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Eroica Britannia’s new route 'the Nova' to allow modern bikes

Joseph Delves
22 Feb 2018

Eroica Britannia’s newest addition allows contemporary bikes to get on course at cycling’s favorite retro fest

Taking as inspiration the Strade Bianche, or white roads of Tuscany, the Eroica Britannia employs the same mix of unpaved tracks and quiet backways as its Italian forebear. Imparting a British character to proceedings the routes that make up the festival’s main event piggyback on Derbyshire’s industrial heritage, utilising the decommissioned tunnels and cuttings that allowed trains to transport the goods and raw materials that made the area a centre of the manufacturing revolution.

A ride with a festival attached, the three-day event has expanded to become one of the UK’s largest. Now heading towards its fifth edition it attracts around 10,000 cycling fans daily.

Of these the 4,500 who complete one the three Sunday rides will collectively cover around a quarter of a million miles. In the spirit of the original Eroica all do so on classic bikes made in 1987 or earlier.

Immaculately prepared, and complemented by matching retro kit, the need for a vintage bike helps give the event its unique character, but also presents a very high bar for entry.

The Nova and the Chrono competition

This year, for the first time, riders on modern bikes will also get an opportunity to take part with the launch of Eroica Nova.

Running on Saturday, the day before the Classic ride, this single 86 mile route will tackle a similar mix of gravel tracks and little used back roads, but can be taken on aboard a regular modern bike.

Also for the first time at Eroica Britannia the Nova event will include a competitive element, with several timed sections. Allowing riders to complete the majority of the route at their own pace, along with as much time as they like at the rest stops, the cumulative total will count towards the Chrono competition.

Ahead of the event this June, Cyclist got an invite to ride much of the course.

Joining the route a few miles north of the festival site, like the riders in June, we instantly found ourselves launched onto the traffic free trails that make up a good chunk of the loop.

Despite not being entombed beneath tarmac these are fairly well graded, and easily navigable on medium width road tyres.

Largely following along now disused train lines, these cut their way through the hilly countryside, allowing the route to cover a far larger loop than would otherwise be possible.

At one point we span an impressive bridge over a river before plunging into the darkness of two consecutive tunnels bored straight through the rock.

Not that these amenities flatten out all the hills. The route still packs in six of the Peak’s most famous climbs, along with a few new ones.

The day’s timed sections start with an early dash at Tideswell Moor. Coming 15 miles into the route this moderately uphill 3.3 mile drag will give a first opportunity for riders to appraise their legs.

Coming next, and on the other side of the first of two rest stops, is the climb at Bakewell Forest. At 8% average its gradient combines with a 1.2 mile length, meaning it’ll require careful pacing if riders want to make it up without fading.

Especially as a few miles along from the summit comes the day’s sternest test. After riders cross the River Derwent and pass through the village of Beeley, the following climb lasts a shade over two miles and averages 6%.

A steady gradient it cuts a zigzag through the forest before straightening out and leading up and onto the exposed expanse of Beeley Moor.

Likely where the day will be decided, once over the top there’s just a final half-mile sprint at Wirestone Lane to complete against the clock before rolling home.

Classic Derbyshire climbs

Except that the day isn't just about the timed sections. Dotted through the route are four further climbs: Winnats Pass, Monsal Head, Sir William Hill, and The Dale.

The first of these is the most fearsome. Located just outside of Castleton at around mile 20, Winnats comes on slowly as it follows between a steep cleft in the limestone before a sustained stretch of around 20%.

Almost as famous, and likely to be on most riders' Derbyshire hit list, is Monsal. Home to the popular annual hill climb, and coming at mile 53, riders won’t need to race up it, but will still get to experience the inclinces that make it such a hotly contested event.

Positioned before the day’s contested climbs, making it up these ascents without expending too much energy will be crucial to achieving a good overall time.

With all the competitive elements completed, the last of the day’s 7220ft of climbing comes as the route of the Nova joins up with the finale of the following day’s Classic rides.

The twin off-road climbs out of High Peak Junction were formerly railway lines, but you’ll need more traction than the average locomotive to get up and over them.

When in service trains travelling through had to be dragged up using a series of steam powered winches, the abandoned engine houses of which now mark the summit of each.

Short, but steep enough to see your wheels spinning if you lean too far over the bars, once deposited at the top the going remains flat all the way to the finish.

Continuing along the course of the line, at one point the route follows the side of a valley, before traversing across its end on a huge stone bridge, just ahead of the return to the festival site.

Find out more: eroicabritannia.co.uk/nova

Retro future

Growing in popularity worldwide, the Nova is part of a concerted effort to broaden the appeal of Eroica. Originally conceived as a tribute to cycling’s heroic age, what started as a small gathering of retro bike enthusiasts in 1997 quickly spread from its home in Tuscany to encompass events around the world.

Within a decade it had also spawned its own pro race, the wildly popular Strade Bianche. Establishing itself as the youngest of the Classics it sees the modern peloton take on the same unpaved roads that riders of cycling's golden age would have competed on.

With British amature riders now able to take part on modern bikes, and complete a route with a competitive timed element, who’s to say the event couldn't lead to a similar professional race in the UK?

That likelihood is still a long way off, however riders who want to give the event a try this summer can sign up for the Nova.

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