Getting invited to have a look inside the factory that makes the Maglia Rosa was the perfect way to finish off our Giro d’Italia experience - the cherry on top, so to speak. Santini has been producing the prestigious pink jersey since before I’d even hit double digits, a massive 23 years!
Arriving at the HQ in Bergamo I was greeted by Monica Santini in true italian style, with a kiss on each cheek. She is the daughter of Pietro Santini and now the CEO of the company.
Santini is a true family business – as well as Monica, her sister Paola heads up the marketing department. They have been so closely linked to the business that they spent most of their childhood living above the factory. When I found out that the apartment they grew up in was still there, like a time capsule, perfectly preserved in all its 1970’s glory – I knew I had to see inside. But first, lunch.
Sitting down at a table with the Santini family was a ‘pinch yourself’ moment, as Monica and Paola told stories of how their father started the company, and the amazing legacy they have created after 50 years of producing cycling kit. The stories just kept on coming, but my favourite concerned the first time Pietro Santini saw Lycra. It was on a team of Eastern Bloc cyclists at the Bergamo velodrome. He tried his best to get as close as possible, to examine the miracle fabric, but at the time ‘minders’ stopped contact between the team and the Italians for fear of the athletes defecting.
Realising this was the future, Pietro was quick to adopt the new technology.
Back in the factory and I felt like a kid in a candy shop as we discovered rack upon rack of vintage woollen team jerseys. I couldn’t resist trying a couple on. There was a story to go along with each and every one – from movie sets, to grand tours. I had to find out which one, out of the thousands of jerseys produced, was Pietro’s favourite. It turned out to be the La vie Claire jersey, inspired by Pierre Mondrian’s artworks, that stuck in his memory. This jersey was an artwork in itself, as each panel was individually woven and stitched together by hand.
While walking amongst the sewing machines on the factory floor I was introduced to staff members that had been working with the company for over 20 years. The technology has come a long way since the mechanical loom, however it still takes a lot of people to produce a cycling kit, and some tasks just have to be done by hand – such as skilfully hand-pinning each chamois perfectly in place before stitching.
Then, just as I thought the tour was coming to an end, Monica came back with the key to the apartment. Just as described, it was as if time had stood still in there. Looking around the curved wooden cabinetry, and ornate murano glass lampshades, it was a real privilege to have a glimpse into the life of this inspiring family. I could imagine Pietro working away downstairs as the family went about their lives above.
Having such an iconic Italian family supporting The Caravan through this years Giro has made what was already an amazing experience, even better. Next up, we head to the mountains and the Granfondo Stelvio Santini!
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.