And you are going to need some of this to get through the event. While about a third of the route is on tar, much of Eroica South Africa is on some fairly rough gravel roads with a couple of properly sketchy descents made even sketchier by the fact that most participants don’t wear helmets. Given the rest of one’s vintage ensemble, a modern bike helmet just looks plain silly. Besides, Fiorenzo never wore a helmet, now did he?
That said, there is a Fiorenzo-lite option among the three route distances on offer: the 45km Kingna Route follows gravel farm roads along the pastoral Kingna river valley to the east, with a welcome stop at the Kingna Distillery. The 90km Kogman and 135km Keisie Routes (all named after local rivers), take in some challenging climbs — including the mighty Ouberg Pass. Described as “gruesome” on the Eroica South Africa website, the 135km gravel-surfaced knee-buster is best ground out slowly, given the brutal gear ratios on these old bikes and grip-challenging terrain the thin road tyres have to find purchase on.
Oh yes… it can get broilingly hot. Last year, the mercury nudged the mid-40s in some of the kloofs, with the sandstone mountain range absorbing the African sun and radiating energy like a giant bar heater. And for the record, don’t believe anyone who tells you wool breathes as well as fancy, modern fabrics. Put it this way, we saw no sheep out enjoying the sunshine.
So Eroica’s waterpoints save the day. There is actual water to drink if you insist, but you’ll also find some sweet muscadel wine and an array of snacks, including Tannie Poppie’s legendary roosterkoek.
Just for the record, let me come clean and admit that I am occasionally that Rapha-clad soft-arse, posting artfully filtered Instagram pics from some hipsterfied Cape coffee shop (@SteveSmithZA, if you want the proof), but at least once a year I’m Fiorenzo. Which is why I’m talking up all the hardcore elements of Eroica South Africa I can muster. It’s not all like that though.
Eroica can be easy and fun if you pootle around, especially on the 45km route, but I think that’s missing the point. Eroica taps into the real soul of cycling. It dismisses the willy-waving one-upmanship of modern cycling and its “My bike is newer, lighter, and more expensive than yours” nonsense and leaves these mirror-lensed poseurs to sip their over-priced lattes.
Instead, Eroica invites you to suffer a bit; to take on a tough route on a tough bike; to sweat profusely; smell like a very hot sheep; grit your teeth a bit; swear in Italian… and be Fiorenzo. You will love it.
Let me leave you with Signore Brocci’s poetic quote from the Eroica website: “We invite cyclists to rediscover the beauty of fatigue and the thrill of conquest. We look to the past of cycling to inspire the future of this beautiful sport.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
The event: Eroica South Africa
Where: Montagu, Western Cape