Whenever I was out riding, I pretended my bike was a Bianchi. For my 11th birthday I got my first racing bike. It was a pale blue Paramount from a small bike shop run by Arthur Hunt in Nottingham, although the bike was actually made by Mercian of Derby.
I got the bike secondhand. The man my dad bought the bike from was a member of the local cycle club and he suggested I came along too. I joined the Beeston RC and after a few weeks cycling at the weekends with the club I started to learn a new language.
So between the ages of 11 and 17, I had nothing in my life apart from cycling. I would go to bed early, eat sensibly and take my cycling really seriously. Suddenly I was bombarded with the names of the great superstars of continental cycling, such as Gino Bartali, Federico Bahamontes, Jacques Anquetil and, of course, the legendary Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi. The riders of the time were such great competitors and so stylish on and off the bike.
I saved up for continental magazines, ordered-in specially from the local newsagents, and coveted those photos of my heroes – but Fausto Coppi was the one. Wearing the pale blue Bianchi jersey, there was just something about him and something inside me, something subconscious, that made me interested in him.
To be honest, I still like the look of the jerseys from that era the best, but obviously today’s ones work better – they fit well, they breathe and they stretch. All the road vests at the time I was racing were in wool with a collar and button fastening with the pockets front and back – essential for supplies – then later with a knitted rib neck.
Although these wool jerseys looked great they could be rather itchy and dreadfully heavy when wet and very hot in the summer. Our clothing is known for its use of colour, and some of the racing jerseys were a part of my original clothing design ideas.
The Bianchi one in its trademark celeste blue was fantastic, the colour so distinctive and flattering. The chain stitching for the trade names and sponsor’s writing is still my favourite way of writing onto fabric and is what was used when I made the special Etape jersey for the 2007 Tour de France with Rapha.