Rapha and Team Sky

The Race to Innovate

Rapha’s four-year relationship with Team Sky has been defined by ambition. The British WorldTour team’s demand for the best performing kit was met by Rapha’s desire to make it, and the partnership has created the world’s fastest, most lightweight, robust and comfortable racewear. The ideas developed over the years have also crossed over to Rapha’s commercially available products, and much of the current Pro Team collection was raced in by Team Sky this year. Looking back, we present below some of the most progressive products developed by Rapha for the team.

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Race to the start line

The first team kit

From the beginning of the partnership in mid-2012, Rapha had only six months to design and manufacture the 12,000 products to be worn by Team Sky riders and staff during the 2013 season. Shortly after the turn of the year, the first clothing drops happened in Australia and Majorca, where the team was racing and training respectively. The kit design was a smart all-black affair, with the ColdBlack treatment applied to reflect more sunlight and keep the riders cool. An extremely lightweight climber’s skinsuit was one special product but it wasn’t just the riders who received unique kit – the soigneurs were given new, easy-to-open bags inspired by messenger bags, and all staff were given a jacket with under-arm padding for those hours spent with one arm hanging out the team car window.

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Feedback loops

Ever changing and improving

Working closely with the team, Rapha was able to develop and improve every facet of the kit provided to the riders and staff. For example, the mechanics originally received the same clothing as the other support staff, but when they wore it all out in double quick time, Rapha made special trousers and shorts with a heavy duty fabric and doubly reinforced patches for kneeling, and tough, oversized pockets to store tools in. Then, the Team Sky carers reported that on mountaintop finishes they’d get cold while waiting for the riders to arrive, so Rapha made a three-season, heavy duty waterproof jacket with a zipped-in thermal lining. Also in that first season, the Rapha design team realised that cyclists could rarely find jeans to fit them, due to their oversized thighs. This led to the commercially available Sprinter Jeans. This feedback loop continued throughout the four years.

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Arms, Legs, Jersey 1, Jersey 2, Waterproof

The Rapha Wet Bag

One of the most popular items Rapha has made for Team Sky is the Wet Bag, a rectangle bag kept in the team car during races. With a different layout to a normal bag, the Wet Bag has six different compartments, all clearly labelled for easy organisation and access. If a rider needs his rain gilet, gloves, or any other bit of kit during a race, his soigneur knows exactly where to find it. “It’s stuff like this, real attention to detail, that makes it easier for us as riders,” says Ben Swift of the innovative product, while Peloton magazine called it their “favorite piece of gear from the Tour [de France]”.

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Hot mesh

The full mesh skinsuit

When Chris Froome suffered sunburn while wearing Rapha’s 2014 full mesh skinsuit, the offending garment was the cause of much derision on the internet. Look at the peloton today, however, and you’ll see mesh fabrics everywhere. The initial idea for the 196-gram one-piece suit (size medium) came from Team Sky’s riders reporting that their aerodynamic skinsuits weren’t quite cool enough for racing in on the hottest days. The mesh structure and material are similar to those used in the Rapha Pro Team Base Layer, allowing for maximum airflow and evaporative cooling while maintaining the aero benefits of a skinsuit. The riders just had to remember Rapha’s instructions to put SPF50 on underneath…

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Setting the Stannard

Softshell prototype jersey

In the filthiest of Belgian weather, Ian Stannard – a rider who takes a keen interest in his clothing and how it can help him – won Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February 2014. After beating Greg Van Avermaet in a two-up sprint, the Briton, who had worn a new prototype softshell jersey by Rapha to keep him protected from the elements, said in his post-race interview: “It’s about getting the clothing right and staying as warm as possible.” Sitting next to him, a shivering Van Avermaet was too cold to speak. Stannard would repeat the feat the next year, proving his Flandrian toughness and Classics credentials – as well as inspiring a tribute Rapha jersey.

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The ‘Winter Onesie’

Pro Team Thermal Aerosuit

“Over the four years that Rapha and Team Sky have been partners, I have seen first hand the kit develop and evolve. One of my favourite pieces that has come from this working partnership is the ‘winter onesie’. It was a huge step forward in winter clothing made simple. No longer does getting dressed for a winter ride take as long as the ride itself. One item and you are set to ride!” – Ian Boswell, Team Sky.

The thermal aerosuit was an all-in-one cold weather training piece provided to the riders from winter 2014 onwards. Ian Boswell was an early adopter, as was Peter Kennaugh, who had his own national champion version in black. The manxman modelled the product at his home of the Isle of Man when it became available for sale as the Pro Team Thermal Aerosuit.

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Out of the black and into the blue

The hi-vis training collection

Professional cyclists spend so much of their time out on the roads training that Rapha decided to develop a range of hi-vis training wear to ensure Team Sky was more visible and therefore safer. Every rider received a bright blue selection of kit, from rain jackets to jerseys and gloves, with reflective elements included throughout. This idea filtered down into the Team Sky Training collection, which was available from 2015.

