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Three or four years ago, at a product launch, I was handed a small baggie containing some brown and blue cloth I’d later learn was a team replica AG2R-La Mondiale kit. I laughed to myself as I opened it. Team kit?! Who wears pro team kit? Only posers and real pros wear team kit.
Two Julys ago, I was standing in a parking lot off the back of the Izoard, poking a text message to my editor back in Boulder, when Romain Bardet stepped around the corner, climbed into the back of a white van, and sunk himself into an inflatable ice bath. He’d just finished third that day, and his face had been wiped off, but his arms were still covered in dark brown dust. He put his head back and grimaced, just slightly, and with no helmet or glasses, that grimace seemed, somehow, more real and more human than the ones we see on TV. I already liked the way he raced and in that moment I became a fan; I’ll admit it. I’d challenge you not to.
I chucked that AG2R kit in the donate pile at least a year before I saw Romain’s grimace.
I wasn’t always this way. In my early cycling years, as a teenager, maybe 1999, I had a short-sleeved U.S. Postal Service jersey. And a long-sleeved one, too. I went to the Northbrook Velodrome outside Chicago and saw Christian Vande Velde racing in the same kit that I had, and it was completely awesome.
What happened? I got older. More aware of what others wore. More self-conscious. I got my own team kit, for teams I rode for, and repped it loud and proud and earned the hell out of that 20% discount on thoroughly average eyewear. Suddenly, pro team kit felt like posing. I hadn’t earned it, yet. Ha! Yet. The optimism of youth in one word, right there.
I’m not entirely sure why we, the enlightened amateurs of North America and Australia (because, to be clear, everyone in Belgium owns and wears a QuickStep kit, so this is not a worldwide phenomenon), became so opposed to wearing kit that supports our favorite teams, or our favorite riders. Is it because we feel we haven’t earned it? Bollocks. That assumes someone will confuse us for the real thing, and we all know that ain’t happening.
Maybe it’s because, for many years, serious riders were all part of their own clubs. I mean that literally. You had your own kit, designed by the club treasurer and almost certainly hideous. You had your own sponsors to rep at Tuesday Worlds. Only new riders, or bad riders, Freds, and hubbards, riders who were decidedly not in the club, would end up with bland Nashbar jerseys or, heaven forbid, pro team kit. They didn’t know better. They hadn’t yet been let in.
It was another one of those silent signals, part of a complex but unspoken language of dress and position and stem length and stack height that tells others whether you’re in the gang, or out of it.
Club kits are increasingly rare, though. So are clubs, actually, at least in my part of the world. Which means that easy differentiator, the gaudy, logoed line between us and them, is erased. Everyone can buy a black kit with an arm band.
So let’s open our minds further. Support not just the clothing brands whose designs you appreciate, but the pro teams you cheer for, or once cheered for, loved or hated. Rock the Mapei blocks, or the Postal Service eagle, or the whirling colors of EF and Canyon-SRAM. Or the stripes of Sky (those are on sale this week, I’m sure). Because pro bike racing is awesome. It’s hard as hell and the guys and gals who do it are worth looking up to. And I’d rock the heck out of that AG2R kit if I still had it.
A peloton of posers we may be, but really, what’s wrong with that?