Nova Eroica California 2019
Photo: Paolo Penni Martelli
Now I’m a mother, I’m trying to decrease the amount of time I spend travelling, or more accurately, minimise the length of trips that I go on. I’m fortunate in that I have an understanding husband who races bikes himself, but nonetheless, I don’t want to spend more time away than I do in Devon – I love my life here and my little girl.
Saying that, an invite to ride Nova Eroica in California was one I just couldn’t turn down; I’ve always been a big fan of the west coast of America and I’m feeling an ever increasing draw towards gravel racing.
Saying yes to the trip, a week long adventure that would include bikepacking, Nova Eroica itself and vintage ride Eroica California meant I had to wave goodbye to any idea of racing Mission Crit as two visits to the US in one month were out of the question. But honestly, deciding whether to do a 40-minute crit in San Francisco or several days of bikepacking and not one, but two gravel events didn’t take much time.
The bikepacking trip I’ll get around to writing about – it’s kind of a daunting prospect given how epic it was. I have so many ideas for articles to share with you guys but no time to write them. But anyway, back to the topic at hand – Nova.
Photo: John Prolly/ The Radavist
Nova Eroica grew from the original Eroica event in Tuscany, a day-long, fun filled but challenging ride that makes use of the area’s numerous strada bianche (gravel roads), linking multiple fun tracks together with fast rolling tarmac segments. The original event is done on vintage bikes but some clever person had the idea that it would be fun to ride the course on modern gravel bikes too, so Nova Eroica was born. It’s become very successful in its own right, partly due to an increase in people riding gravel but also because the Eroica guys and girls know how to put on a good event and only ever do the rides in exceptionally pretty places.
The base for Cali’s Nova was Cambria, a cute little beach town between San Francisco and Los Angeles with clapper-boarded stores along its kind of arty high street. When I first arrived it seemed so California that I questioned whether it was a real town or the kind of place that only exists to serve tourists. It was almost a pastiche. But this gentle place with its health food store, ice-cream shops, antiques stores and cafes was indeed reality for some lucky people.
We were staying in a large house away from the town centre but fairly close to the beach so stocked up on groceries at the frighteningly expensive organic store the night before. I’m not a crazy fussy eater but I do like to have granola/oatmeal yoghurt and eggs before I do a long ride; it really helps me out if I fuel properly as I seem to burn through food stupidly quickly. You should see how much I eat.
Down at the event village we attached number and whatnot. I was part of a party of riders that included Sami Sauri, Gus Morten, Bike Snob aka Ebem, Brad Hammonds from Far Ride, Chas of Mash fame and frame builders Mattias (Legor Cicli) and Matty (Crust Bikes) so we hatched a vague plan to take it easy and enjoy the food and wine we’d been promised at the checkpoints. But as soon as we started, several of us got rather overexcited and began racing, legs be damned!
As an excitable bike racer myself, I couldn’t resist going with the front group and blasting straight up the hill out of Cambria. Heading towards Morro Bay, I clung on for dear life riding way above threshold, meaning a far higher power output than I can sustain for a long period of time. It was great fun but I realised after a while that I didn’t want the day to go by in a blur of torturous pain; doing well is in itself fun but this wasn’t really a race I had any chance at winning anyway. I’d seen pro racer Alison Tetrick looking at me in the lead peloton, almost as though she was sizing me up but she really needn’t have worried.
The route was a little over 125km long with about 2000m of climbing. After the coast road we headed inland, straight up a hill that gave incredible views of the ocean and a first glimpse of what was to come – sun-kissed roads snaking their way through rolling hills. Following Santa Rita road’s undulations, before long the asphalt ran out and we enjoyed a solid ten mile segment of gravel.
After a fast highway segment (and a rest stop) we hit the first tough gravel climb – Kiler canyon – where we slowly passed a bemused looking local family who’d dragged chairs out of their home to watch us. It was hot and extremely tough, and with several days bikepacking in my legs (and jet lag) I found it really hard going but at the top, all was forgiven.
The next segment was on tarmac but none the worse for it – the road took us past picket fences, majestic looking horses and vineyards offering tasting menus. It was clearly a prosperous part of the area; even the grass looked rich. My legs didn’t like it as much as my eyes did – I tried to go hard up each small rise (and managed it) but it hurt.
After our food stop it was on to Klau Mine road and more dirt then we followed a river through Cypress Mountain Drive. The gravel was hard packed and easy to ride making a ‘gravel bike’ barely necessary though I certainly enjoyed the comfort of the Specialized Diverge I was riding. Unbeknownst to me, there was still a very hard climb to come, Cypress Mountain Drive which felt like the the hardest of the day, though that may have been as I was tired. The view from the top made it worth it though – luscious plump green hills as far as the eye could see.
The gravel descent that followed hugged the hillsides curves and I grinned by way down, trying not to get too overexcited as the Diverge actually has the brakes the wrong way round (for me). We popped out onto a tarmac road draped over yet more ridiculously perfect green hills, continuing our epic descent further, spirits sky high.
The final segment down Santa Rosa creek road was amongst my favourites – bucolic farmland with hills rising either side. Rarely straight, the road was superbly fun to ride, was traffic-free and just ridiculously scenic. Add in the fact we knew beer would soon be hours and our moods elavated yet further!
All in all, Nov dished up one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. If you’d like to see more, check out my video:
What other gravel events and rides should I try to do? Got any recommendations?