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For some, vintage cycling caps are the symbol of a bygone era. For others, they represent the ultimate statement in vintage cool. Then there is Spike Lee, whose vintage Brooklyn cycling cap has always been beyond cool. And for one Frenchman, the classic cycling cap is nothing short of a lifelong passion. Gianni Marcarini has been collecting and selling cycling caps for as long as he can remember.
For anybody who has visited the Tour de France, or virtually any big bike race in France, it is likely that you have come across his father, also Gianni, whose small truck selling vintage cycling kits is an institution on the French cycling scene. And it is here where Marcarini got his start.
“My father, an Italian immigrant to France, was a long-time professional. He moved to Brittany because that is where the most races were at the time,” the son explains. “Once he finally quit racing he opened up his shop and mail-order service.”
The elder Marcarini, who raced most of his career in what was then known as the indépendant category—a sort of semi-pro—was considered one of the fastest road sprinters in Brittany in the 1960s. And while he lived largely on primes and race earnings, his turn of speed kept him in the game and even allowed him to win the Grand Prix de Plouay, one of the most respected single-day races in France. Once he stopped racing, he used his contacts in the pro peloton to have a direct supply of the best pro kits that he could then sell.
“I grew up in cycling, to the point where it would have been impossible for me not to race,” says Gianni Marcarini. “Pros were always stopping by the house when they came and raced the criteriums in the summer. Once I even shared a bed with Francesco Moser when he slept over.”
While he was helping his dad selling kits at the races, he developed his fascination with the cap. “I just collected and sold them all my life.” And it was this passion that propelled him to launch his own company, Les Casquetteurs, based on the French name for a cycling cap, casquette. His online store offers one of the most detailed collections of pro cycling caps you can find today.
Looking for your vintage Brooklyn team cap in a one-off color? Marcarini has it. Looking for the original Peugeot or Renault cap? Marcarini has that too. There is simply an abundance of surprises in his collection. Some caps, like the ephemeral Alfa-Lum cap that was only in the peloton for a season, is one of those that he purchased, while other models are vintage-correct caps that he had produced in an Italian factory specializing in cycling clothing.
“A good cycling cap is all about the cut,” Marcarini explains. “A real cap has 10 different seams. And some are even hand painted. There are copies all over the world, but they are rarely made to last. A good cycling cap will last for years.”
In addition to the vintage caps, Marcarini produces caps for his favorite riders past and present. Sean Yates has his own cap, as do Sean Kelly, Claudio Chiappucci and modern riders like Lilian Calmejane. And Marcarini insists that, despite the Covid 19 pandemic, business is good. “I don’t know why, but there were more orders this year than ever. I am not sure why. The British are ordering them right and left and then I think a lot of teams are supplying them to the riders for interviews.”
“It really started off as a hobby,” he says. “I won’t get rich, but cycling caps are just a passion for me.”