Eric ZABEL (D)My morning routine before a ride has a script as rehearsed as a prime-time sitcom. The very first thing I do is put on sunblock. While it’s true years of childhood thick-headedness has left me at risk for skin cancer, I use sunblock and zinc oxide as much to prevent today’s burn as tomorrow’s melanoma.

But there’s a funny middle ground to my practice. I’ve given up on the battle to combat tan lines on my arms and legs. No amount of zinc oxide, even the toothpaste-white variety that Frankie Andreu used to cover his nose during the Tour de France each summer, can keep me from developing a demarcation as sudden and graphic as the panels of a police cruiser.

Ankles, quads, biceps and wrists, and during longer summer tours, even my fingers appear as mismatched to the rest of my body as a thrift-store outfit. I don’t go shirtless at the pool or beach more out of a sense of propriety than concern for burning. No one should subject the unprepared public for patchwork appearance I present.

Tour de Georgia 2008 Presentation 20/04/08So while my extremities are the basis for my personal Waterloo, my forehead and face are the castle keep. I refuse to yield the billboard above my eyebrows to advertise which helmet I use by virtue of the tan lines burned into my domed pate.

And the harder I work to slather my forehead, nose and lips with some goo that promises to shield me from the mayhem of UVA, UVB, UVC and UVZ, the more I love the PROs who have given up any pretense of being anything other than a PRO cyclist. Chin strap lines, vent hole diamonds, eyewear borders and most especially dirt tattoos, in the face and head of a PRO post-race I see the simplest, clearest reminder that while I can buy the equipment, the clothing, even ride the same roads, my dedication has something theirs does not: bounds.

Images: John Pierce, Photosport International



  1. mark

    I don’t put sunscreen above my eyes, so I get the vent hole tan. But it’s not because I’m PRO or trying to be–I just can’t stand getting sunscreen in my eyes when sweat makes it drip back down.

  2. Flahute

    I’ve had racing stripes on my scalp far too many times to remember, and I hate myself every time it happens, because sunburned scalp hurts like a motherf***er …

    I don’t wear gloves, so my below the neck lines are limited to arms, knees, ankles & watch (and maybe a V on my chest from riding with the jersey unzipped. Above the neck is crazy, from glasses, helmet, straps and cap (when I remember to wear one).

  3. Darren

    (tangential to main topic) Mark…just use sunblock that only lists titanium and zinc as the active ingredients (“physical” sunblock ingredients rather then “chemical”). They’re the old school sunblock..leaves a little whitish hue on the skin and doesn’t rub in as quickly as the new chemical stuff. I shave my head and burning eyes drove me crazy ’till I figured this out. Many different types/brands….for example “Neutrogena® Pure & Free™ Baby Sunblock Lotion SPF 60+ with PureScreen™.”

  4. miffed

    I love my tan lines, though it does lead to all levels of hilarity when I go out running with my friends in my running shorts

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