Everyone wants to be world champion. Not only do you get crowned the best in the world on race day, but you get to wear the coveted rainbow stripes for a whole year to show off your triumph.
But not all world champions kits are created equal. There’s been some real good looking champs kits over the years, but there’s been a few stinkers too… which got us thinking about which exactly were the worst world champion’s kits over the years.
Now one thing to note is that the blame for some of these kits must lie at the door of the UCI, whose rulebook stipulates that riders must either wear team issue shorts, or shorts that match the jersey, i.e. white.
Maybe if a rider was willing to take a risk with black shorts, then the governing body might see sense and realise that they are the best way to complement the rainbow bands.
Any article on kit misdemeanours has to include Mario Cipollini somewhere, so we’ll get him out of the way early. Never a man to do things by halves, Cipo didn’t hold back with his deployment of the rainbow bands after winning the World Championships in Zolder in 2002.
Riding for Domina Vacanze he lavishly splashed the bands on his jersey, shorts, arm warmers, knee warmers, overshoes, skull cap, and bike. Although in this picture from the 2003 edition of Ghent-Wevelgem we think he’s actually been upstaged by the shocking ensemble of German national champion Danilo Hondo in the background.
Alongside Alfredo Binda, Rik van Steenbergen, Eddy Merckx, and now Peter Sagan, Oscar Freire is one of only five riders to have won the World Championships on three occasions. The bad news was that he rode for Mapei – Quick-Step and that meant trying to combine the rainbow bands with the, err, colourful Mapei shorts in his final year with the team in 2002.
Although we like the subtle rainbow bands on his Sidi shoes and Colnago bike, the watering down of the colours on the shorts cannot save this kit combo.
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Like Freire, Johan Museeuw was another victim of the curse of the Mapei shorts during his season as world champion in 1997. However, unlike Freire, Museeuw opted against watering down the garish colours of his shorts, but at least mud and water kicked up during a wet edition of Ghent-Wevelgem made them appear less bright in the picture above.
Museeuw was one of the first world riders to dispense with the black shorts when riding in the rainbow jersey, following teammate Abraham Olano’s lead from the year before. It would take riders such as Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd in later years to steer the cycling world back towards black shorts with the world champion’s jersey.
Ok, so we might be being a bit harsh on Philippe Gilbert here, as the photo above is from his first race as world champion, Il Lombardia, which took place just six days after he took the title in Valkenberg in 2012. However, despite the short turn around time, surely a decent-sized kit supplier such as Hincapie could have at least come up with some black shorts for the new world champion.
Instead Gilbert was forced to use his normal red team shorts and arm warmers, which look, frankly, pretty bad alongside the rainbow bands. However, a few points are clawed back through the subtle rainbow detailing on the BMC bike.
Last but by no means least we’ve got Peter Sagan. The now three-time world champion went down the Mario Cipollini route with lavish distribution of the rainbow stripes, and, controversially, white shorts in his first few outings as world champion in 2015.
Thankfully, the black shorts emerged in 2016 with Tinkoff’s new kit, leading to a pretty stylish looking Sagan for the remainder of 2016. He kept the black shorts with a move to Bora-Hansgrohe for the 2017 season and now looks very reluctant to give up the rainbow bands.