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Shades of pink

Eyewear seems to play an important part in Giro d'Italia success, although Andy Hampsten's iconic Oakleys put everyone else in the shadows.

Giro d'Italia glasses
Felix Lowe
23 May 2016

If you close your eyes and think of America’s only winner of the Giro d’Italia, he’s probably wearing a 7-Eleven top, a wool beanie, some neoprene diving gloves and what look like a pair of ski goggles while riding through a blizzard on the Passo di Gavia in 1988.

In fact, if you think of Andy Hampsten in any context, he’s no doubt sporting a pair of the Oakley Factory Pilot Eyeshades that he and Greg LeMond helped popularise in the 1980s. In their sole season together in 1986, the Americans rocked a flamboyant range of sunglasses featuring almost every colour of their Mondrian-inspired La Vie Claire jerseys. 

Meanwhile, grizzled team patron Bernard Hinault – the triple Giro winner – clung to tradition with his black Ray-Ban aviators which, although slick, were to sport what rectangular frames were to John Lennon.

If LeMond’s loyalty to huge black lenses made him resemble a welder on wheels, Hampsten’s wondrous wraparounds –complete with a range of interchangeable lenses – made him every bit an extra from Back To The Future Part II, which came out the year after he paired a yellow ski lens and white frames on the Gavia.

Unlike the effortlessly cool Fausto Coppi (the five-time Giro campionissimo who often wore dark glasses to shield his pedalling poker face), Hampsten pointedly pushed the envelope when it came to fashion peddling. He did to the sunglasses industry what Mario Cipollini did to the burgeoning skinsuit scene of the early noughties (although Super Mario was no shrinking violet when it came to eyewear either – as his purple, blue and yellow Brikos clearly demonstrated).

After Hampsten, Oakley’s experiments flirted between the bland (the Racing Jacket range worn by Messrs Hincapie and Hushovd) and the bold (David Millar’s absurd Over The Tops did exactly what they said on the tin, literally and metaphorically). 

Italian Fabio Felline’s Selev mask in the 2013 Giro wouldn’t have looked out of place alongside a snorkel, while Ryder Hesjedal’s defence of his 2012 Giro crown will always be remembered more for those funky white rimmed POCs – a sartorial choice unmatched for divisiveness until the day Peter Sagan lost his razor blades.

Team Sky’s Wout Poels perhaps had eyewear style in mind during the 2014 Giro when he grabbed a fan’s sunnies and threw them off Monte Zoncolan. Given the current Oakley over-saturation, who can blame him? 

The best Giro anecdote regarding glasses, however, involves a man for whom eye-catching fashion statements couldn’t be more foreign. Jean Bobet, the younger brother of French superstar Louison, wore glasses not to be seen, but to see.

During the 1957 Giro, while home favourite Gastone Nencini and his Italian teammates were continuously pushed up climbs by the tifosi, the bespectacled Bobet (unlike his teammates) was loath to complain. You see, Jean shared a passing resemblance to Italy’s Giorgio Albani, who not only wore glasses but whose grubby national champion’s jersey was not too dissimilar from Bobet’s tricolor French kit (at least to those fans who probably needed specs themselves). The upshot was that Bobet frequently got pushed up the hills by animated fans shouting ‘Vai Giorgio!’. 

Now I’m all for innovation – and I’m not denying the practicality of performance sunglasses in protecting the eyes – but some of the more zany designs are giving the aero helmet market a run for its money in their unseemliness. And don’t get me started about helmets – Garmin’s mushroom dome even came with a magnetically attached ‘optical shield’ (alas, another Millar monstrosity).

Hampsten, quite simply, looked cool because he looked unique. His glasses were the future, and now the future’s here it’s understandable that we look back at the past through rose-tinted spectacles. Of course, it also helped that he won the Giro. Maybe wearing a pair of ski goggles in a blizzard wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

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