“Another Fine Mesh” – Pro-cycling clothing debate hots up

Cyclists are often a bit funny about their tan-lines. Cultivating a set of razor-sharp transitions, which switch instantly from the deepest mahogany to a blinding alabaster white, half way along a thigh or bicep is seen as one of the heights of being ‘pro’. Tan-lines like these tell of days in the saddle, not days on the beach. They are worn with more than just pride; for many they are a badge of honour.

Last week however, we saw a couple of cases of cases of pro team ‘tanning’ getting out of hand and raising questions about protection and performance.

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None More Black – the shifting spectrum of the pro peloton

“It’s like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.”

Nigel Tufnell. Spinal Tap.

The recent news that Cannondale’s new 2014 kit design will be a mainly black affair has been greeted by cycling’s fashion watchers with barely more than a raised eyebrow. ‘Copying Sky’ is the main criticism that most can muster and, given that nearly all pro teams are seeking to reproduce the British team’s training programmes or marginal gains techniques in some shape or form, that in itself is hardly a withering accusation. But, after years of what has often amounted to an arms race of garishness, is there more to this latest rejection of what has been termed elsewhere as ‘Euro Gaud’ than simply aping the most successful team around?

Colour Me Bad.

On one level Cannondale’s rejection of bright colour is an obvious way of turning their back on the team’s most recent incarnation as Liquigas. Constrained by the corporate colours of the Italian energy company, the team’s lime green kit was up there with the lurid pink of Lampre and the Day-glo yellow of ViniFantini for eye-watering loudness. Indeed, some lesser Italian races – when the finishes were often contested between multiple members of these three teams – were such a visceral assault on the eyes that they should really have carried some kind of warning for viewers of a sensitive disposition.

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Tour de France – Final Roundup – nothing artificial about this race (except the ‘fireworks’)

In the end the promised finale fireworks never came. Not from the top of the Arc de Triomphe after the evening stage on Sunday, where we given a projected feu artifice lightshow instead of some actual gunpowder explosions (the whole show was greeted with polite bemusement rather than rapture in our house), and not from the last few days of racing either where the assumption has been that the riders simply didn’t have enough left in the legs to seriously attack the yellow jersey and so saved what they did have for the scrap for podium and best team places. Another sign of a clean Tour? Maybe..

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Tour de France – Stage 15 Roundup – Bang, Froome, straight to the Moon.

The second rest day of the Tour de France marks, for us armchair followers at least, the beginning of the end. Sure, those guys on the bikes still have a mind-bending amount of cycling to do, but if the 3 weeks of the Tour was condensed into just one stage (like when TV scientists cram the whole of Earth’s existence into just one year and we learn that humans popped up at about 3 minutes to midnight on New Years Eve) then we are long past the feed zone and the intermediate sprint. We have already shed three-quarters of the Sky domestiques and we are either hungrily eyeing up the remnants of the breakaway, or wondering if this is the moment when Cadel will start going backwards quickly. Yes, my friends, we are now a ‘select group’ as Phil Liggett would say; we are at the ‘head of affairs’ and, just as someone pops off the front and is ‘free to fly’, the ITV4 cycling coverage will be going into its final, 7 minute long, ad break.

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Tour de France – Stage 9 roundup – “Cycling, Bloody Hell!”

As Alex Ferguson sort of once said: “Cycling, Bloody Hell!”

Or as Johnny Rotten didn’t quite say once either: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been treated?”

What an epic weekend! The Pyrenees were meant to play second fiddle to the Alps this year; only two stages and none of the hoo-ha of Mt Ventoux or Alpe d’Huez. I’ll tell you what though – if this is second fiddle then we are in for some virtuoso stuff come next weekend.

The late part of last week played out more to the expected plan. Cav gets his win on Stage 5. Greipel hits home first for Stage 6 and then Cannondale and Sagan beast Stage 7 and he looks to have green pretty much wrapped up within the first week.

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Tour de France – Day 4 roundup – Full Banana and Peas

So Corsica is done and La Grande Boucle is back on the mainland. Not that anyone should have cause to regret the three days offshore. We have been treated to sumptuous scenery, occaisonal high farce, and none too shabby racing.. Plus all the press pundits’ expectations and predictions have had to be tossed overboard on the ferry journey to Nice.. Nice. 

No wins for CVNDSH or Sagan. Kittel comes through the confusion and carnage to claim Stage 1. The breakaway’s breakaway  Bakelants holds off the raging horde for Stage 2. Orica Greenedge, having got all the headlines for all the wrong reasons on the opening day, come out of the shadows to sneak Stage 3 by the narrowest of margins. And then come out of even greater shadows to take the Stage 4 TTT and the Maillot Jaune. I’m not sure what the Aussie for ‘Chapeau’ is but they deserve it. With corks on. Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas, Tony Martin and Ted King keep the ‘Toughest Sport on the Planet’ flame alive whilst the whole peloton dodges loose dogs, dropped caps and very flimsy-looking final kilometres barriers. Even Chris Froome chucks out the pre-programming and has a quick pop off the front to show that improvisation is alive and well at Team Sky. Heady Days, my friends, Heady Days.

On the downside, we have been subjected to some of the most horrendous full kit abominations seen since Cipollini last hung up his zebra-hide skinsuit. I’m not just talking about the ongoing, season long horror shows that are the AG2R and Lampre kits – we have almost become inured to their awfulness – no, I’m talking about the modern penchant for leader’s jerseys to spread beyond the confines of the jersey itself onto the shorts, onto the helmet, onto the gloves, glasses, socks and even onto the fricking bikes themselves. The sight of Pierre Rolland yesterday, turning what was undeniably (according to me and my brother in the late 80’s anyway) the coolest looking jersey of all into what one enlightened viewer termed ‘an anorexic Mr Blobby’ definately took some stomaching. He did tone it down a little today but probably more through a lack of the requisite patterned aerosuit than through overnight aesthetic enlightenment. No so Jan Bakelants, who unashamedly went Full Banana today.

Jan Bakelants - Full Banana

Last year I was initially quite supportive of Wiggins’ relatively restrained co-opting of yellowness ‘beyond the jersey’ (for a long while just the glasses, then glimpses on the saddle, the internals of the forks and the belly of the downtube) but felt that even he was overdoing it come the final time trial at Chartres with the full fruity skinsuit. But no! Bakelants and Radioshack Trek have shown us that you can go one better than Wiggo, that you can go much deeper into the yellow – even if its only Day 4, you’ve never won a senior Pro race before and you are 98.54% certain not to be holding the jersey after the 26 minutes racing you will do today. Yes, go on Trek, crack out those yellow overshoes and really go to town. 

Maillot Jaune. Maillot Pois. Maillot Vert. 

The clue is in the title, lads. Calm down, eh?