If you ever want to do something weird, wonderful, eccentric and go cycling at the same time, do the L’Eroica Britannia. I had heard about the Italian one before and it was on my to do list. When I came across the British one, I jumped at it but was not aware that the 2014 one was the first one ever in England. I learned from a hopefully well informed source that it was two years in the making. Some locals, Italian in origin, had taken part in the Italian one and negotiated an English counterpart with the original. It is not only a cycling event it is a festival as well. Plan A was that we would arrive on Friday, but work and teenagers did not allow a start until Saturday morning. After some sight seeing, Dan, William, Leon and I arrived at the festival site in Bakewell about 7pm. With the registration came camping. We belonged to the last ones to arrive and got a quiet spot far away from the festival stages, humming generators and stinking toilets. The place was teeming with cyclist. The children got me a little bit nervous since almost everyone we saw had a light vintage racer and was dressed in merino cycling jerseys. The boys declared that I did not read the instructions properly. I suddenly got second thoughts whether my 20kg 1950s Pashley Princess was the right choice. After all, my race preparation was only the purchase of a wicker basket and my firm belief that anything but a flat tyre could not be mended unless a whole tool box was at hand. The tyres looked fine and I did not want to get worried by looking at anything else. The festival was simply fun. It included a bicycle flea market, vintage clothing, non-lycra cycling outfits, lots of food and live music. The registration was different to anything I have ever seen. Instead of camping tables with card board boxes, it was more like a top end bar.
The goody bag was rather unusual: red nail varnish, no cyclist should be without it; soap, deodorant, shower gel, they thought about the aftermath; bicycle floss, I have still not decided what exactly for; a hefty publication about cycling and gin and tonic. I was really tempted to replace the electrolytes with this little gift.
The night was quiet, perhaps not surprisingly because everyone had to ride the next day. Dan and I woke up quite early, the children stayed unconscious until Dan and I left for the start. The race started in Bakewell town centre. All riders had a choice between 100 miles, 55 and 30 miles. The 100 mile lot started between 6 am and 7:30 am , the 55 riders between 7 am and 9:30 and then us, the 30 mile ones from 9 am until 10:30. Perhaps the 30 mile lot was the most colourful and eccentric one. My outfit proved a hit. Dozens of photos were taken, by private people, by official press photographers and I was even filmed. The start was charming. We had to cross the Union Jack. It started with a climb. You know the Pashley Princess has three gears. The difference is homoeopathic ( I think it could be a placebo effect). With the Princess I cannot cycle slowly uphill. It is either going at a robust pace or pushing. On the first few metres I overtook already loads of people since I could not cycle as slowly as they did. The next bit was the Monsal trail, a disused train line, flat with gravel surface. My GPS, hidden in my wicker basket, told me that I could do comfortably 18 to 20 km/h, so why not. Again I overtook quite a few men on their skinny racers. It felt like in ‘Jour de fete’ with Jacques Tati (that is a great cycling film). From then onwards the route was undulating. I could ride almost everything until the first food stop. I was accused of being too reckless downhill. I think I was not: a) I did not trust the breaks and was prepared to lose them and b) the bike has no suspension and I did not want to lose my tools or telephone or GPS. At the first of the two delicious food stops an old lady came to me all excited and told me that she had the same bike in the fifties. I got to talk to some German riders who came over from Fuerth and was told by another rider that he had enough of only seeing my back in the distance. Cycling through the little villages was lovely. They were decorated and people were sitting in their front gardens watching the riders go by and cheering. Twice they started singing the theme tune from ‘Call the midwife’ when I cycled by. The next food stop was cake haven.
After that, Monsal head was the last challenge. I got up quite a bit, but was not so sure whether the chain would take it. When I saw blokes walking with their racers I felt relaxed. From then it was downhill to the finish.
I got a little bit lost on the last few metres. The signage was very discrete and missing near to the finish. I enjoyed a traffic jam in Bakewell, got off course and found my way back to the finishing line via GPS. I must have been the first lady back. The steward at the end, Italian by the way, was over the moon and told me that he had to kiss me because I was so beautiful. Nice finish.
Then my official picture was taken. I collected my free food, and most important, my free beer. One by one the group I started in, and more, arrived at the bar. I was asked what I was fed and whether I was made out of steel. Loads of women came to me, asked me whether they could take a picture and told me that I was their hero.
Daniel and the children arrived only two hours later at the festival. They went for a walk and finished with a run since they did not expect me back so early. By then I had tidied my bike away, but still people came up to me and told me how impressive my performance was. It seems that all the boot camp training in Bigfoot is good for me 😉
I am looking forward to the next L’Eroica.