by Holly Blades
The Molteni cycling team may have ceased to be at the end of 1976, but the Molteni jersey is just as iconic today – thanks to their most famous team member Eddy Merckx and the general cycling obsession with classic and retro kit that is around these day. Vintage cycling festivals take place all over the country now, where fans turn up with waxed moustaches and steel-framed bikes, and the Molteni kit is in abundance. What is it that makes this jersey so iconic?
The obvious suggestion would be the fact that over 18 years Molteni won 663 races including 8 Grand Tour GC's and countless (well, okay, about 20) one-day Classics. Their roster included the aforementioned Merckx, as well as Franco Balmamian, Peter Post, Rudi Altig, Marino Basso and Gianni Motta amongst others. Basically a “Who's Who” of early 70's European racing.
The kit was also orange. Now, I'm not saying that had much to do with it, but orange is a great and much underused colour in my opinion. In a world where black, white and red rule the modern peloton, a splash of tangerine wouldn't go amiss. Especially that particular kind of burnt orange pumpkin colour that Molteni used . . .
Anyway, I digress. Beginning in Italy and sponsored (and run) by the Molteni family – a salami manufacturer based in Arcore, hence the words “Molteni Arcore” on some jerseys – the team were mainly Italian for the first couple of years and almost entirely Italian (save for Dutchman Peter Post and a few Swiss riders) until 1966 when German World Champion Rudi Altig joined the ranks.
Molteni & Eddy Merckx
However, at the end of 1970, already four-time GC winner Eddy Merckx joined the team and their entire structure changed. Merckx brought along seven of his Belgian Faemino-Faema teammates and his Belgian DS Guillaume Driessens, and the team's nationality was changed from Italian to Belgian. But, y'know, it was probably worth it, as in Merckx's first full season in 1971 Molteni saw their logo pasted across the Dauphiné winner's jersey, the Tour de France winner's jersey, Paris-Nice winner's jersey, the Tour de France points jersey AND combined jersey, and the Belgian National Champion’s jersey – Twice! With Eddy wearing it at the beginning of the year from the 1970 championships and Herman Van Springel taking it after the 1971 edition.
This level of success carried on for a number of years. Eventually in 1976, Campagnolo became named sponsors for the final year of Molteni, overseeing Merckx's win of Milan-San Remo and Joseph Bruyere's Liège-Bastogne-Liège win. Perhaps one of the reasons Molteni remain so famous and well regarded is that they ended on a high.
One thing is clear though. The Molteni jersey will never not be recognisable. And do you know why? It's not because of all the wins, or the longevity, or that it was orange – well, okay, maybe because it was orange . . . Because you know what? In 18 years, the Molteni jersey NEVER CHANGED. Aside from the occasional addition of an Italian shield, or an extension of the Molteni brand (Arcore, or Alimentari), the jersey was the same, year in year out. Orange with dark blue/black sleeves and band across the front. You could buy a Molteni jersey from any part of their existence and it would be exactly the same and instantly recognisable. The fact that the sponsors never found the need to switch it up, or change it round, is the true measure of a classic.