Since 1997 the Eroica has challenged hundreds of cyclists along the roads of Chianti, near Siena. Running across Val d’Arbia, Montalcino and Val d’Orcia, participants bring back to life the times when people were propelled not by engines, but rage, or love (“una storia d’altri tempi, / di prima del motore, /quando si correva / per rabbia o per amore”, in the words of singer Francesco De Gregori, whose delightful “Il bandito e il campione” mixes cycling legend and criminal facts that happened in Italy almost a century ago. As the song goes: “fra rabbia ed amore / il distacco già cresce / e chi sarà il campione /già si capisce…” (“the distance is already growing / between rage and love / and who the winner will be / is already clear…”).
Those taking part in the event – which climbed from eighty or so in the first edition to over five thousand in 2012 – know very well that the true winner in this heroic and evocative race is love for the beautiful territory surrounding the itinerary, and for a wonderful sport. The overt goal of the initiative, indeed, is the safeguard of Tuscany’s ‘Strade Bianche’ (“white roads”: country roads that have not been asphalted).
The competition starts early in the morning and branches out into four different routes, ranging in length from 38 to 205 kilometers. Only “heroic” bicycles are allowed: they must have been manufactured before 1987 and have a steel frame; gear shifters must be downtube-mounted levers; pedals can only feature traditional toe clips; brake cables must arc over the handlebars.
Each of these rules conveys heroism, love and poetry, so that – in writer Alfredo Oriani’s words – those pedaling may fly “like a bird: that is the dream; riding a bike: that is the pleasure. You become young again, you become a poet”.