I arrived at Eroica Brittania last year thinking I knew what to expect, I had seen pictures, heard stories and read articles, I’d even raced the pro version, yet still even that didn’t prepare me for the real thing. A note of warning, all images are from 2017, so proving I did fulfil the promise I made myself on leaving Eroica Britannia that first time.
It wasn’t the most beautiful weather, in other words it could be classified as a typical English summer day; a light drizzle, generally grey, a bit chilly. Not the stuff dreams are normally made of to be perfectly honest, and yet that is what it felt like arriving and walking through the entrance to what it became quickly apparent was more than a cycling event.
It was otherworldly, like the Goodwood Revival had collided with a bygone village fete. The atmosphere was open and welcoming, and although bicycles were the theme they never felt like they were dominating proceedings. All ages were there and all seemed to be having an equal amount of fun doing different things.
I spent most of my time in the Maserati café. It was only thanks to them I was there in the first place, me an ambassador of theirs, they a sponsor of Eroica Britannia. In truth I don’t think there are many car manufacturers that could have fitted in there, it probably helped that Maserati is older than the Giro d’Italia, it felt right to see Maserati and Eroica together, just as everything seemed to feel fitting; the overall production of the festival was splendid. I decided there and then I would come back the next year with my family, and that was before I’d even done the ride.
Having been a professional bicycle racer for 18years I no longer feel the need to “…rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of the conquest.” This is what the creator of the original Eroica, Giancarlo Brocci, wanted people to share with him, and I 100% concur, only for me I prefer to go for the middle distance rather than the long these days. I left Maserati boss, Peter Denton, to the Long Distance ride, sadly leaving him to revel in the fatigue and conquest on his own.
Except there was no sadness, I soon realized that my concerns about leaving Peter on his own were wasted, everybody was out having fun. I was dressed up in my retro kit on a borrowed vintage bike wearing a beret instead of a helmet - and nobody laughed at me. In fact, nobody laughed at anybody, which isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot of laughter.
I looked like one of the more sensibly dressed and equipped, there were all sorts, first world war soldiers, 1920’s flappers, pre-war Tour de France racers on single speed bikes and moustache handlebars, and those were the “normal” ones. Speed didn’t matter, it was a case of setting off and finding your way to the finish in whatever time it took to make it there, the organisation was impeccable and safety unquestionable. A feat in its own right considering the spread of abilities out on the course at one time.
As for the course, well, if you’ve never ridden your road bike on gravel then you’ve never lived; it’s more fun. Although maybe I’m biased having come from a BMX and MTB background, it reminds me of those younger years when off-road meant more-fun.
I don’t think it’s just me though, everybody seems to have more fun when the Eroica Britannia does what it’s supposed to do and takes us off the road down paths and trails we never knew existed. It feels like an expedition rather than a sportif, we stop at feeding stations that supply proper food rather than energy bars and gels, you can stop at a pub and have a beer and make friends, to be honest you can stop wherever you like, the nice thing is that somebody will always stop with you. That’s the Eroica Britannia.
The best thing of all is you finish where you started, in The Festival. Difference being you’re a little bit dirtier, a lot more tired, and dressed from another time. The consolation is that everybody is feeling just like you - and looking even weirder.
2017 will be my second time at Eroica Britannia, and this time I’m coming en famille from Girona - Nicole my wife, our three children, the oldest of whom is five, and we’re going to camp. Albeit we’ll be glamping, after all, I’m not that mad.
Needless to say, we took it very seriously...