Artist Caitlin Fielder knew she had the recipe right when her partner, Nelson-raised Tour de France rider George Bennett, used a water-blaster to clean his rock-star racing shoes.

The Kiwi motif design she painted on Bennett's shoes for the 2017 race caused a sensation and led to Fielder being inundated with commissions. But not before a horrifying experience.

Picked out of the Tour de France peloton by television cameras, the original shoes became a talking point - and then, day by day, the paint faded away.

"By the first rest day, it was virtually gone," says Fielder, speaking from Andorra where she and Bennett have been in Covid-19 lockdown for more than a month.

Advertisement

"I had no idea back then what was involved so I just used these random pens. I had to repaint the shoes overnight during the rest day and that design had taken about 30 hours to do. It was a bit stressful."

The Kiwi motifs Caitlin Fielder painted on partner George Bennett's shoes for the 2017 Tour de France caused a sensation. Image / Supplied
The Kiwi motifs Caitlin Fielder painted on partner George Bennett's shoes for the 2017 Tour de France caused a sensation. Image / Supplied

Her process now involves multiple thin layers of acrylic leather paint, finished with layers of sealer. The real key to durability, she says, is a 90-minute process akin to a gentle sandpapering to ensure the leather will absorb the paint.

It's passed The George Test, she laughs. "One of George's teammates sent me a photo of George water-blasting his shoes. They were a pair that took me about 50 hours to do! Bloody typical, but the paint lasted, so that was a good test."

She is happily bemused how George's suggestion she drew on his race shoes for a birthday present has turned into a career.

Right now, she has 15 pairs at the Andorra apartment awaiting painting. They belong to some of cycling's big names as well as riders who just want something unique on their feet.

Colombian climber Eseban Chaves is on his third pair. World cyclo-cross champion Mathieu Van der Poel and Australian star Michael Matthews have them and Primož Roglič, winner of the Tour of Spain, Luis leon Sanchez and Robert Gesink are stars whose shoes are currently being working on.

Colombian climber Esteban Chaves preferred bright colours. Photo / Kirstof Ramon
Colombian climber Esteban Chaves preferred bright colours. Photo / Kirstof Ramon

"It's a bit of a strange experience. At the end of the day you are just drawing on people's shoes, but people just loved it and I thought, here's a niche," says Fielder.

The biological sciences graduate attributes her artistic bent to her parents. As a student she painted for fun, sold a few pieces and thought nothing more of it until she quit her job in aquaculture and moved to Spain with Bennett several years ago.

Advertisement

She did commissions, "mainly portraits of dogs", she says. "You don't really think, oh, I'll paint on people's shoes!"

Painting the intricate designs on the shoes can take up to 50 hours. Photo / Supplied
Painting the intricate designs on the shoes can take up to 50 hours. Photo / Supplied

She is also a promising trail runner. In February she won the 50km Tarawera Ultramarathon before having surgery on a nagging hip injury that put her on crutches for six weeks.

The crutches were put aside two weeks ago but she won't be able to run again for six months.

"It's a good time to be laid up. I'd planned to do some aqua-jogging but we can't go to the pool, so now I'm just on the bike erg like everyone else."

She had time before lockdown to collect her paints from their apartment in Girona and drive to their one-bedroom, 70sq m apartment, in the mountains of Andorra.

"It's different from lockdown in New Zealand. We don't have a terrace and you are not allowed outside for exercise. It's a pretty interesting mental and psychological experiment, especially with someone like George and I being used to getting outside.

"It's the sun that I miss, and just being able to even sit outside. When you can't do it you realise how much you rely on it.

"Out the window all you see are mountaintops and forest. Even though we are locked inside it feels a little bit like we are in nature."

A design for the 2019 Giro d'Italia featuring the pink of the tour leader's jersey. Photo / Supplied
A design for the 2019 Giro d'Italia featuring the pink of the tour leader's jersey. Photo / Supplied
A paua-inspired design. Photo / Supplied
A paua-inspired design. Photo / Supplied
A pair of shoes Caitlin Fielder painted for her partner George Bennett. Photo / Supplied
A pair of shoes Caitlin Fielder painted for her partner George Bennett. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi artist Caitlin Fielder is in hot demand for her bespoke designs. Photo / Supplied
Kiwi artist Caitlin Fielder is in hot demand for her bespoke designs. Photo / Supplied

Whereas Bennett would normally be riding the mountain roads for up to seven hours a day, he's restricted to riding an indoor trainer.

He's using the enforced downtime to host a podcast with neighbour and fellow Kiwi professional cyclist Sam Bewley. Suitably, it's called The Social Distance Podcast.

Bennett, who has had top-10 finishes in two of the three Grand Tour events, planned to miss this year's Tour de France to focus on the Tokyo Olympics, now rescheduled to next year.

Organisers are hoping to hold the Tour two months later than usual in September but it is unclear whether that will be possible.

It's important for motivation to have a target, says Fielder, but it's like chasing shadows.

"George will come up with a goal, even if it's not an official event. You need to just try to keep your head screwed on."

Whenever and wherever Bennett does return to racing, he'll have a new Fielder-design on his shoes.

"It's another New Zealand theme." she says. "And I have some plans for his Tokyo [Olympics] ones too, so when that happens he'll be in some great shoes."