Back in about 91 or 92, when I didn’t have a job to encumber my ability to follow a bicycle race around for a week, I loaded my car with crusty brushes and a tin of the heaviest-duty lead-based paint that I found at the back of the garage and headed into the night.
My clandestine mission was to paint Robbie McEwen’s name on the steep, rough bitumen surface of Bumble Hill, a brute of a climb out of a quiet valley in NSW’s Central Coast region. It was to the long-departed and much-missed Bank Classic race what the Alpe d’Huez is to the Tour de France. I saw Jan Ullrich race up it as a junior World Champ and just about every Aussie rider who went on to Euro careers pulled on the lycra helmet covers that for some reason were de rigeur in that race. The industrial painted names were still there about ten years later, and I have no idea if they still are now, but painting a bike racer’s name on a road is a liberating experience, even if done under the cover of darkness and fear of arrest or beatings.
Roadside is a new series of films by Rapha that aims to uncover the stories beyond the race. This week we’ve been in the French Alps, delving into the rich culture that makes the great race more than just a sport. In episode 01, The Road Painters, we were on the Col du Galibier learning about the tradition of painting messages on the roads.