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The Style of the Isles

Peter Kennaugh, British Champion

It would be remiss to speak about cycle clothing without offering a doff of the cap to Peter Kennaugh, one of the most stylish riders to ever race in Rapha. Just like Hugo Koblet, who competed with a comb and bottle of cologne in his back pocket, the 27-year-old is never less than immaculately turned out, and from 2014 to 2016 he had his own unique Rapha kit to wear: the British national champion’s jersey. Kennaugh – who also modelled the AW14 Pro Team collection for Rapha – would pair the jersey with matching sunglasses, gloves, socks, shoes and helmet, and his white Pinarello bike has red decals on one side and blue on the other.

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Dancing on the pedals

Rapha Climber’s Shoes

In late 2014, Rapha launched its Climber’s Shoes, which combine a traditional feel and classic styling with cutting-edge components and technology. Team Sky’s mountain domestique Ian Boswell was the first pro to test and wear them while racing, saying: “The shoes have been through alot – racing, training, travelling, cleaning – but nothing that they can’t handle.” Currently, the Climber’s Shoes are worn in the pro peloton by Paul Voss and Scott Thwaites of Bora-Argon 18, and Luke Rowe, Ian Boswell, Christian Knees and Leopold Konig of Team Sky.

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The Electric Blanket

Extreme Rain Jacket

Designed to be worn by domestiques riding tempo on cold mountain days, or for riders to put on as soon as they finish a freezing stage, the Extreme Rain Jacket was a highly technical prototype made by Rapha for the 2015 Giro d’Italia. Packed with innovative features, the jacket has an inner fabric – first pioneered by NASA – with ‘phase-change’ qualities, meaning it can absorb the heat of a warm team car and maintain that ambient temperature once outside again. Its warmth is further regulated by electronic heat pads bonded into both lower sleeves, which riders can control with a switch that displays three colour-coded temperature settings. The inside uses a plush, fibre-pile fleece for that cosy feeling and the sleeves open wide to accommodate gloved hands. Putting the jacket on is like wrapping yourself in an electric blanket, and the Team Sky riders love it.

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Elia and the aero evolution

The Rapha Road Race Aerosuit

In the same way that Team Sky approaches the sport of cycling, Rapha sought to shake up old habits by encouraging riders to race every day in aerodynamic skinsuits rather than jersey and bibs. The Road Race Aerosuit was in development for 18 months and tested in the wind tunnel with a world-leading aerodynamicist. Italians Salvatore Puccio and Elia Viviani were the two test pilots at the Giro d’Italia in May 2015 (as well as being the stylish models for a new Italy Country Jersey) On Stage 2, the first day the aerosuit was worn at a race, Puccio helped lead out Viviani to a stunning sprint victory. Two months later and the whole Team Sky Tour de France squad had a couple of tailor made Road Race Aerosuits in their kit bags, with most of them wearing it every day during the race.

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Kit de Triomphe

The Champs-Élysées in yellow

On Sunday 26th July 2015, Team Sky rode victoriously onto the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées, having won one of the greatest and toughest Tours de France in the last decade. Finishing three weeks of toil and sacrifice on Europe’s most prestigious boulevard, the riders rode in formation in a distinctive, yellow detailed kit. Christopher Froome, his teammates, colleagues and friends, celebrated in style. But there was a lot of work done behind the scenes to get the kit and vehicles ready and waiting for riders and staff in Paris – read on to find out how Rapha did it.

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Out of the shadows

Shadow racewear

In April 2016, Wout Poels won Team Sky’s first ever Monument, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, while wearing Rapha Shadow – a revolutionary wet-weather kit developed by Rapha the previous year. Without using a laminate, which is the plastic layer included in almost all waterproofs, the Shadow fabric keeps out the rain and wind but lets body heat escape. The jersey performs like a winter jacket but fits snug thanks to the stretch woven material, and the bibs keep legs dry in all weather conditions. With terrible weather forecast for LBL, Poels drove all the way back home to Holland after La Flèche Wallonne to pick up his Shadow kit. As he said after the race, “when the weather is so extreme and changing from wind and rain to snow, you have to have good kit – it would be impossible without it… Shadow allowed me to perform at my best, even in that tough weather.”

skinsuit

Racing out of their skin

Time Trial Skinsuit

For one final big project with Team Sky, Rapha developed an extremely quick skinsuit for use in time trials. In total, 17 fabrics were tested in 25 different combinations in the wind tunnel and on the track and road with one of the world’s leading aerodynamicists. The fastest skinsuit was then tested against a number of competitors’ products to ensure its superior speed. The skinsuit was debuted at the Giro d’Italia by Mikel Landa, who put in one of his best-ever time trials during Stage 9 to keep his GC hopes alive [he later pulled out of the race due to illness]. Team Sky’s nine Tour de France riders – including TT world champion Vasil Kiryienka – then wore this latest piece of Rapha racewear innovation during the Tour’s decisive time trial stages 13 and 18.

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The Road Racer’s Armour

Anti road rash bib shorts

In development for six months, Rapha’s anti road-rash bib shorts were a pioneering product worn by Chris Froome at the 2016 Tour de France. An extremely strong protective fabric is inserted along the inside thighs of the bib shorts to help protect the skin from abrasions and road rash in the event of a crash. Made especially for Team Sky’s leader, the shorts proved their effectiveness when the Briton came off at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré when wearing them for the first time: the outer fabric and logos ripped away whereas the inner protective fabric remained in place, protecting his legs.