Article Submitted by: Darren Firth
The inaugural L’Eroica Britannia is ‘done and dusted’ till next year; an apt phrase since it also applies to my limbs and beloved De Rosa, thanks to Derbyshire’s own version of ‘the Strade Bianchi’ - The organisers promised a tough ride and they definitely delivered.
As a precursor to my post, I’d like to point out three things: ➊ — I’ve never done the Italian L’Eroica, so I can’t compare. ➋ — I’d class myself as intermediate; not quite Strava Segment top 30, but not the person that everyone overtakes on the incline either! - I can hold my own, but there is definitely a lot of room for improvement. ➌ — This post focuses mainly on the riding aspect, but there is much more to L’Eroica Britannia than the routes.
I’m fortunate enough to live in the Midlands, so I was already aware of the Peak District and it’s breathtaking scenery. I was also aware that the word ‘Peak’ in its title is no accident (at least 7 of the climbs in 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs are in Derbyshire), so I put in a degree of training to save potential embarrassment on the day.
The event took the form of a three-day festival in Bakewell, which included a tour of the Peak District National Park on the Sunday, split into 30, 55 and 100 mile routes. As Tim Hubbard from the Eroica Britannia team explained, 'All routes are stunning and have their own charm and challenge. The 30 miler is going to be great fun. The 55 mile is tough and at least 6 hour ride, but an incredible experience. We are calling the long 100 miler, ‘The Man of Steel’, because you going to have to be!'
Having originally signed up for the 100 miler, we (my riding partner for the day, Dan Bull) were gradually put off the idea as further information was released in the approaching weeks; it was statements like this that eventually psyched us out of it - “The long route is a real challenge even for men and ladies of steel and you need to be prepared”. The 55 miler it was, I definitely wasn’t a man or woman of steel, and looking back now we're really glad we made the switch. If rumours going around the camp were correct, less than 90 of the originally 400+ that signed up for the 100 miler actually went through with it, so we were in good company at least.
At this point I imagine a lot of cyclists reading this (that didn’t participate) are thinking “55 Miles, what’s the big deal!”, and of course to a reasonably fit rider it's a comfortable distance; I’ve covered more miles in a ride myself, but it isn’t the distance that’s the issue here, it’s a combination of various factors. For one thing, you are on a heavy steel bike with components dating back to the 70’s; they may have been top of the range at the time, but things have dramatically progressed in 40 years. Hills, lots of them - In other words imagine all the hills you’d usually avoid on your weekend ride and put them all into one medium length route. Yay! The surface - The route is 30% off road; dirt roads, potholes, sleepers, fields, steep descents and gravelly cycle paths make for a less than smooth riding experience. The start time - You’re up at 6 am (or before) preparing for the day ahead, probably off the back of several beers (it is a festival after all) and a less than productive nights sleep in a tent - all of which definitely take their toll.
Don’t be fooled by the friendly atmosphere or ill fitting vintage attire, L’Eroica is no ‘walk in the park’ (bad choice of phrase), it’s a ride designed for cyclists and worthy of the title ‘Heroic’. All that said, It is of course doable and the degree of punishment is ultimately decided by your fitness level (Experienced and Club Riders have no fear).
To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, the atmosphere was great and it’s pretty obvious that it’s going to get bigger and better every year! Congrats to everyone involved in making this a reality, we’ll definitely be seeing you next year….if there’s room of course!
➊ — Travelling: A / By Car: If you are travelling from further afield, your best option is taking the M1 and exiting at Junction 29, following the A617 westbound and the A619 to Bakewell B / By Train: The nearest stations to Bakewell are at Matlock, Chesterfield or Buxton, each having regular, frequent bus services to the town.
➋ — Accommodation: A / All registered riders receive a free parking space and tent pitch. Shower facilities and toilets are available across the campsite and bringing your own food and drink is welcomed. B / If you fancy something a bit more comfortable, there are plenty of B&B's and Guest houses in Bakewell and the surrounding villages.
➌ — The Event: A / The rules on bike specifications are taken pretty seriously and you will not be allowed to start the event if you bike does not meet the rules. B / Phone reception on-site is intermittent at best, if you've arranged to meet people at the event, make sure you have a backup plan for keeping in touch.
C / There are no cash machines on-site, however you can find one located behind the Coop in Bakewell (within 1km). D / There are no power hook-ups on-site - If you need to charge your phone and don't own a portable battery charger, there are a couple of pubs in Bakewell with available wall sockets.
➍ — The Route(s): A / Remember to take note of the relevant start times for each route - There are no reminders or loud-hailer announcements, it's your responsibility to be up and ready to roll within the allotted time. B / There is limited mechanical support on the route, so make sure your bike is in good, rideable condition - Breaking down isn't fun, and no-one stops to help! There are mechanics on-site offering last minute servicing if you are in doubt. Also make sure you've got your s+@t! together for the ride just in case. C / Marshals are limited and signage isn't always clear, so be sure to take a copy of the turn-by-turn route guide that is given to you at registration.