Unveiling of the new season’s team kit invariably attracts a disproportionate amount of comment. There is little else to discuss over the winter before racing starts in earnest, so the designers of what the pro peloton will be sporting this year undergo close scrutiny while we twiddle our thumbs.
Race commentators and fans alike will have their work cut out if Garmin-Cervelo, Sky and Leopard-Trek are all on the front setting up their sprinters for a bunch gallop. (By the way, that’s pronounced ‘LAY-oh-pard’, not Leopard. Even thinking the word wrongly is punishable by sulking from the management. You have been warned). It seems black is the new black. Telling yer Boasson Hagen from yer Haussler for yer Hushovd is the new challenge.
The days of garish jerseys and shorts that made the unfortunate wearers objects of ridicule are long gone – and no bad thing – but at least you knew who was who. Pantani and Chiappucci’s attacking antics garnered hours of TV coverage for sponsors Carrera jeans, the predominantly white jersey seemingly always on the front. But it’s the shorts that everyone remembers; faux-denim abominations that preceded the current ‘jeggings’ look by some 25 years. It took a brave man (or an Italian fashion victim) to carry off a look wearing those babies.
Yes, the Carrera shorts were pretty special, but the entry of French DIY chain Castorama into cycling sponsorship a few years later raised the bar much higher. Even the late, great Laurent Fignon, a man with a certain je ne sais quoi style-wise, struggled to maintain his dignity in those shocking approximations of a workman’s overalls. The kit had the effect of turning the wearer into a cross between a children’s TV presenter and Bob the Builder’s assistant. Only the mullet-supreme of Laurent Brochard seemed to suit the image, but for all the wrong reasons.
Robert Millar was saved from the ignominy of wearing Le Groupement’s multi-coloured cock-up of a jersey for any length of time by the collapse of the pyramid sales company within months of the team’s launch – a blessing in disguise if ever I saw one. Mario Cipollini’s many crimes against the world of fashion should have received close attention from the Lycra Police, yet are somehow beyond ridicule. It’s Mario: let it go.
As for the early years of mountain biking apparel, that is an article in itself. Close examination of photos from the era should come with a health warning; if flash photography warrants one, then so do images of multi-coloured car crash designs of the era.
So, no garish clobber in my clothing cupboard. Less is more when it comes to kit design, especially in the shorts department. It’s got to be black, although that is not without its drawbacks. I splashed out on a reassuringly expensive pair in the summer and felt understandably distressed wearing them the first time that they felt less than comfortable. Closer examination at the roadside revealed the leg grippers had been stitched to the outside; the machinist obviously had an off day. A thoroughly indignant email was being composed in my head on the ride home.
Mrs C got the whole story in the kitchen (apart from how much the shorts cost, of course). With years of experience in imbecilic behaviour, and without so much as a backward glance from her laptop screen, she said: “You have checked they’re not inside-out, haven’t you?”
Perhaps faux-denim shorts have their advantages after all.