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“To look good is already to go fast”
– Paul Fournel.
Among road riders, the definition of class is a greatly contested subject. For many, the riders who possess it demonstrate not only amazing racing form but also a certain aesthetic superiority. Those with aspirations to emulate the greats look not just to a particular riding style but also sartorial distinction. Traditionally, France, Belgium and Italy have been the triple axis of road racing heritage, helping to define the sport not only in terms of individual victories, or as hosts of key events in the racing calendar, but also as cultures that have informed the way we dress both on and off the bike. To mark the launch of the new Rapha Long Sleeve Country Jerseys, we take a brief spin through some of the key protagonists who helped inspire them.
France – Louison Bobet
The French have a reputation for a charming, if slightly aloof, nonchalance. Louison Bobet rode with an elegance that was as athletic as it was aesthetically pleasing and which was enough to make him France’s answer to the great Coppi. Both men not only rode with style but lived in style, too. That they enjoyed the status of Hollywood icons wasn’t simply down to shrewd marketing; they were natural superstars, both on and off their race bikes. Bobet took personal grooming and sharp dressing to levels many in the peloton considered ridiculous. On one occasion, the tuxedo-wearing Breton allegedly refused to wear a yellow jersey over concerns it was not made from pure wool. Despite his sensitivities and idiosyncrasies, Bobet’s three Tour wins and numerous classics serve to underline his class.
Italy – Fausto Coppi
Fausto Coppi’s long, thin legs and aquiline nose gave him the look of a stork on a bike. When not on two wheels, the great Italian rider of the post-war era moved awkwardly, yet as soon as he aligned with his machine, his elongated limbs would move the cranks in perfect harmony. His style was fluid and light and while his engine roared, the Campionissimo’s pedal turns echoed the elegant strokes of a bird in flight. His demeanour was always debonair, even when he was clearly suffering. Style and class personified.
Belgium – Roger de Vlaeminck
A hardman style of riding requires many things. An iron will. An unshakeable confidence in one’s own ability. And sideburns. Honing his skills on awful terrain in order to ride the rest of Europe off their wheels, de Vlaeminck was one of the finest exponents of the Belgian tradition of tough, eyeballs-out riding. To win Paris-Roubaix an unprecedented four times, look good in the process and all the while maintain a mud-splattered snarl, is, once again a certain indicator of class.
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