Road

Aru’s Italian national jersey sparks debate

Team managers must balance the demands of their sponsors with showcasing riders' home colors when they win national championships.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Controversy reigned when Italian Fabio Aru revealed his new 2018 team kit and subdued national champion’s jersey with the tricolor looking more like the United Arab Emirates flag.

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Aru switched from team Astana to team UAE Emirates for this season. The new jersey design, morphed to resemble his teammates’s normal trade jerseys, look nothing similar to the bold red, white, and green top that he wore with team Astana.

“Aru’s jersey is a joke,” someone commented on Twitter.

“This is the jersey of the Italian champion?” another fan said.

“It’s a great pity to see the tricolor ruined again like that,” another wrote. “It was nice and exciting to see Aru in the group at the Tour de France wearing the traditional colors.”

Teams began revealing their kits in December and most finished doing so this week as the calendar turned to 2018.

Aru won the famous tricolor top after winning the Italian national road race last summer. Larry Warbasse won the U.S. road title and his Aqua Blue Sport team created a visible stars and stripes top for him. He continues to wear it into the new season, at least until the 2018 event.

The years have raced by since Italian Fausto Coppi wore the red, white, and green top to victory in Paris-Roubaix. Or when Frenchman Bernhard Hinault crushed his rivals as national champion, with blue over his shoulders, white on his chest, and red covering the lower third of his jersey.

Teams’s budgets have soared since 2000. Team Sky runs on nearly $42 million annually. U.S.-registered EF Education First has about a $16 million budget. In return, teams want to showcase their sponsors, the star riders, and the bicycles they ride.

For some teams like Quick-Step Floors, which has a strong influence in Belgium, having the national champion’s jersey well-represented brings a sense of pride. Who can forget Belgian Philippe Gilbert crossing the line in the Tour of Flanders in his black, yellow, and red top?

For other more international teams such as Trek-Segafredo, so many different national champions and jerseys disrupted the team harmony and spirit that the sponsor is paying into.

“If Ferrari goes and leads on Formula One, they will never paint their car yellow or something,” one team manager wishing to withhold his name told VeloNews.

“If Munich Bayern becomes the Bundesliga champion, they will not give up their jersey for one with the German flag. They just will not do it.”

In the trend of subdued national jerseys, team FDJ let Ramon Sinkeldam show his Dutchness in full. He posted a photograph on Twitter this week with a simple top — one-third red, one-third white, and one-third blue — with simple logos from the French lottery company FDJ. French teammate and national champion Arnaud Démare posted a photograph of a similar design, but with the French ordering of colors: blue, white, red.

Fans loved it. One wrote, “Perfect Jersey! And this is what we expect for all nationals champions kit!”

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It contrasted sharply with Sinkeldam’s look at Sunweb in 2017. The team, as with UAE and Fabio Aru’s design, printed only minimal national jersey designs.

“This is only a provisional version,” Aru told La Gazzetta dello Sport when he revealed the jersey. “The fans can relax, the colors of the Italian flag will be clear. The ‘true’ jersey will be presented later, it’s elegant and beautiful, I guarantee it.”

Aru responded by posting a photograph on Instagram a slightly modified design. Fans still remained disappointed. One wrote, “Fabio, the tricolor should be honored. I hope that this one is not the one for races.”

It is not the first time in Italy such controversy brewed. Filippo Pozzato’s national champion’s jersey when he raced for Katusha in 2009 caused a storm. Also, team Movistar’s design for Giovanni Visconti hardly stood out among the normal issue jerseys.

Spanish champion Jesus Herrada had the same problem at his home team Movistar. Not until this year, when he switched to Cofidis, could he don a true red and yellow top.

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Team managers must delicately balance the national demands with those of big budget sponsors like the Arab state UAE and $23 billion airline company Emirates.

“This is the world of cycling now,” team UAE Emirates manager Giuseppe Saronni said. “I understand the fans, but there are many demands to be satisfied.”