If it’s cold enough for foggy mornings and muddy walks, it means the cyclocross season has arrived, and that means heavy dew and heavy breathing, jittery cold starts and sweaty, steamy racing. It also means long sleeves and that's where the Rapha Women's Cross Long Sleeve Souplesse Jersey comes in. It’s ready for racing: slim-fit, stretchy and lightweight, but offering enough coverage to keep off the chill.
A jersey costing this much needs to work very hard to impress, and I’m not generally a fan of attempts at ‘cycling niche’ marketing, but you can actually wear the souplesse jersey on a mountain bike or road ride without any funny looks or inner turmoil. The truth is though, it’s perfect for cyclocross. The fabric is the ideal weight, for starters.
Cyclocross, at least the way I do it, is a sweaty affair. Even when I’m not racing, my local rides take in steep switchbacks, grunty, muddy bridleways, long road climbs and singletrack descents that have me down on the drops, every muscle taught and abs tensing hard. 'Cross is rarely a relaxing bimble, and the sweat rolls off, but in the thick of the mud and gurning, the Souplesse lets out that heat. With fabric any heavier, I’d have been rolling up my sleeves and wishing I was in arm warmers. Any lighter and I’d have been disappointed and using words like ‘flimsy’.
The fit of the Souplesse jersey is ‘cross-perfect, too. It’s a slim fit, like all Rapha (I take a large but am a size 10), but the exaggerated whale tale speaks to the 'crosser who is descending hard on the drops, or in head-down race position. It’s a sleek, professional fit; tailored with knowledge of our sport at the fore.
The details count, too, and not just the funky geometric design and ice-blue colourway. Slurping gels during a race is hard enough, but rifling around in a too-narrow back pocket desperate for those gloopy calories is enough to make me rage, or at best lose the line and nose dive into a thicket of brambles (true story). The three pockets in the Souplesse are easy to reach, have wide enough openings to get a gloved hand in and out quickly, and there’s a zippy one too for the car key.
Speaking of details, I particularly like the cuffs. I’m long-limbed, but the curved cuff covers enough of my hand to stop wrist-riff showing. (Did I coin that?) The velcro on my gloves has started wearing the edge, though, which is a shame. I also like the zip hood which is stitched from a single, looped piece of fabric to avoid unnecessary seams. It’s neat and smooth.
The final detail is the padded shoulder. It’s a ‘cross thing. In truth I haven’t yet had the need to shoulder the bike since wearing the Souplesse, but the subtly padded patch on the right shoulder would protect from bumps and bruises.
Rapha Souplesse Thermal Bib Shorts
The Souplesse jersey is part of a cyclocross riding outfit developed by Rapha, which includes the Souplesse Thermal Bib Shorts, which are priced at £190/ US$290 / AU$325. Again, Rapha has got the fabric weight spot on here. The shorts have a classy, smooth matt outside, which seems to repel mud and slip out of the clutches of brambles. The brushed inside feels soft and cosy, but they don’t cook you like some thicker fleece apparel I’ve worn. Nice air flow means no unnecessary sweat and that is a winning chafe-avoidance strategy as far as I'm concerned.