THE TROPHY? I’M WEARING IT!
It’s the world’s most important multiple-stage bicycle race, and the trophy every winner takes home is our sport’s most iconic prize – the Yellow Jersey. This is the story of a day in the spent in the company’s base, handling with awed reverence a jersey that’s the sought-after objective for all participants in the Tour de France. Everyone wants it, but only one will put it on in Paris.
“It was Ernest Colnago who pointed me in Sanitini’s direction. It was towards the end of the 1960s when I had to redo the Audax Treviglio jerseys because Colnago had become a sponsor. He gave the information, saying that I was a smart guy. I trusted Ernesto, and it turned out I was right to! Santini’s business was in a garage where the noise of the carriages shuttling across the knitting machines filled the air in a space already packed with boxes, rolls of yarn and jerseys. How do they come out? Well, you be the judge”.
This is what my Father said when I told him I was to visit the knitwear factory to report for “Cyclist” on the production of the new yellow jersey. He showed me a now-felted wool Audax jersey and talked to me about Santini, filling my expectations of the visit to the home of a fascinating brand with the poetry created by the perfume of the wool.
I’ve been a part of the cycling world since I was baby, but even now when I go to a fair or event I still feel as excited as a kid in a toyshop. However, there’s something different about the Santini works, a family atmosphere that exists despite the fact these operations have a global reach. The atmosphere of the factory inspires a feeling that the company is deeply, genuinely rooted in its past. When you enter Santini you see pink jerseys signed by great champions, jerseys worn by winners of the Paris-Roubaix, jerseys belonging to Hinault and Lemond, World Championship jerseys from the past thirty years, all masterpieces that any company would rightly be proud of.
But in the middle of all these, given slightly less prominence, you’ll see objects whose importance might go unrecognised at first glance – for example, next to Giuseppe Saronni’s Del Tongo jersey hangs the jersey of the Unione Ciclistica Sforzatica, the local team Santini helped during times of difficulty. Bikes ridden by Hinault, Pantani and Gimondi are on display, but in among them there’s also a bike from “Rossi e Santini”, a junior team from the 1980s and 90s that won a series of victories across Lombardy and beyond. They may not have made any particular impact on the cycling world but they left their mark on Pietro Santini’s generous heart. All in all, the Santini story isn’t only one of a search for excellence, it’s an emotion-packed ride towards the future.
It's the kind of secret I love, the secret behind the Grande Boucle jersey.
I arrived on time in Lallio, where Paola Santini and her father Pietro invited me for a coffee. Signor Santi’s reminiscences told of a life devoted to passion and work. “When I was fifteen I started work with my sisters, who were already making jerseys. My father wasn’t so sure, he said it was women’s work, but I enjoyed it and it was better than working in an office. I threw myself into it. ‘Don’t make a fool of me’, he said. Well, I think I’ve succeeded!”, he says with a smile.
The anecdotes came streaming out, but one especially caught my interest – the replacement of the partnership with the Giro d’Italia with the more important relationship with the Vuelta Espana in 2017. The Spanish race is owned by Unipublic, which in turn is owned by ASO, the company that organises the Tour de France, and manufacturing the Vuelta’s ‘rojo’ jersey led to the agreement with the Grande Boucle. “We’d won their trust by demonstrating our skills and competence”, says Paola Santini.
And that was the inspiration, the emotion that would be the object of all the passion the brand embodies. You may be asking, “OK, but it’s just a yellow jersey when all’s said and done. What could be so special about it?” The secret of a masterpiece lies in creating originality where none seemed to exist, transforming it into an example of rare beauty.
They brought me a jersey from the Tour de France 2022. Paola began to explain the masterpiece developed by Fergus Niland, originally Irish but now a citizen of Bergamo. For over ten years now he has embodied the creative and technical flair of Santini’s collection. Her eyes sparkle with pride as she shows me all the details that make their “Yellow” such a cherished Tour trophy - the co-ordinated zips, the interior tag bearing the story of the yellow jersey with plenty of space for the signature and the silicone grippers inside the sleeve cuffs in the shape of the Arc de Triomphe. They can’t be seen when you wear it, but they are there against your skin!
The jersey tells a story, it’s a unique trophy rewarding the athlete’s efforts and the passion and culture enclosed within the factory walls.
As I said goodbye to Paola and Pietro I was sure of one thing – now more than ever the jersey is the trophy. The jersey by Santini.