Prior to the Christmas break, Rapha invited BikeRadar to their London HQ for a sneak preview of Team Sky's 2013 kit.
As you'd expect, the clothing brand have approached the task of creating the kit somewhat differently. Not only have they designed a new strip, they've added a host of accessories and off-the-bike wear to make Sky the best dressed team in the peloton.
The range consists of more than 130 items, of which every rider will receive multiples – a staggering figure of 703 pieces per pro. Along with the expected bits of cycling kit for every weather condition, they'll also receive jeans, trousers, shirts, and even branded merino wool boxers.
The back room staff haven't been left out of the equation either, with mechanics getting their own outfits and the soigneurs receiving hugely oversized, courier style bags with built-in cooling compartments for post-stage recovery drinks.
Designed to work in conjunction with the soigneur's bag is a wet/washbag. This innovative, cube-shaped carrier has a myriad of zipped compartments to carry arm, leg and knee warmers, plus gilets, jackets and more, with a central compartment for wet kit. These bags are individually identified with riders' names, to help the Sky support car teams stay organised.
The riding kit makes use of some innovative fabrics. Riders will receive three weights of jersey, including the Pro Team, which is medium weight and made from a proprietary fabric that has superior wicking properties (a dernier gradient structure) and incorporates coldblack technology, essential for ensuring that cyclists stay at the right temperature to conserve energy and work efficiently on the bike. This will be available for customers to buy as part of the Pro range.
The treatment of the fabric means that in tests it lowers skin temperature by 5°C compared to a standard black fabric. That's allowed the jersey design to evolve, with the white panels used on the previous design removed to aid cooling.
The jersey is super close fitting, with hard wearing flat and overlocked seams for strength, and seamless cuffs and a lightweight bonded gripper on the waistband. The fabric's inner surface is much more open weave than the slick glossy outer.
Rapha claim that by increasing the inner surface area, more moisture can be drawn or wicked away from the skin. This faster transfer of sweat will help keep the riders cooler for longer. As we know from Team Sky's principal mastermind Dave Brailsford, marginal gains are what make victories.
The shorts are also based on the existing Pro version. Work has been done on the seams to make them harder wearing, and a more elastic weight of fabric has been used to add support to tiring limbs.
A new lightweight rain jacket/cape will also be on offer, with a super-light waterproof fabric with fully taped seams and an extremely close cut. The bold Sky logo on the chest panel hides a new zip design, with a cutout that shapes around the vertical of the 'k' designed as a pull. Tug this section and the specially profiled teeth allow the jacket to be opened without you having to search for the zip pull.
The proprietary fabric on the rain jacket is a very light three-ply, with a mesh closest to the skin for comfort. It's highly breathable yet waterproof, and there's neoprene around the neck to provide a snug fit and keep the pros warm and dry. Other features include bright contrast touch points to help riders locate the zip. On the arms are taped section enabling the arms to be removed without leaving rough edges. The blue stripe on the back is reflective.
Bernhard Eisel (left) and Salvatore Puccio
For supporters, fans and serious amateurs, Rapha are also offering a huge range of 60 items spread over three categories.
For roadside enthusiasts there'll be a full kit for kids, and casual wear in the form of T-shirts, polo shirts and shirts. These will retain Rapha's style but are promised at a range of prices. This being Rapha, they say the kit will retain their high quality – don't expect any cheap, screen printed options.
The replica range consists of riding kit that's not as close cut as the pro team's, and is based on Rapha's club jersey fit. There's even a £40(!)Team Sky Supporter Jersey. A full range of accessories including gloves, socks, hats and warmers is included.
The Pro range is exactly the same as the team riders', though not tailor made. That means a super close fit, high quality fabrics and pricing to match. Even Rapha's acclaimed summer base layers have had the Team Sky treatment, with Mod styling on the Bradley Wiggins edition and a 'Merci Essex' logo on Ian Stannard's version.
The Team Sky Rapha clothing and accessories will be available online from the Rapha website, and Rapha have promised that there's plenty more to come from the new relationship.