The Eroica Festival was originally launched as a celebration of Italian cycling culture of the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s. A time when cycling technology was still in its infancy. Good race nutrition included bread, soup, cheese and wine and a post-race cigarette or five was nothing out of the ordinary. It might have lacked some of the things we now consider important aspects of racing, but damn, it had style!
With the original Eroica building on a tradition of exactly that style, classic bicycles, old school cycling kit and the spirit of a festival, NOVA Eroica was born to run alongside the classic cycling event in a very similar way, but as a serious race with an interesting format.
As part of the festival, riders and spectators are transported to the classic era of cycling and from the moment they arrive in Montagu a different pace can be felt. Stepping into the old KWV distillery that hosts the festival for the weekend is like taking a step back in time - vintage collectors’ bicycles on display, upbeat but period-correct music playing somewhere and food stalls selling coffee, wine, cheese and dried fruit. At registration, you are met with friendly faces and riders of all ages and walks of life, with cycling a common thread.
With registration, dinner and the well-known evening-before-faff all done, race day brings the familiar nerves and excitement. For some riders, a relaxed day out on classic bicycles and vintage kit awaits but if you’ve registered for NOVA Eroica and donned the red race number, you know it’s on! As the flag drops though, the pace is as relaxed as a group ride leaving the coffee shop on a Sunday morning, with racers being escorted out of town by local police and some beautiful classic cars. Therein lies the beauty of it all - this race happens in parts. A 155km route with four timed segments of approximately 10km each, and non-racing transfer sections in between, allowing even the most hardcore racers the opportunity to take in and enjoy the incredible beauty that Montagu and the Karoo have to offer. Racing segments include ear-popping climbs, long fast descents and flat open dirt roads where the wind and sun try to stake their claim - a challenge for even the hardiest cyclist. The beauty of this event though is that even if you don’t count yourself as one of those hardcore racers, you’ll still be able to enjoy the entire route without having to race too hard through the timed segments.
And waterpoints? There are a few, but instead of grabbing a handful of energy gels and racing off, these are all in the transfer sections so you can take a seat or lie down while you stretch out your legs and enjoy some freshly made cheese and jam roosterkoek, biltong, dried fruit and other local treats. If you’re lucky enough you might even make it in time for a sip of something stronger before it’s all gone.
The organisers have really managed to keep the great things we love about racing - from pre-race banter to lung-busting efforts, and the incredible reward of pushing yourself to the limit. But added are the best parts of long social rides, like taking in the scenery with your friends, going for a quick dip in a farm dam and sitting down for a mid-ride snack and a chat.
A breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy racing scene, a truly enjoyable experience before, during and after. Type 1 fun indeed.