the beauty in fatigue, getting back to real needs, like hunger and thirst, which must be satisfied, or being physically tired, as opposed to being stressed.”
L’Eroica California was the first such event in North America (England, Spain and Japan have been added). As an American cyclist of the 1970’s, I was compelled to drive to Paso Robles, CA and in April 2015, to participate in the 62-mile inaugural event. As much as an homage to cycling, the event was an homage also to Italy and all things Italian. Paso Robles has a large Italian community of farmers and winegrowers and if you squint your eyes, the dirt roads of Paso seem just a few kilometers beyond the town of Gaioli in Chianti.
After a winery rest stop at mile 51, I began the last leg back into Paso Robles with a group of crisp riders, all on fine Italian equipment – Guerciotti, Gios Torino, Cinelli, and even my Moser. We kept a good pace through the flats of the central coast California countryside, chattering about our bikes and our past. I had found my way into a pod of ex-pro riders, gentlemen who had actually ridden in the Giro d’Italia, the US Pro Championships, and the Olympics. For a few minutes, I was flying through the back roads of California in a peloton of my dreams. My vision of one day riding side by side with the pros, through winding country roads, was happening, only 45 years later. When the climbing started at the first hill, the dream slowly faded out of view and into the distance. But we did ride together and share wine at dinner that evening, as old friends. Giancarlo’s L’Eroica had officially arrived in California and brought with it the simple origins of the sport.