Desire: Giro Empire SLX shoe
When a storm erupted among cycling's culturati over a lace-up shoe custom made for Taylor Phinney, Giro struck back by commercialising the Empire. Rouleur learned the full story behind the young American's Taylor-made footwear
When Taylor Phinney crashed for a second time in the maglia rosa, his shoes unexpectedly claimed the spotlight.
The young American, leading the 2012 Giro d’Italia after winning the opening stage time-trial in new footwear concealed beneath shoe covers, had just completed his first road stage in Giro’s elegantly simple, lace-up Empire shoe when, at the finish in Horsens, he was taken down for the second time in two stages.
His regular road shoe, Giro’s Factor, had been too badly damaged in a finish line collision for him to wear again, caused by Roberto Ferrari’s exuberance a day earlier.
Lacking a spare pair of Factors, Phinney pulled on the striking silver shoes that Giro had made for him as a one-off, intended for time-trial use only: their attempt to create a smoother aerodynamic profile by ridding the shoe of the bumpy exterior that comes with buckles and straps.
With Phinney at the centre of attention for the third day running, his shoes unexpectedly became the story as the race paparazzi rushed to photograph his injured leg. “He had no choice but to line up on day two with the Empires on,” says Giro’s Eric Horton, who had worked with Phinney since the previous Christmas to develop the shoe.
“That was his only pair of shoes. In the meantime, we were scrambling to get him a pair of Factors as fast as we could. We didn’t know if he could ride the Empire shoes in a road stage for five or six hours, even though he’d told us that he’d been training with them on his regular rides and had been getting more and more comfortable with the lace-up shoes.”