Words: David Evans | Photography: Graham Watson | Date:
Doused by rain and hail for all seven hours of last Sunday’s Milan-Sanremo, Ben Swift was forced back to the team car three times for fresh kit. Along with spare bikes, wheels, food, bottles, tools, bandages, directeurs sportif, mechanics, and a soigneur, Team Sky’s cars hold eight Rapha Wet Bags, each identified with rider names in blue embroidery.
The Wet Bags are prepared by the riders themselves. They check the forecast, confer with the team’s elder statesmen, and pack pockets accordingly. A spare pair of shoes – cleats will sometimes smash if you have the misfortune of landing out of a crash feet-first. A helmet (for the times you land head first), gloves, knee and arm warmers and, bearing in mind La Primavera’s reputation for changeable weather, all manner of rain gear.
It was this bag the mechanics and soigneurs reached for every time Swift returned to the car. Developed by Rapha for exactly these situations, the Wet Bag ensured Swift’s every trip was as efficient and painless as possible, letting him focus on whose wheel to follow over the Poggio.
“It’s stuff like this, the real attention to detail, that makes it so much easier for us as riders,” said Swift, who worked with Rapha’s designers in the creation of the Wet Bag.
At the neutral roll-out, Milan’s temperature hovered around 9C, but rains and penetrating winds pushed this closer to freezing as the day wore on. Competition for a seat in the break was frenetic, causing the peloton to cover 47km in the first hour. The exertion saved Swift from feeling the worst of the cold, but as soon as the pace fell so did his body temperature. On his first trip, Swift took a Pro Team Gilet and a Race Cape, wearing both over a prototype jersey slated for release in Autumn/Winter 2014, then settled in for 200km of tempo riding.
When the rain stopped (briefly) after the descent of the Passo del Turchino, Swift, knowing the chase of the break was about to begin in earnest, decided to shed his knee warmers, gloves, and Pro Team Race Cape. The lull in the rain lasted all of twenty minutes, forcing Ben to take one final trip to the car.
After more than five hours in the freezing rain, Swift peeled off his Race Cape before the fireworks of the Poggio, where Salvatore Puccio was sent to the front to bring back Nibali and to pace Swift and Edvald Boasson Hagen up the climb. With the Poggio out of the way, Swift kept himself in the first few wheels of the group, knowing that Cannondale, BMC, and Katusha would all work to force a group sprint.
Swift positioned himself on Sagan’s wheel, then hastily switched to Cancellara’s when the Swiss forged space up the left-hand side of the group. Sprinting along the barriers to take the most impressive result of his career, Swift crossed the line in a Mesh Base Layer, Pro Team Long Sleeve Jersey and Pro Team Bib Shorts.
Seven hours of rain made for numerous kit changes during Milan-Sanremo, with each Team Sky rider going back to the caravan multiple times for their Wet Bags. Here’s a list of the kit Ben Swift used on his way to third place at La Primavera.
What Ben wore:
- Pro Team Long Sleeve Jersey: a standard weight performance jersey with an aerodynamic fit.
- Prototype jersey for wet conditions (to be released in AW14)
- Merino Mesh Base Layer: A natural fabric with delivers high performance.
- Pro Team Bib Shorts: The award winning chamois is well suited to the season’s longest race.
- Rapha Knee Warmers: Fleece backed for warmth and ergonomically cut for comfort.
- Pro Team Gilet: A lightweight gilet with a wind resistant front and mesh back.
- Pro Team Race Cape: A waterproof jacket for race conditions.
- Prototype neoprene gloves.
- Rapha Overshoes: A neoprene overshoe that kept the day’s rain and road spray in check.