The following article by Trevor Ward first appeared on the Guardian bicycle blog last week. It relates to an issue I’ve spoken with several people about in recent times – should everyday riders be able to wear UCI and National Champion Kit? Or even Pro Team kit for that mater? The issue reared its head at the TdF this year when the participants in an official Cycling Australia Tour where photographed wearing what appeared to be Australian National Champion jerseys, as provided to them by their Cycling Australia hosts. To say it caused something of a social media stir would be an understatement. I have my views, but what do you think on the matter?
Should amateur cyclists ever wear a replica champion’s jersey?
Is it a harmless celebration of heritage, or does it disrespect the achievements of those who have won the real thing?
Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault once famously told an interviewer: “When I see pot-bellied cyclists wearing the maillot jaune, it appals me.”
Personally, I would never be so presumptuous as to wear such iconic garb – not because I’d feel I was cheapening the achievements of someone like Hinault, but more because it would give a very misleading impression of my abilities as a cyclist. This is obviously not a view shared by some of the riders who turn up for sportives and other amateur events wearing the colours of professional cycling‘s most revered prizes – the rainbow stripes of world champion, the polka dots of the “king of the mountains” or the yellow, pink and red leader’s jerseys of the sport’s classic Grand Tours.
Certainly few kit suppliers appear to share Hinault’s concerns. A search at several online cycling retailers produced a wide range of stripes and spots that have been worn by various world and national champions. Even Rapha, the glossy brand that supplies Team Sky’s clothing, is not averse to selling replica versions of Sir Bradley Wiggins’s and Edvald Boasson Hagen’s national champion’s kits.
Brand manager James Fairbank says:
“Some people will buy it because they like the design, some will buy it as collectors items and not wear it, and some will buy it and wear it with pride. Good luck to them. Unless you’re Bradley Wiggins there’s always someone both faster and cooler, so just ride your bike and let others do the same in what ever outfit they choose.”
But Roger Hammond, who won nine national titles in road racing and cyclo-cross between 2000 and 2008 and now manages UK professional team Madison-Genesis , believes the champion’s stripes should be earned. He says:
“I’m from an age when cycling wasn’t as popular as it is now, and if I saw someone I didn’t mind what they were wearing as long as they were out on their bikes. But nowadays I feel a bit differently, because I know just how hard you have to work to win that jersey, and I have a little grin when I see anyone wearing a British champion’s jersey.
“I would never have done it myself. And for that same reason I would never wear a replica England football shirt, for example, because I know how hard the players have worked to earn their place and represent their country.
“I suppose football fans might argue that they are showing support for their team, but I think it’s different in cycling. I even find riders wearing trade team jerseys odd. In football there’s an affinity to the team, whereas in cycling it’s towards individual riders. ”
But it’s not just professionals who take offence at recreational riders wearing jerseys they associate with years of blood, sweat and tears. Rowan Elliott is an amateur rider who this month won his third national champion’s jersey in grass track racing. He has to fit 15 hours of training a week around his full-time job as a personal trainer and massage therapist with a Cheshire sports clinic. He says:
“Something like that should be earned and not paid for, as it takes a big commitment from me as a rider in my spare time to compete in events at such a level. It’s different for football fans wearing replica shirts. Those shirts are what the footballers wear for their day jobs, their work clothes if you like, so it’s fine for fans to buy replica versions if they want. But a jersey that says you are the national or world champion is something different, something that only comes through hard work and dedication.”
Graeme Obree , who famously broke the world hour record twice ridinga homemade bike made from old washing machine parts , and who also wore the rainbow stripes of individual track pursuit world champion in 1993 and 1995, takes the opposite view:
“It’s grand to see those jerseys being worn by amateurs out for a ride, it shows a real appreciation for what is an iconic symbol of our sport. Instead of being all precious about it, we should be thankful that people still want to wear these jerseys after all the drug-taking that’s gone on in the sport.”
Despite this, Obree, who next month hopes to break the world record of 82mph at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge, never wore his world champion’s jerseys while out training:
“Definitely not. They were covered in beer stains. The first thing you want to do after winning a world title is find the nearest table to dance on. But if they’d had a jersey for breaking the world hour record I’d have definitely worn that.”
What do you think? Is wearing a replica champion’s jersey a harmless celebration of cycling’s rich heritage, or does it cheapen the achievements of those who won the real thing?