BOOK REVIEW: THE ART OF THE JERSEY
A Celebration of the Cycling Racing Jersey

by Andy Storey
Published by Mitchell Beazley (5 May 2016. RRP: £15.99)

We are a fashionable bunch, us road cyclists. I appreciate that this statement might perplex those people observing us from outside the sport, who watch us clatter around a café, somewhat self-consciously in our unforgiving lycra. What they don’t see, as they peer at us over their bowls of Soup of the Day, are those small, but oh-so-important sartorial touches: the socks that pick up the red detailing on your seat post, the fastidiously positioned cap perched over our sweaty brows or the latest shades that, when we look through them in the mirror at least, make us look and feel proper pro.

We all have our own distinctive cycling  'look' and wardrobe preferences, but what really spells cyclists apart from one another is the cycling jersey we chose to wear. Club jerseys may spell out our allegiance to a tribe and some cyclists obsessively ensure that their entire kit is perfectly matched and from one sole brand. The cut of one’s cycling jib tells you as much about a cyclist as the sweater or shirt they chose to wear off a bike.

Joop Zoetemelk (Mars Flandria) and Gösta Pettersson (Ferretti) check out Eddy Merckx’s yellow Molteni threads during the Tour de France in 1971 (© Le Coq Sportif).

From the garish to the simply classic design, from retro to post-modernist, original merino tops from the 70’s to authentic replicas, from  hi-viz to floral, cartoons to cans of baked beans. They are all out there and each of us has our own preference. Trends come and go. Over the last few years we’ve seen a predilection for hi-viz accents and even military inspired camouflage graphics. And just like fashion moves on, so can our personal tastes. A club mate of mine recently sold all his heavily branded cycling garments on eBay, deciding that he was ripe for a more monochrome, minimalist look.

Few sports have such a connection and obsession with fashion trends and one can chart the history of cycling through the clothing worn by the teams that inhabit the professional peloton. The eras of the great champions like Fausto Coppi, Merckx, Hinault and LeMond through to the modern era are as much defined by the palmarès of the respective combatants, as the clothes they wore.

Merckx will forever be synonymous with the burnt orange of his Molteni Arcore jersey, Hinault with the Mondrian inspired La Vie Claire or Roger de Vlaeminck with the Stars and Stripes inspired Brooklyn Chewing Gum jersey.  Those famous jerseys, as much as the names and faces, are ingrained in the collective memory of the road cycling fan.

The Art of the Jersey: A Celebration of the Cycling Racing Jersey is a celebration of the cycling jersey, a kaleidoscopic journey through the decades, featuring some instantly recognisable classics. The jerseys featured are from the collection of the author, Andy Storey, is a lifelong fan and student of the history of the sport.  

Andy is one of those fortunate enough to work in a line of business that reflects his love of the sport – when not indulging his passion, he works for the online retailer, Prendas Ciclismo, which specialises in faithful reproductions of some classic jerseys from the past, invariably working in tandem with the original manufacturers.

What quickly becomes apparent as you flick through the pages of The Art of the Jersey, is the increasing free rein handed to the designers to produce something that will not only stand out in the scrum, but also accommodate the demands of the sponsors. By the 1960’s, the  classic simplicity of the jerseys worn by Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali in the 1950’s has given way to a proliferation of sponsor logos, and inevitably, an increasing amount of design flair!

There are many stunning jerseys recorded in the book, but for every gem there are many that are a lurid mish-mash of shapes and colours, sponsor logos and graphics!  They are a bit like an ugly baby – you may not want to cuddle them, but there is something rather endearing about them. Some work, of course.

The Roy Lichtenstein inspired cartoon of the 1992 Vetement Z jersey is a particular favourite of mine and even the South Australia.com AIS jersey of 2008, complete with kangaroos, is an emphatic statement of geographical origin! Compare the latter to the dreadful dullness of the Australian 2006 Commonwealth Games Team Jersey, which would be more at home in the bargain bucket at Sports Direct, and you can appreciate where I am coming from!

Storey’s accompanying text is concise, informative and entertaining. He packs in a huge amount of knowledge about the teams and their sponsors: for example, the name behind the most famous team jersey of Eddy Merckx, Molteni Arcore, was a Lombardian sausage manufacturer and, thankfully, one of the most instantly recognisable jerseys ever, the Mondrian inspired La Vie Claire jersey worn by Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, was initially going to be just plain black!

And moving quickly from the sublime to the ridiculous, Storey recounts how the late, great Laurent Fignon had a hand in the design in one of the most ridiculed jerseys of all time – the Casto Castorama ‘dungeree’ jersey of 1993, though this may come as no surprise when you remember that Fignon also sported a long pony tail.

The book is punctuated with some well-chosen historical photos. A great example being a shot of the Dutchman, Hennie Kuiper, covered in the grime and dirt of Paris-Roubaix, wearing the striking J Aernoudt Rossin jersey in 1983 and Sean Kelly, in the KAS jersey he made his own, looking as hard as nails in the 1986 edition of the same race. It’s a shame there are not more, because seeing the famous riders wearing the jerseys breathes life into them and gives them greater historical context too.

Interspersed with the famous team are the Leader’s Jerseys from the Grand Tours, some Rainbow Jerseys of a select group of World Champions and National Champion jerseys, in team colours, and also National Jerseys worn at the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games.  There are, admittedly, some notable absentees, but the jerseys featured in the book come from the authors own collection and that of Prendas Ciclismo, but that personal connection and insight is why the book works so well. By Storey’s own admission, The Art of the Jersey has been a labour of love.  

The final two jerseys features round off the book perfectly: the striking and unique ‘zebra stripes’ MTN-Qhubeka jersey of 2015, sadly now consigned to history and replaced by rather dull and unoriginal Data Dimension jersey this year. And finally, the Rapha designed Team Wiggins kit, with its mod undertones and eighties inspiration. The dazzling red and deep purple combo has the look of a jockey’s silks and proof, if proof was ever needed, that style, design innovation and sartorial flair are alive and well in the pro peloton!

The Art of the Jersey: A Celebration of the Cycling Racing Jersey by Andy Storey is published by Mitchell Beazley (5 May 2016. RRP: £15.99). Signed copies can by purchased from Prendas Ciclismo and the book is available to buy online and in all good book stores!

 

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