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Caricature by Jon Knight
What is it about Italy?
I’ve heard that in terms of style or ‘fashion’ – whatever you define that to mean – Italy is at least 10 years ahead of the curve… Tell that to Filippo Pozzato. In fact, have a word with Mario, Marco and Paulo while you’re there.
In my view, the last couple of decades left a lot to be desired in terms of the ‘style’ adopted by Italian racers. But just like the most flamboyant of ostrich-leather Gucci loafers, Italian road racers display a somewhat rococo style, but they are made of the finest materials and are very strong.
Francesco Moser - 'The Sheriff'
You may not be the Gucci loafer kind but, deep down, you wish you were.
"My language is the bike."
– Marco Pantani
Indeed, when you watch Pantani in full flight, in the drops, out the saddle, eating up everything in sight like Pac-Man with a goatee, you forget that he’s wearing a hanky on his head. No, actually, you don’t forget he wears one, you just accept it because it's Marco Pantani. An iconoclast.
Franco Ballerini, another great who had a tragically short life, wore a strip with Tetris bricks all over it. And those Briko sunglasses… But then, he had the personality and the passion to ride into Roubaix Velodrome, unzip his psychedelic jersey and send a loving message to the world. Merci Roubaix and thank you, Signore Ballerini.
“The bicycle has a soul. If you succeed to love it, it will give you emotions that you will never forget."
– Mario Cipollini
Speaking of love (and skinsuits) – could anyone apart from Cipollini pull-on, let alone pull-off, tiger stripes and/or muscle-tissue patterned Lycra? No. Only a man with balls so big he wore a toga and a gold wreath at sign-on once (or possibly twice). Whether a media-whore or just a nutter, he’s gorgeously naff. He has his own style.
Strength and Honour - Cipo gets to grip with a slightly startled Magnus Backstedt
I suppose it goes back to the point many tastemakers, style-leaders and experts explain time and again: It’s not just what you wear, it’s how you wear it…
And if we look at those Italians who raced before the era of stretch-polyester, that argument that Italians are ahead of the pack (see Magni, Coppi, Motta, Gimondi) is definitely feasible. Fanning the flame of tradition to the extent where you are wearing plus-fours and an itchy woolen sweater on a training ride is wrong, but a lot can be learnt from the individuality and pure class of those men.
Most importantly it’s all about how – once in the saddle – the rider and bike becomes one whole: a harmonious opera of style and grace. It doesn't matter if you have a perm, as long as you look good on the bike.
Furthermore, have you seen some of the paint jobs Colnago roll out? People still buy them. Have you noticed how outlandish some Prada designs are? Grandissimo. Isn’t Lady Gaga Italian as well? Again, individuality, confidence and plenty of Grandma’s home cooking prevails. That Alfa Romeo and its gaudy paint job may not be to your taste, but you know it performs and travels very fast. Like many other Italian constructs, the Italian road racer is the pinnacle. Pro style in its purest form.
The Giro d’Italia ends this Sunday.
For an intelligent and informed discussion of Italy read Tom Southam’s article from earlier this year, La Bellezza.
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