The riders in the 1930s and 1940s were at it. Their successors in the eras of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain and Armstrong were doing it too. Now the newest crop of current riders are repeating the practices of the past. They are doping…with socks.
‘Sock doping’ has been going on for generations, however Sean Sakinofsky is probably the first to put his finger on what has been taking place. There has hardly been an omérta to overcome but Sakinofsky has recognised why socks matter, not to enhance performance but to enhance style.
It is the guiding principle for his company, Sako7, with the belief being never to overlook this small but vital item of clothing. The motto is ‘socks maketh the kit.’
“If you want to make the most of how you look, to finish off your look, you must wear a decent pair of socks,” Sakinofsky says. “The guidelines are simple: the sock must have nothing less than a four inch cuff, and the way you position your socks is very important.
“You can’t just pull them up halfway up your calf muscle. It’s about making the most of what you’ve got.”
The underlying philosophy of sock doping is about embracing distinctiveness and standing out. Inspired by memories of his late father wearing knee length socks, plus fours, a bow tie and a Gatsby cap to work, Sakinofsky has selected seven examples of quintessential sock doping.
“If you want to be noticed, sometimes you have to do things a little differently,” he adds.
“A decent pair of socks; it can change your ride, it can change your look, it can change your day.”
Tom Simpson, 1965, Peugeot team training camp
“I’m a huge fan of Tom Simpson. I think he was quite boisterous as a human being; I don’t know if we would have got on well but I do like him because he’s a character.
“I think he understood what it meant to be identified as somebody different. And he worked the fact that he was identified as an Englishman, Mister Tom who wore a bowler hat, and used it to its fullest potential.
“I believe Simpson was ahead of his time. He used that Britishness to stand out, more than his ability to win races, and he’d get noticed. People wanted to see him and meet him.
“I think the ideal caption for this photo is: ‘it’s like Tetris: as soon as you fit in, you disappear.’ That’s what it’s all about: if you want to be noticed, sometimes you have to do things a little differently.”
Gino Bartali, portrait session, 1953
“It’s wonderful to be given an idea of what colours were used in that period. The combinations and contrast of the dark green and pale yellow on his kit, these are the things that jumped out. More importantly it’s how profound the socks actually look: the green in the background, the contrast of the yellow jersey, and then these beautiful white socks.
“In that era his counterpart Fausto Coppi did not where such high socks. He and Bartali certainly had differences in their approach to training, and they both wore different socks.
“They were both exceptional athletes in their own right, but I believe one of the more important things for Gino Bartali was what he achieved outside his cycling career. After World War II, in order to alleviate the tensions between the two factions in Italy, a message was sent to Bartali at the Tour de France. He won three stages in a row which helped unify the country and the tensions were eased.
“And what he did in WWII, smuggling papers for the Jews to help them, he saved lives. He was an amazing man. If you understand the history of the man – those socks are so profound and so white and he was an honest, clean human being – I really feel that this photo speaks volumes.”
Greg LeMond, 1989 Tour de France
“Growing up in South Africa we didn’t have certain things because we were under sanction from various countries. I remember I used to get Cycling Weekly six months or so after it came out, and once there was a picture of the 1989 Tour de France with him and his luminous yellow skinsuit, throwing his hands in the air with Oakley Razor Blades.
“I remember once, when I was 15 or 16, getting dropped off early at school and seeing a picture of Greg LeMond on a pin board and I decided to take it off. There was no CCTV, no-one else in the school, and I remember walking down the hall with the picture of Greg LeMond in my hand and the feeling of guilt overwhelmed me. No-one would have noticed, or cared, but I went and stuck it back up on the pin board.
“There’s a whole resurgence of Greg LeMond’s style now; the Giro aerodynamic helmets, the Oakley glasses, the high vis kits. He’s not wearing high cuff socks but in this photo he’s adjusting his toe straps and the focus is all on his socks.”
Bernard Thévenet, 1972 Tour de France
“Here’s the man that toppled Eddy Merckx, and of course this gentleman admitted to using steroids during his Tour victories. Nonetheless, whether he doped or did not dope, that’s not the question; the question is about this photo, and this photo is wonderful. It just shows how important it is to have high top or tall socks, because they accentuate the leg.
“Thévenet had these most amazing muscular legs, and here’s evidence that the high top white sock helps to accentuate them. The whole photo is very long and the socks maketh the kit. If they were short socks there would be a pause – a comma – but this is a bold exclamation mark.”
Jacques Anquetil, 1957 Tour de France
“What grabs you is the yellow jersey, and then your eyes are taken immediately down to his socks. He had these most amazing legs and of all the riders in that era, he wore taller socks than all his rivals.
“There are articles from outside the cycling industry relating success with wearing dynamic, wacky socks. There are references from psychologists, saying that guys who wear exciting socks are generally successful. I believe Anquetil was a genuine human being, and the way he wore his socks was an extension of who he was as a person.
“I always like to use his comments about performance enhancing substances, and he said that you cannot ride on bread and water alone. I just love that. It’s honest. It’s blatant. It’s a tall pair of white socks saying, ‘hello!’”
Bradley Wiggins, 2015 Paris-Nice
“Wiggins. Now he’s a guy who has really over the years made cycling very stylish. He’s always managed to maintain and have this very graceful and very stylish look on the bike.
“Of course he’s always worn the highest, tallest socks that all the best cyclists do. Although he may not wear very loud colours, it’s about the way he uses everything: jersey, shorts, socks, and shoes.
“He’s also got this charisma and charm. An athlete isn’t just a body that takes in oxygen and utilises it to perform, an athlete should be everything, encompassing and representing the sport.
“The point I’m trying to make is that this guy has flavour, in his style and personality. Controversial flavour – controversy – is definitely worth something. Anyone who eats plain lettuce without olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and a little bit of spice, well… good for them, but I think you need a little bit of flavour.”
Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor in the Vélodrome de Vincennes, 1967
“The beautiful thing about this photo, once again, is the colour. The contrast of the purple and the burnt orange; they’re wonderful colours in their own right but they really complement each other.
“Why does it attract me? Look at it, your attention is on the socks. There are a lot of people who don’t understand that we all have different shaped legs so it’s up to the individual to position their sock accordingly.
This is a beautiful photograph showing how the socks accentuate Anquetil’s leg; it’s incredibly graceful and there is impeccable style.”