The Eroica is a cycling event, but it’s also a festival with music and food and a celebration of all that is vintage. It is as much about aesthetics as it is about cycling. Beginning in Italy in 1997 as a nod to the cycling races of yore, there are now Eroica events held in Spain, Britain, Japan, and California. This year the Eroica will debut in Uruguay, and this was also the first Eroica event in the Netherlands. Perusing social media, I found this out just two days before the event took place this past weekend, so you can imagine my excitement in learning that Eroica was coming to Valkenburg, a historic city in the south of the Netherlands some 30 kilometers away.
This didn’t give me time to enter the event myself, as there are very specific regulations on what type of bicycle you can use and none of my current bikes fit the criteria: pre-1988, original components, downtube shifters, toe clips, etc. There are allowances for new, steel-frame bikes built in a classic road racing style, and my Soma Stanyan would probably fit the bill, but not in its current configuration. Nevertheless, being a spectator would be almost as much fun, so I got a campsite in Valkenburg and rode on down to the start the next morning.
There was a huge turnout across a spectrum of riders, many trying to strike the right balance between function and fashion. Wool jerseys, “hairnet” helmets, and crotched cycling gloves were most common, and plastic water bottles were in the minority. Luciano Berruti, an Eroica celebrity of sorts, represents the epitome of the retro-cyclist chic, some might say by virtue of the fact that at 73 years old, he is quite vintage himself.
Some of the modern builds blended in almost seamlessly, though this was largely due to careful selection of classic-looking components and accessories.
It was impossible to capture the entirety of the event—while some riders were departing the starting line others were showcasing their vintage bikes and accessories, and others were just arriving. The biggest group of riders were the “team” from Brooks of England, with their blue jerseys and of course, Brooks saddles. Jools Walker from Velo City Girl was amongst them on a classic celeste green Bianchi, as well as Henk Dekkers on an original red Brompton folding bike.
I checked out the starting queue for a while, grabbed a complimentary espresso, and decided I’d ride on up ahead to catch the riders as they began their 60, 100, or 160 kilometer journeys. The Valkenburg centrum with its bridges, gates, and numerous cafes provided a picturesque backdrop for a classic event such as this.
After several groups of cyclists passed, there was a window in which no one was riding, so I followed the course myself, trying to eye the next good vantage point. Eventually, I came to what looked like the entrance to a tunnel, so I stopped outside and waited for more riders to show up.
Again, when things slowed down I decided to ride further on and maybe catch some riders as they came out the other side of the tunnel. What I hadn’t realized was that this wasn’t just a normal tunnel, but rather a tunnel access to the labyrinthine Valkenburg caves, through which the course was routed. I’d have to say that riding through those caves was probably the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike- they were that cool (no pun intended).
Coming out of the caves, however, puts you onto one of the most difficult climbs of the Eroica Limburg. I rode a little more than halfway up before deciding that my Dahon, fully loaded with bags and panniers, was not suited for this type of riding. So instead, I grabbed some snapshots as riders made their way up the hill, some dismounting, others pushing through, but no one turning around (except of course, me, but I was not an official participant).
I rode back to Dersaborg Park, where the festival was taking place and the finish was located, to pass the time and peruse the stocks of old bicycle components. I hadn’t the desire to do a classic Eroica build before, but I certainly did while looking at all the classic bikes there. If there was a part you needed for a build, there was a good chance you’d find it there.
Finally, the cyclists began to trickle through the finish line, and they were greeted with applause. We enjoyed watching the classic steel, and in a few cases aluminum, paraded by as the riders made their procession through the photographers and other interested parties. Many headed straight for the Brand Bier tents, and others waited for their counterparts to cross the finish line as well. I fantasized about which bike I would want to ride, and what outfit I would need to pull it off. In any regard, I have a whole year to figure that out, but I will definitely attend the next Eroica Limburg, if not another iteration of Eroica in another country.
The creator of Eroica, Giancarlo Brocci’s vision for the event is centered around wanting “…people to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of the conquest”. I don’t know about all that, but it sure looks like a lot of fun.
- Bicyclist Abroad