A Radda Reccy
Even after just a short history, the Strade Bianchi- Eroica Pro race (ex Monte Paschi Eroica) is now considered one of the early season classics or monuments raced by many of the same names as Amstel Gold, LBL and of course Paris-Roubaix. Le sterrate or ‘strade bianchi’ are Italys version of the cobbled classics. A closely battled race on some severe gradients, not to mention the varying degrees of coarse surfaces from Gaiole-in-Chianti, 176Km to the iconic Piazza del Campo finish, Siena. You don’t have to imagine the chaos caused by a few April showers and the need for 27mm tyres! Luckily, the clever Italians decided to schedule the public L’Eroica on the other shoulder month of summer in early October for better conditions although heavy period woollen jerseys may get a bit hot. The pro-race route changes every year, but L’Eroica (209km, 3,521m) has set permanent roads around Chianti, Val d’Orcia, Crete Senesi and south of Siena clearly sign-posted for both paved and un-paved sections, although gps navigation is slightly easier if you have a device. For any level of cycle-tourist coming to Tuscany, missing the opportunity to ride some of these iconic roads would be akin to blasphemy in Italy. Radda, just an hour by car, half way between Siena and Florence is an excellent base in Chianti to explore the network of these quiet roads even in high season there is little traffic. The area isn’t inundated with cyclists, possibly because the terrain is pretty hilly with long ascents of moderate gradients, making it more appealing to cyclists who want a different challenge than the Dolomites and Italian Alps with flatter bits, and appreciate the magnificence of the region and wine!
A Happy place
Even with temperatures in the mid-thirties, the Chianti Hills tend to have a good breeze running through them, and at 700m it can be very refreshing even in the early afternoon. Although be sure to take double bottles and have a plan for water/ refuelling stops as places can be unexpectedly closed and some roads can feel particularly long in the heat. Any route over 100km starts to add up to over 2000m of serious climbing so packing your climbing legs is a must. A favourite climb of mine is a gentle 5km (averaging 4-5%, max 9%) up to Castagnoli from Meleto, which is rewarded by a blustery descent with spectacular views looking south. There is considerable variation in routes to make up an entire week’s worth a cycling here and still have unfinished business. South East of Radda, L’Eroica route takes you from Gaiole-in-Chianti towards Siena on the ridge road via the Castello di Brolio and San Felice (literally translating to St. Happy), before approaching on the gravelly stuff and the quintessential cipressi lined views of the medieval city. Longer sections of white roads come in to play further south to Montalcino and Buonconvento on the long route. After looping back up to Castelnuovo Breradenga another tough section takes you past Vagliagli to Radda, although by this time you are a master of teh gravelly stuff. The final stretch and descent to Vertine is analogous to the lap of the Roubaix velodrome, a chance to soak up the reason you came, and to celebrate on the finish line at the square in Gaiole-in-Chianti.
Lunch in Gaiole-in-Chianti
On L’Eroica day the square is awash with magliette d’Epoca sporting famous brands such as Olmo, Bianchi and Molteni while cables are bent in a similar shape to the amusing baffi (moustaches). Of course if you ride in to Gaiole grab a coffee at the far end of the square on the left and be sure to pay Manuele a visit at White Roads, La Bottega just opposite, the official supplier of L’Eroica clothing and all good things (Bicissimo customers are offered a 10% discount). Even if you are yet to do L’Eroica, Manuele can steer you in the direction of a worthwhile momento of your strade bianchi reccy in Toscana. He also organises a traditional Tuscan pranzo for large groups on site, think Tuscan salumi cold cuts and black olive tapenade, a perfetto finish to a gravelly day in the saddle, plus you will be spoilt for choice of wine from the cantine on your route. Luckily Radda isn’t too far to meander back but be sure to return for L’Eroica though!