Razor sharp tan lines are an article of faith for roadies of all shapes and sizes. You just need to look at some of those vintage shots of Merckx and Coppi gazing with dead, post-race eyes into the lens to know why. They may look wasted – but also incredibly cool. They have suffered. They are true heroes.

Many of these candid images show their subjects after they’d exhaustedly discarded their jerseys and therefore exposed the stark contrasting patches on their arms. They are alarming and alluring in equal measure. Such pronounced demarcations on your skin will mark any rider out as a member of an elite club – in the same hallowed company as the Cannibal and Il Campionissimo no less.

About seven inches below each shoulder you could imagine that a master draftsman or a microscopically-accurate, electronically-calibrated, machine had etched precise, ruler-straight lines around each arm. Pale white on top – dark deep mahogany below with no gradation or shading whatsoever – a film editor’s straight cut rather than a slow dissolve.

Testament to long hours spent in the saddle chasing the next win, racers’ tan lines have absolutely no blurring at the edges. That’s because the cyclist always wears exactly the same garment – his team’s jersey.

Amateur roadies can feel as if they belong to an exclusive band of elite riders, if they too nurture similar stark, upper arm markings.

It’s a good look. Or is it?

Along with the arm tan, riders also develop ridiculous sock tan lines about three inches above the ankle. The French polishing on riders’ legs extends from the sock line to just above the knee before it turns again into a muscular expanse of sickly white.

There’s the glove  tan where part of the hand from wrist to second knuckle is bleached white. And of course one must consider the white strips down the face where helmet straps have blocked the sunlight and panda patches of lighter colouring around each eye thanks to the constant wearing of sun glasses.

Now we’ve stopped describing a Coppi-esque action man and replaced him with an out and out freak. But surely if all the pros have the same ludicrous markings, that’s good enough for us plastic peleton people – right? It’s just a shame others don’t see me in this light as I strut my hard-earned sun tattoos at the local lido.

I think, they’re all thinking, “Wow, he must be such a great road cyclist – just look at those cool, clinical tan lines.” What they’re really thinking, regrettably, is more likely to be along the lines of, “Poor guy” – shaking head – “he needs help.”


IainAbout the Author: Iain has been pedalling through London and Richmond Park, believe it or not, since 1989. He definitely predates the genus, ‘mamil’. And if you enjoyed this post please consider donating money to Iain and his Gurning Grimpeurs team who are raising vital funds for Bloodwise – the UK’s biggest blood cancer charity. They’ve cycled  from London to Paris twice as part of their fundraising which began two years ago in memory of Iain’s brother-in-law Mike who’d lived with acute myeloid leukaemia for about 11 months before he died. The Gurning Grimpeurs comprise Mike’s two children and his wife, along with Iain and his wife.

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