L’Eroica is held on the Strade Bianche (white roads) of Tuscany. The term meaning heroism dates back to a bygone era when competitive riders would battle the elements on brutal cobbled surfaces compelling them to an iconic ‘god-like’ status. We talk to Gian Bohan, the founder of the Eroica festival in the UK, about this growing movement and his inspiration for creating an annual celebration of its existence within the heart of the Derbyshire countryside.
How long have you been involved in Eroica Britannia?
We are now in our 5th year of EB and I have been involved from the beginning. It was just an idea over a beer after having completed the Eroica event in Italy back in 2012.
How was it and what made it so memorable?
The Eroica event was totally different from anything else we had experienced in cycling. It was tough 220 km route which takes over 12 hours, on pre-1987 bicycles taking in the Strade Bianchi of Tuscany. There were food stops along the way, laden with local procure; cheeses, salamis, local soups and even the odd drop of wine. Not a gel in sight. Everyone had gone to such effort in their attire, not to mention the artistry in their facial grooming and of course there were some amazing bikes. The stars aligned and after a few years of doing the Italian event, we thought how incredible it would be if we could replicate such in the UK.
How did you decide on a location?
Our cycling backyard is the Peak District with our own version of the Strade Bianci, the old Monsal trail, High peak trails and amazing quaint villages. So the idea was born of Eroica Britannia. The villages and community welcomed the event as it was so different from the normal sportive of everyone racing through incredible scenery but not taking the time to enjoy and appreciate it.
Were you always interested in cycling heritage? Or, simply attracted by the opportunity to wear woollen shorts and grow a stylish moustache?
I was always attracted to having an adventure and an endeavour on a bike. When you add in being able to don a great outfit and drink Chianti and Beer, the battle of cycling on uneven, cobbled surfaces with unpadded attire becomes less daunting and frankly more enjoyable. My road into the cycling bug came from doing the Dallioglio Cycle slam for a few years riding around Europe for a few weeks. The odd drop of beer also passed our lips as you can imagine.
Tell us about your bike?
My collection continues to grow however my heart sways to an old rare Red Bianchi from Italy. I have to admit I’m not a tech geek, I just love my aesthetics and getting out where ever I lay my hat.
We noticed a number of Italian ‘Eroicans’ took part in the Paris-Roubaix when our Quella ambassador, the parathlete Garrett Turbett completed the sportive recently. They were riding old, heavy single speed bikes from the 20’s and 30’s which was impressive. Is this common?
You will see Eroican’s popping up to events all over the world. They’re an enthusiastic bunch of Italians and are unmissable due to their great retro kit, accessories and classic bikes.
What is a typical Eroica bike?
It has to be pre-1987, with gear levels on the down tube, no toe clips and brake cables arching gracefully over the handlebars. Riding an old bike is a whole new experience, add the gravel roads with a few lumps and bumps and it can get exhilarating.
What can visitors to Eroica Britannia expect?
When we were in concept stage we visited the Goodwood Revival and quickly thought let’s make EB the Goodwood of the biking world and created a 3-day festival. We’ve included Family rides, The Twilight ride – where there is a ride to the pub – and a plethora of music, entertainers, merchandise, food stalls, bike brands and we have even created our own Pub on site, The Britannia Arms!
Is it just for serious cyclists?
The great thing about EB is that it appeals to all generations. From cycling fanatics who want a real test and to experience the beauty of fatigue with the 100-mile route, to those who have only recently sat on a bike. Those wishing to have a more relaxed and indulgent affair can simply kick back and enjoy the vintage atmosphere.