Words: Holly Blades / Images: Cor Vos
It's an unmistakeable jersey, even though it only existed for five years in the peloton. The red, white and blue are reminiscent of Captain America (and I mean Steve Rogers here, not David Zabriskie, although that works too) and even the team name alludes to the Big Apple. That's right, I'm talking about the Brooklyn cycling team. One of the coolest jerseys to grace our roads, but one of the shortest-lived and least-reported teams. You can tell this article is going to take some researching already, right?
When your editor emails you and says, “I want to do a series of articles on the history of iconic jerseys in professional cycling, what jerseys do you think would be suitable?” and you say “Well, La Vie Claire, Peugeot, Brooklyn obviously...” just think for a moment. What do you actually know about the Brooklyn team other than it appeals to your Marvel fangirl sensibilities and you remember chewing the gum when you were on holiday as a kid? When it appears on the list of teams you'll be covering you think “Okay, I can wing this. I know enough about the other teams to write a full piece, I'm sure I can blag one article and use my internet research skills to discover some fab facts about Brooklyn.” Just be aware of your folly.
Brooklyn started life as Dreher back in 1970, a small team sponsored by a Brewery. They were managed by ex-pro Franco Cribiori and their biggest rider by far was Mr. Paris-Roubaix himself, Roger De Vlaeminck. Already Belgian national champion, De Vlaeminck won Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne in his first year for Dreher. He was ably assisted by a roster of mainly Italian team mates along with hour record holder, Ole Ritter, and six-day specialist, Patrick Sercu. At the end of the 1972 season, Dreher would divide into Dreher-Forte, an entirely Italian team managed by 1955 Tour de France stage winner, Luciano Pezzi, and Brooklyn – sponsored by the Italian chewing gum.
Oh, yeah, did I mention that despite appearances and the actual bloody team name, Brooklyn is an entirely Italian team? Brooklyn Gum isn't even sold in the USA. It's all a marketing ploy. Brooklyn (for that is what they were known as – no “Team Brooklyn” or “Brooklyn Cycling Team” – just like Cher. Or Sting) and their iconic jersey were first seen in 1973. An almost equal split of Belgian and Italian riders were overseen by Dreher's former DS, Cribiori, and Belgian Firmin Verhelst. Roger De Vlaeminck and his brother, seven-time world cyclo-cross champion, Erik, were joined by Sercu, future Giro winner Fausto Bertoglio and track Olympian and world champion Giordano Turrini.
The jersey of the early days, if we're going to be nerdy about it, had thinner stripes (15 of them to be exact) and a rather wonky depiction of the iconic bridge itself. However, later iterations show only six stripes, and the white chevron on the front (actually making the top look more like the Puerto Rican flag than the American now I look at it). After this design was settled on, the jersey itself didn't change much at all until the end of the team.
By the end of 1974, Sercu had secured the points jersey in the Tour de France and De Vlaeminck the same jersey in the Giro d'Italia (as well as the overall wins in Lombardy, Paris-Roubaix and Tirreno-Adriatico, but you know, no big deal.)
In 1975, Brooklyn saw their logo feature on the coveted rainbow bands jersey of the world champion after Roger De Vlaeminck stole his record-breaking brother's thunder and won the cyclo-cross Worlds. Granted, the jersey would probably only be seen in muddy fields around Europe, but as De Vlaeminck apparently took part in up to 15 cyclo-cross races every off season in preparation for the Monuments, it got a fair outing.
The biggest change in the Brooklyn kit, since the drop from 15 stripes to six, came in 1976 when the blue part of the upper jersey reached down in a larger point. There doesn't seem to be any reason, other than aesthetics, for this as there was no extra sponsor or logo added. That's some bonus nerdiness for you right there.
The 1976 season also saw a lot of success for the team. Ronald De Witte won Paris-Tours, De Vlaeminck won Lombardy (again), Tirreno-Adriatico, the Volta a Catalunya and four stages of the Giro d'Italia (show off), Johan De Muynck won the Tour of Romandie and Giancarlo Bellini won the mountains classification of both Romandie and the Tour de France. As iconic as the polka dot jersey is, and as happy as Brooklyn would have been to have their logo on it, I can't help but secretly love the Romandie mountains jersey with its orange and white blocks and the Ovomaltine sponsor's logo. FYI, Ovomaltine is what Ovaltine is called in most of the rest of the world, and while it comes from the main ingredients Ovum (egg) and Malt (oooh, nommy), I like to think it's just Homer Simpson's way of saying it.
1976 would also be the year that Brooklyn would feature heavily in the Danish documentary, A Sunday in Hell, which charted De Vlaeminck, Freddy Maertens, Francesco Moser and Eddy Merckx's attempts to win that years' Paris-Roubaix.
Brooklyn's last year in the peloton would have been a quiet one if not for their star Belgian. He went on to win his fourth and final Paris-Roubaix, the Tour of Flanders, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro del Piemonte.
At the end of their final season in 1977, with the team still split almost down the middle between Belgian and Italian athletes, an almost identical jersey to the one they started out with, the same DS, the same main sponsors, the same riders winning the same races – it could be said that Brooklyn never really had a chance to develop. But in truth, they had some of the classiest European riders of the era, a DS who got results, and one of the coolest and most memorable jerseys in the sport. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?
Prendas Ciclismo have a wide selection of authentic and accurate retro kit like this iconic Brooklyn jersey. As a Conquista reader, you can enjoy a 10% discount at www.prendas.co.uk by entering conquista20 at checkout.
This feature first appeared in Conquista 22.