Created in 1997 to celebrate and preserve Italian cycling's rural heritage, L'Eroica is a sportive/gran fondo that takes riders over the white gravel roads of Tuscany — on retro bikes. Now in his 50s, Franco Rossi has won two editions of the race, which began with 82 participants but now draws more than 4,000 from all over the world.
A former football/soccer player, Rossi is a tan firecracker of a man, constantly joking and clearly enjoying his role as an ambassador for the event.
Rossi on the course of L'Eroica with American Mark Gouge
BikeRadar recently caught up with Rossi and rode with him on the course of L'Eroica, which is permanently marked and preserved by local government. Although the route pops onto pavement from time to time, most of the rolling course winds peacefully on white gravel roads, taking riders through vineyards, fields and the postcard-perfect Tuscan scenery on its 200km loop that begins and ends in Gaiole in Chianti.
L'Eroica rules require that riders use only bikes and equipment from the 1980s or before — with tubes and tires being the understandable exception. Rossi said that the first time he won he rode a bike from 1927 with wooden rims.
Steel tubes, five rear cogs, and toe clips are all Franco Rossi needs to tackle 200km of gravel and pavement
His current machine is a steel Cinelli Speciale Corse steed, for which he doesn't know the exact date. "The 1960s?" he says with a shrug.
Watching Rossi tackle the steep gravel hills with a 42-tooth small ring is impressive, with only a 5-speed 14-29T cassette for assistance in the rear.
True to his period costume, Rossi does his training rides sans helmet in wool shorts, wool jersey, and goggles, with a (new) tubular wound over his shoulders. He has only a single bottle cage on the frame, but public water fountains along the route of L'Eroica as well as cafés provide the opportunity for him to refill.
Rossi and friends on the strade bianche of L'Eroica
BikeRadar always tries to get the measurements of the rider as well as the bike for our Pro Bike features. When asked his height, Rossi gestured with his thumb and index finger to indicate about 3cm, then he added with a laugh "but I'm shorter after riding 200km!"
Click through the gallery at above right for details on Rossi's L'Eroica bike, and a few scenes of the man himself on the white gravel roads of Tuscany.
L'Eroica takes place this weekend — the first Sunday of October, annually — with several distance options available.
Complete bike specifications
- Frame: Cinelli Speciale Corse steel "from the 1960s"
- Stem: Cinelli, 100mm
- Handlebar: Cinelli, 40cm
- Brake calipers: Universal CX
- Front derailleur: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
- Rear derailleur: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
- Down-tube shift levers: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
- Brake levers: Campagnolo Nuovo Record
- Cassette: 5-speed, 14-29
- Chain: Sachs
- Cranks: Campagnolo Nuovo Record, 172.5mm
- Chain rings: Campagnolo Nuovo Record, 52/42
- Pedals: Campagnolo Nuovo Record with Christophe Z Speed toe clips
- Front wheel: Phil Wood hub, Ergal rim, 36 radial spokes
- Rear wheel: Phil Wood hub, Ergal rim, 36 3x spokes
- Front Tire: Veloflex Carbon tubular, 23mm
- Rear tire: Veloflex Carbon tubular, 23mm
- Spare tire over shoulders: Vittoria Competition Rally tubular, 21mm
- Saddle: Brooks
- Bottle cage: One
- Rider height:178cm/5'10"
- Rider weight: 71kg/157lb
- Saddle height from BB (c-t): 73cm
- Reach: 52.5cm
- Drop: 7.5mm
- Seat tube length, c-t: 56cm
- Head tube length: 15cm
- Top tube length: 55.5cm
- Wheelbase: 99cm
- Total weight: N/A