A little place called Bergamo
With the racing year coming to an end, and the Australian summer beckoning (hence the Beach Boys reference above), I have one last story to share with you. Just a few days after my Giro adventure ended, I serendipitously found myself passing through Bergamo, Italy - home of Santini. Well, more than home - in fact, more like the town otherwise known as Santini. It seems that everyone in town either works there, or proudly knows someone who does - as I recounted during my last visit.
Still, when in (or near) Rome… so I dropped by largely unannounced for a coffee and a catch-up. As luck would have it, the place was buzzing with anticipation for the upcoming Vuelta, and, fortuitously, they had a run of red jerseys on the production floor. I would be able to capture the process from start to finish.
Before that though, a little history. The red jersey (or Maillot Rojo - in what I am dubbing as either ‘Sprench’ or ‘Franish’ - given the egregious concatenation of French and Spanish words by our good friends at Wikipedia) has had a ‘colourful’ history (pardon the pun - you’ll get it in a minute). It's gone from orange, to white, then back to orange, then white with a red stripe, then yellow (how original), then orange for a third time, then gold, and finally red - a colour organisers have, miraculously, managed to somehow leave unchanged since 2010.
Which is surprising to me. If I was asked what colour immediately came to my mind when thinking about Spain (as strange a question as that may seem) I would go straight for red. Red rag for bullfighting, predominantly red national flag, colours of the national football team, etc.
They should have just asked me - and saved themselves all the messing around.
In another twist in the history of the Maillot Rojo, this year it was to be manufactured by Santini for the first time. So, the name is a mixture of French and Spanish, made by Italians. You can’t get more ‘cycling’ than that.
This also made my visit just that little bit more special - I was witnessing the first ever run of Santini red jerseys!
The production is carried out completely in-house at the Bergamo factory, starting life as a roll of white lycra - and quite an enormous white roll at that - and a sketch on paper.
The jerseys are then designed by the in-house design department before being printed onto an equally enormous roll of paper. Each part (or panel) of the jersey is printed separately, and then laid out flat - like a jigsaw puzzle.
Once the printing is complete, the printed paper (with the jersey panels on it) is sandwiched with the lycra roll (that has since been cut up into individual pieces). The lycra pieces are painstaking aligned with the printed design on the paper. Under immense pressure and heat the print is then sublimated onto the lycra, giving the panels the distinct red colour and design you see in the race. At the end of this process all the pieces are bundled up with a printed sheet of directions - and onto the next stage where the real magic happens!
Sew that’s how they do it...
I enjoyed watching the jersey come together as it was passed from one sewing machine to the next. I even had to ask my hosts to ask some of the highly skilled workers to slow down - they were working so quickly that I couldn’t get a clear shot.
First the back pockets and lower section of the jersey took shape, followed by the elastic around the waist, and then the zipper. Finally, after a dozen sets of hands have worked on it, the jersey was close to completion. I was amazed by just how much is still done by hand here - it was good to see some old-world craftsmanship in the flesh.
Once the construction of the jersey was complete, it was inspected (Santini are huge on quality) before the remaining threads were clipped. The jersey was then tagged, bagged and made ready for the race leader’s team logo to be stamped on the front. This is, apparently, done seconds after the stage finishes using a mobile press and a selection of pre-printed team logos.
I couldn’t keep this jersey as it was destined for La Vuelta. However, I was invited upstairs to try on a replica without the white square (for the logo) on the front. The jersey fit was very tight - thankfully, though, it had enough stretch to contour over my post-Giro, post-grissini figure.
I finished my tour by sitting down with Stefano (from the marketing department) to ask him a bunch of questions about the race jerseys - in what was my first official Beardy’s Caravan interview.
Beardy: How many jerseys get produced for the race?
Stefano: There are 600 jerseys produced for La Vuelta in various sizes.
Beardy: Wow, that's a lot! What happens to all the leftover red jerseys?
Stefano: Yes it is a lot for jerseys to transport around Spain. Some of them will be signed by the winner and used as giveaways. Others used as contest prizes.
Beardy: Santini has a long history making the Giro's Maglia Rosa. Has Santini ever made the Red Jersey before?
Stefano: No, never, it is the first time ever that Santini sponsors the Vuelta. As a matter of fact also the red jersey is something pretty new. Until a few years ago the Vuelta leader used to dress in an Ochre (gold) Jersey. Talking about the Red jersey, we produced the Giro d’Italia Red Jersey since they switched from the Purple some years ago, until this year when they returned to the Purple Jersey again.
Beardy: I wear a medium jersey (wink, wink). What size jersey does Chris Froome wear and does it get modified to fit?
Stefano: Size S. I actually do not know if they modified it on their side. We did not modify it from our side.
After our chat it was time to say ciao to the Santini staff and Bergamo. The next time I would see the Red Jersey would be on the back of the race leader in Spain.
Coincidentally, the next time you might see the Red Jersey is in my brand-new 2018 cycling calendar - available now from beardymcbeard.com. Or in the images below.