The average European road is built more for helping cars navigate communities than turning traffic into high-pressure hydraulics. The narrow roads, roundabouts, median strips and occasional stretches of decades-old pavement strike me as, well, civilized. Group rides on such small roads make 40km/h feel like 50km/h. Unfortunately, the fire hose of a PRO peloton zooming down these same roads at 60km/h can be nearly suicidal.
The gendarmes who help direct the racers over the course have my utmost respect. Theirs is a long day with a negative glory quotient. What really impresses me are the guys who stand in front of the road furniture waving relatively modestly sized flags to get the peloton to split around the medians. Done right, their job isn’t even a footnote, but if something goes wrong, it’s big news and can wreck riders’ seasons.
I shot the image above in the town of le Bourg d’Oisans in 2004 when the time trial went up l’Alpe d’Huez. It’s a simple image but it contains much. In him I see the French people’s love of the Tour de France and their respect for one of their country’s great cultural artifacts.
The seriousness with which this jeune homme acquits himself says volumes about the love the French people have for le Tour. There is a race to run and it must be run to the high standards that the world has come to expect from the Tour de France.
Those who have experienced the frustration of dealing with a French bureaucracy might find his diligence surprising, but it speaks well of the Tour itself. The fact is (and Bill McGann points this out in his history of the Tour de France), the Tour de France has been almost without exception devoid of the sort of nationalistic bias that has caused both the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana to be decided in favor of a homeboy.
As much as the French hate the fact that a countryman hasn’t won their national treasure since 1985, that unfortunate record has helped to confirm the fact that the French value fairness above the reputation of French riders. Some folks might wish to think the whole of the French people have it in for Lance Armstrong or other American riders; certainly l’Equipe seems to have it in for Armstrong, but no matter. The Tour itself has been kept assiduously devoid of any organizer cheating with almost no exception, though there have been rumors here and there. That said, none of the rumors is less than 40 years old.
Some years ago, I was atop a Pyrenean climb, waiting for the peloton to whip me and 100,000 of my tribe into a frenzy. The task was but a nudge; the promotional caravan had us throwing elbows like we were headed to the toy aisle for a day-after-Thanksgiving sale. A keychain arced its way through the leafy sky and struck the banner zip tied to the crowd fencing against which I was leaning.
I tried leaning over the barrier to reach the trinket as yet unnoticed by anyone else. I couldn’t reach it. I tried sliding my fingers under the stiff board. No dice. It was then that a gendarme walked up to me, waggling his finger in a most universal “no.” I tried to explain that I just wanted the keychain, the prize, le prix. His finger never stopped its metronomic wave. And suddenly, he bent down, grabbed the keychain, stood up, and handed it to me.
Embarrassment is crimson. Merci, merci. Suddenly, I understood that I hadn’t understood. I had been afraid that in keeping order he might prevent me from getting a little nothing. In fact, his job was to keep order to the degree that the race could proceed undisturbed, no more. From that moment on, I watched the gendarmes and how they dealt with the crowd. It was different from the way I had seen police forces deal with crowds anywhere else in the world. These officers could steer a lion through a steeplechase with a feather. No one’s buzz got killed; kids were left in trees and nothing, but nothing disturbed the racers as they swished past.
While nothing else is as big as the Tour, I’ve seen the gendarmerie in action at other events. Where the crowds aren’t as large, their touch is even lighter. While talk of rider safety comes up at the Classics and each of the Grand Tours, I think it’s easy to underestimate what an amazing job they do given the exotic circumstances.
I was weaned on inexpensive crochet-backed gloves. I never went for the more expensive all-leather gloves, though a few local shops carried them. Maybe I was cheap (I was a college student) or maybe I just didn’t appreciate the style of Eddy Merckx. The 1980s weren’t really the high water mark for sideburns or Porsches.
I recoil to think what was hip then: fluorescent colors, Delta brakes and shoulder pads (though not in cycling clothing). My first lycra-backed gloves with a Terry thumb utterly negated the need/relevance of crochet-backed gloves. The change was electric-light instant.
Years went by. One summer, on a tour in France, I noticed the hands of a friend’s wife. That may sound inappropriately sensual, but it was less her hands than the pattern of the tan on the back of her hands. She had a half-moon tan that was so dark as to be unavoidably noticeable. What made her hands even cooler was her complete nonchalance about them.
Most of my body has ridiculous tan lines. I’ve decided to embrace them. As a result, I’ve been waiting for more than 10 years for a stylish glove to come along that would give me some old-school tan lines on my hands. I’ll meet your farmer and raise you a half moon.
Giro’s new Lusso gloves bring back the 1970s in all their idealized glory. These gloves are a suped up Mustang Boss 302 that will pass smog. The palm is cut from Pittards leather while the back uses even softer Cabretta leather; it’s softer than a feather bed.
Properly fitted, a full-leather cycling glove starts out a bit tight. My first ride with these the they were quite snug across the knuckles. After three or four rides, they stretched enough to fit me naturally. After a half dozen rides they were me, only tougher.
The gloves may be old-school in their use of leather, but that’s where the retro ends. A small tab at the base of the wrist makes pulling them on eaiser. Perforations in the palm increase breathability as does a lightweight mesh between each of the fingers. These gloves couldn’t be more breathable if you gave them an asthma inhaler.
The best update of all is how the padding is placed. Technogel pads grace the thumb, the heel and the top of the palm. For anyone looking for a glove that can increase comfort on long rides (or really intense ones) these things are a marvel.
On the top of the thumb where an absorbent material would ordinarily be located, ultrasuede keeps the leather theme going, even if it isn’t actually leather. It’s not especially absorbent, though.
The Lussos are meant to be appropriate for any weather fair enough for short-finger gloves, though I wouldn’t wear them if the temperature rises above 85 degrees, no matter how low the humidity might be.
Giro offers the Lussos in two different color schemes, either in all black or with a black palm and white back. Naturally, the white back is the way to go on these. Protect your $65 dollar investment by hand washing them occasionally so your hands don’t smell like an old shoe.
Once you get over the completely PRO style, you’ll keep wearing them because they are so comfortable.