Lead Photo by Steel Vintage Bikes
Introduced in 1931 and first worn by Francesco Camusso, the Giro d’Italia’s general classification leader has worn the maglia rosa – the pink jersey – as an indicator of their status. It was made of wool – a characteristic that persisted for the next fifty years until synthetic fabrics came into widespread use and sublimated printing meant all kinds of subtle, or not so subtle, designs and sponsor names could be added. This development also gave teams the opportunity to turn as much attire and equipment pink-as possible: bikes, helmets, gloves, shorts, shoes, sunglasses, bar tape, in fact if it could be made pink it probably was. Nairo Quintana took things to the extreme in 2014 with basically an all pink ensemble and bike. While well-intentioned, it was overkill to the point of being garish and rather diluted the splendid appearance of the garment itself.
Photo – Cycling News
It was not always this way. Really through the 80s, the race leader wore their usual team gear and the maglia rosa. This meant all the attention was focused on the actual garment, not on the accessories. Made by Castelli for many years and sponsored by La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper (printed on pink paper, hence the jersey color), it was crisp and clean. The wool fabric didn’t take kindly to sponsor decals being attached and if they were, they were often sewn on in big panels. (Today, they are screen-printed backstage immediately after the stage is over.)
Castelli understood this and in a brilliantly subtle piece of marketing (the jersey featured the Castelli logo of a scorpion on the shoulders) they stitched a little label under the front hem upside down. Why upside down you ask? Well, this was when jerseys were cut longer than they are today and inevitably, the front hem would flip up leaving the little label in full view and visible the right way up. Therefore pictures of the race leader on the podium would often be showing a Castelli label to the assembled multitudes.
In an age of marginal gains being applied to all aspects of a rider’s wellbeing and performance, sponsors such as Castelli were way ahead of the game.