There’s little doubt that tattoos have become more popular in recent years. Where body art was once confined to a small sub-section of the community, people of all walks of life are now using ink for self-expression.
The same is true in the world of cycling. In the past, riders had to toe the line, to be presentable and clean cut (at least on the outside). Sponsors didn’t want Hells Angels wannabes on their roster. But these days tattoos are much more common in the peloton, both on the men’s side and the women’s side of the sport.
Sure, there’s been the odd rider in the past with a tattoo, but let’s be honest: they’ve generally been pretty shocking. There was Richard Virenque with that scorpion he had on his leg. Or the case of David Clinger, a promising sprinter who signed for the Webcor team back in 2005, before deciding in the offseason to get a full-face Maori-inspired tattoo.
Unsurprisingly, Clinger’s face ink didn’t go down too well with team management come the season’s first training camp. Clinger was told to undergo laser treatment to get rid of the tattoo, or he would be fired.
And while a full-face tattoo still mightn’t go down to well today, attitudes have certainly relaxed when it comes to cyclists having tattoos.
Under the jersey
Walk around the pits of a professional men’s bike race and you’re sure to see the odd rider with a visible tattoo or two. And then there are the riders that have more tattoos than just the ones on display. Hidden under the team kit of some riders are amazing artworks emblazened across backs and chests. This is where Dutch photographer Wouter Roosenboom comes in.
We’ve brought you some of Wouter’s work on this site in the past — in fact, he won the inaugural Mark Gunter Photographer of the Year competition in 2016. Like all the best photographers, Wouter’s photos show bicycle racing from a unique perspective. His work is more focused on emotions and detail than straight-up race action. He often has the chance to get up close and personal to riders with exclusive access to life behind-the-scenes, from the dinner table to the massage table.
In Wouter’s coffee-table book “Scherp” there’s a whole superb chapter dedicated to the stories behind some of the tattoos that adorn those in the peloton. In his own words, Wouter takes us through a few of his favourite tattoos and what they mean to the respective riders.
“I met Pippo Pozatto at a hotel in Maastricht where he got a massage. The likeable Italian permitted me to shoot all his tattoos on his body and the very special one on his back: ‘Only God can judge me.’ It’s a message to all the people trying to judge him by taking him at face value, looking at his hair or his shoes while they don’t really know him.
“It’s easy to vent one opinion over another. The truth is that only God can judge him.”
“Gilbert won his first race as a junior two kilometres from my house in Eijsden. He must love the region of Limburg, after [four] times winning the Amstel Gold Race and in 2012 taking the rainbow jersey in Valkenburg. I love the special rainbow tattoo on his ankle. I took this photo during a visit to his bike store in Monaco.”
“I remember the 2012 Olympias Tour where a young Rohan Dennis, then part of Team Jayco–AIS, won the time trial. Before the race, he’d got a massage in public, in front of the team bus. I was impressed by the Australian coat of arms tattooed across his back, made after being selected for his first senior road national team. There was clearly a little more than just a bit of national pride when it came to his motivation.”
“I remember taking this shot while shooting for the BMC Racing Team in 2013. I made a nice connection with Daniel Oss, and he gave me the possibility of shooting his tattoos. My challenge is always to be the fly on the wall, being as invisible as possible.”
“When Samuel Sanchez made his transfer to BMC Racing Team I was asked to shoot a new portrait at the team’s service course in Eke. When he was getting fitted for his new team kit I noticed his Olympic tattoo. A few minutes later he was already in front of my camera.”
Koen de Kort
“As staff photographer of Team Giant-Alpecin I spent a lot of time with Koen de Kort. He showed me the first drawing he had when he originally decided to have a tattoo. Three gladiators fighting with a tiger. These are a tribute to his life as a cyclist. He cycles to entertain the people, like the gladiators in the past.”
“When I’m shooting on the motorbikes during a race I always try to find something special. I spotted John Gadret during the Amstel Gold Race.”
“I captured a special one from Chad Haga. He got it … after his Dad’s death, but it also relates to the crash he had in January 2016. To Chad, it means he shouldn’t be afraid to live his life because eternity in heaven is guaranteed through Christ.”
There are, of course, many more riders in pro men’s cycling that have tattoos. Here’s a selection:
Who have we missed? Let us know (with a photo link) in the comments below.