The Britannia Times
Chris Boardman MBEPublished on 16th. November 2016
I vowed to return to the Peaks in 2017 for this marvellous 2-wheeled celebration
One of the beauties of being an ambassador for Action Medical Research -apart from the satisfaction of aiding a very worthy cause- is being brought into contact with weird and wonderful activities. This is exactly what happened last summer when I was asked to take part in Eroica Britannia, a vintage bike rally to be held in the lush hills of the Peak District. (Action were to be the principal charity).
“I thought I knew what to expect”
I ride Sportive events regularly so I thought I knew what to expect; hundreds of men in lycra battering around the countryside trying to beat each other without looking as if that’s what they were doing. Kind of a stealth race. This, I mused, would the be the same just on old bikes…I couldn’t have been more wrong.
First indications that my preconceived ideas were wide of the mark. My event pack was waiting for me, a rather stylish musette containing numbers and freebies. But instead of the usual energy gels and water bottle, was a selection of cocktail nibbles and G&T miniatures!
As this was a vintage affair -bikes must be pre 1987- and wanting to get into the spirit of it all, I had agreed to wear some Eroica apparel, this too was waiting for me: Woollen shorts, a very stylish woollen jersey, complete with button up pockets, long black socks and a matching peaked cloth cap to top off the outfit.
“The whole village was heaving with cyclists, not hundreds but thousands of them and their families.”
Early next morning, resplendent in my new/old togs, I got my father's classic bike -a 1985 Tomossini- out of the boot of my car, and headed for the town centre and the start line. The whole village was heaving with cyclists, not hundreds but thousands of them and their families. The narrow streets were decorated with bunting and the shop windows full of displays, recreating cycling scenes from various era’s.
Like myself, most riders were in period cycling costume. It was clear the whole community had got into the spirit of the occasion not a sportive I realised, but a true festival, celebrating this wonderful machine and the potential for adventure it afforded.
Of the three distances on offer, I had opted for the shortest (I wasn’t sure if my bicycle would stand up to much more). We set off and up the fest gentle hill out of the town. Changing gear was like a lucky dip; reach down, wiggle the lever and see what happens. I needn't have worried. Unlike other mass participation events, this one was adamantly not a race but a shared adventure. We trundled along quiet lanes and gravel tracks, chatting and appreciating the spectacular scenery together.
The journey was broken up with refuelling-stops,again, not the usual kind. In place of energy drinks, bananas and cereal bars, were cream teas, home baked fruit loaf and flap jack. And at the final stop of the day -just a few miles from the finish line- even local ale was on offer.
The whole experience was a step back in time to a -possibly mythical- civilised era, were ladies and gentleman explored the countryside in stately style. No one is timed in the Eroica Britannia, that would be uncouth, the only prize on offer is for the last rider over the line.
“It was like a fairground, village fete, beer festival and cycling event had collided resulting in a wholly new genre”
After a few relaxing hours, trundling through the beautiful countryside, we arrived back in Bakewell or rather a huge meadow on the town’s outskirts. We rode off the tarmac and onto the straw covered field to be met by thousands of families and friends enjoying the unique gathering. And there was plenty for them to do. It was like a fairground, village fete, beer festival and cycling event had collided resulting in a wholly new genre.
There were stalls selling everything from vintage bicycle parts to whole machines, period clothing, home made food and local ales. There was even a very classy gin bar! The sound of live music wafted over from the open air stage and in the very centre was a show ground where people paraded in front of judges: best-dressed and dogs were two that I ended up judging, a first for me. It was a true family affair and my only regret was that I has attended on my own.