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Behind the Cap

Cycling sponsors tend to come and go. Many stick around for a year or two, fulfil their commitments and then disappear into the rear view mirror of cycling history. Others like Lampre and Quickstep have seemed to have been around for ages. But what products are these companies actually trying to promote ? Some are household names, but others are a little more obscure especially to cycling fans outside the sponsor’s home market.



The super team of the early seventies made famous by probably the greatest cyclist ever, Eddy Merckx. Sometimes confused with the kitchen company of the same name, Molteni were a sausage maker from Arcore, just outside of Monza. The team ran from 1958 to 1976 with a total of 663 wins. Not sure how many extra sausages were sold though.

Team Z


The Z in Team Z stands for Zeta Vetements – a French children’s clothing store. The team’s origins can be found in the Peugeot cycling team and were known as Vétements Z-Peugeot (1987), Z-Peugeot (1988-89), Z-Tomasso (1990), Z (1991–92) the team went onto become Gan (1992-1998) and Credit Agricole (1998-2008).

Notable riders in the Z years when the kit had the pop art style exploding graphics were Greg Lemond and Robert Millar two of the coolest riders in the peloton. Back in the nineties many of us rode in this kit emulating our heroes. Little did we know that they were acting as a billboard for baby grows.

St Raphael

st raphael

in 1954 St Raphael became one of the first extra-sportif(company outside of the cycling industry) sponsors of professional racing. The French drinks company manufactures an aperitif that contains quinine and cocoa amongst other things.

In the 1950’s St Raphael and its sister company Rapha sponsored riders including Tom Simpson, Jaques Anquetil, Raphaël Géminiani and Jean Stablinski.

Mercatone Uno


This Italian supermarket chain that specialises in white goods were the title sponsors for teams from 1992-1995 and 1997 to 2003. It’s second stint as being a title sponsor came about when the Carrera team folded and their manager Davide Boifava wanted to build a team around its star rider Marco Pantani.

Mercatone Uno allegedly withdrew its sponsorship in 2003 on Pantani’s retirement with many of the team moving to Barlowworld.




Often confused with the New York borough due to Spike Lee wearing a cycling cap in the 1986 film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ and early Nike adverts, Brooklyn were an Italian chewing gum manufacturer that named its product after the famous bridge.

The Milanese company sponsored a cycling team in the 1970’s and its most famous riders were brothers Erik and Roger de Vlaeminck who were the greats of cyclocross and the Paris Roubaix.



mapei cap

Italian based Mapei sponsor cycling due to a love of the sport and their brightly coloured logo’s are instantly recognisable. Despite not having sponsored a team for over a decade the company still is actively involved in the promotion of its brand through cycling.

Mapei manufactures tile adhesive and grout. Whether there are a lot of tilers that like cycling is a different subject all together.



The bright yellow Kas jerseys are synonymous with 80’s Irish cyclist Sean Kelly. The Spanish brand manufactures a fruit based soft drink and is now owned by Pepsi.

The brand may be unfamiliar in many countries it is available in cycling mad Spain and France.



Sponsors of a cycling team from 1963 to 1972, Salvarani manufacture kitchen components. The team’s most famous rider was Felice Gimondi who won the world championship in 1972. After Salvarani withdrew their sponsorship the team became Bianchi-Campagnolo – two of the biggest names in Italian cycling.


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Imagine turning up to the Tour de France to race against the pro teams. Not in a team yourself, but you alone. No soigneurs, team bus, mechanics or DS – just you. At the end of every stage having to find some accommodation and only being begrudgingly allowed to race just to make up the numbers. In the early editions of the race this is what happened.

When Henri Desgrange came up with the concept of le Tour in 1903 he brought along a formula that he had used when organising the 1901 Paris Brest Paris race – that there should be two distinct groups: coureurs de vitesse(racers) and touriste routiers (non-racers). Interestingly the first Tour was won by Maurice Garin who won the P-B-P two years earlier.

Desgrange’s draconian rules and sadistic stages were legendary (derailleurs weren’t allowed until 1937) but he came down even harder on the touriste routiers. Being un-sponsored they were literally expected to fend for themselves. Desgrange said: “There are special prizes for you and you are welcome to come and get them if you have the courage. But apart from being in the race on the road, I do not want to know that you exist.”

In the early days of the race no riders could get outside assistance whilst riding. The famous story is of Eugene Christophe getting a time deduction for getting a small boy to pump some bellows whilst he repaired his forks with a blacksmith’s forge. However off the bike the professional racers had the benefit of a back up team organising accommodation and mechanics to look after the bikes post race. Touriste routiers did not have that luxury and beyond having their bags transported they were on their own.

Savvy routiers booked their accommodation ahead, however many riders who had little money had to use a bit more initiative to get a roof over their head including busking !

gordini tourist 1927

The touriste routiers were a mixed bunch many owned bike shops and were attempting to complete the course to raise publicity for their businesses others were enthusiastic amateurs who were using their annual leave to go on the adventure of a lifetime.

By 1928 there were 121 routiers on the start line of the Tour (only 11 finished). This was the peak of the race being a pro-am affair.

In 1930 Desgrange was disappointed that major bike manufacturers were organising coureurs into teams which diluted the individual element of the race. To make it so that no trade team dominated the race, he introduced national teams with only sixty routiers starting that year.

max bulla tourist

Many routiers gained the opportunity to join these new teams which marked the slow demise of this class of rider. Ironically the only time that a routier wore the yellow jersey was in the 5901 km 1931 race when Max Bulla won stage two, taking advantage that the tourists were allowed to set off ten minutes before the coureurs.

Another consequence of organising national teams was that to combat the fact that trade teams were no longer going to invest in the race due to the lack of brand awareness, he introduced the publicity caravan that still exists today.

The literal translation of touriste routiers is tourist of the road. In the middle ages however the routiers were mercenary warriors. The concept of these early amateur riders being warriors seems a lot more apt than them being mere tourists. Just before the outbreak of World War to the routier category was phased out. Despite his attitude towards this class, the routiers were closest to Desgrange’s original vision of the races competitors – the individual battling the course, weather and fellow riders for the love of the ride.