The Tour of California is as close as we get in this country to a Grand Tour like the Giro, the Tour de France or the Vuelta. What it lacks is the history, the legend and lore. It’s not because California is inadequate in any way, or the route is without drama and difficulty. From the Capitol in Sacramento to the Golden Gate, down the Pacific coastline and through ancient forests and wind turbine farms into the Central Valley. Then south, over the San Gabriel Mountains to the top of Palomar, the Tour of California is as epic a ride as it is a race.
One of the reasons the Rapha Continental came into being was to blend that effort more commonly associated with elite competition with the everyman’s experience of an epic ride, to suffer and test ourselves against our own limits, our friends and the topography. To witness, first-hand, a ride’s intrinsic virtues, it’s surfaces, people and places. To ride exposed to weather, distance and fatigue and then to chronicle and share the experience, so that the reader might become the rider.
That’s why we chose to ride the Tour of California, to chronicle, stage by stage, its climbs, descents and the characters along the way, to exalt both the contest and the 750 miles of roads on which it will be held. To pay homage to the professionals’ everyday heroics, to their machine-like resilience and staggering physical prowess. In return for the inspiration we draw from their efforts we offer, through our own, our humility and respect.
From the start, we committed to riding our tour as true to our ethos of being as self reliant as possible. Along the way, many things caused our collective resolve to waiver: distance; elevation gains; sheer logistics, diminishing daylight and constant attrition. That’s what this story is partly about, reconciling our expectations with the limitations imposed upon us and continuing to persevere. Those expectations are based partly on what we believe the pros will do on these same roads and partly on the epic days we ourselves have ridden in the past. The riding we encountered on the Tour route was without a doubt extraordinary – we knew it would be. The physical effort, however, although not unexpected was monumental, especially this early in the season. Yes, we suffered. But we also worked as a team and it was, in the end, something beautiful.
Every day, before each stage begins, Rapha will share its account of how six better than average, but by no means pro riders fared on the route of this professional stage race. Through photography, video and regular reports, the Rapha Continental will bring you the Tour of California from a unique perspective.
Product Testing on the TOC
The Tour of California really is what its name suggests, a tour. A week of riding, averaging 100 miles a day in the most culturally, socially and geographically diverse state in the country. Everyday exposed to a staggering range of climates and topography. That it’s held in February, a decidedly winter month, only compounds the difficulties of dressing properly – for comfort, performance and ultimately for victory.
We know this because we rode it. Each stage brought with it unique challenges and circumstances; we slogged through rain and mud, pushed over hills and up mountains, endured hours of valley flats, rode into headwinds, through cross winds and down coastlines. In seven days and nine stages we tested, and tested hard, our limitations as riders as well as those of the products we relied on. We went down with a batch of Rapha products in various states of development or design that we peppered into our race bags in hopes to find what worked, what needed improvement, what we liked or didn’t. We had a Stowaway made from a new fabric – essentially a laminated version of the current Stowaway fabric – some racing mitts, leg warmers, and a Classic Jersey with a slightly different Sportwool blend for trial. This is what we learned.
Using the silhouette of the Wind Jacket jacket, we had a look at a new waterproof fabric, testing for moisture management – inside and out. Before heading out, the designers in London said they were already planning on using the current, unlaminated Wind Jacket fabric in key areas to improve breathability before it’s launch in the autumn.
The fabric is 100% waterproof, but it will need vents or pit-zips, otherwise it’s too hot and water collects on the inside. The larger zipper pull was easy to grab with gloves. The reflective piping and detailing is highly visible and very much appreciated on the nights we finished in the dark.
– Cole Manness
I wish they would have sent over my size to test this jacket, I was tired of being wet.
– Jeremy Dunn
Using the warmers developed with Rapha Condor team as starters, these warmers are getting a bit more shape and using the same material used in the Knee warmers before they are released this fall.
The new Leg Warmers with zippers and better gripper-tape are awesome. They’re plenty warm, but on some of the cooler mornings and nights I wish they were made in the same fabric as the knee warmers. Just a bit heavier would offer more warmth.
– “Evil” Ryan Thomson
My leg warmers were amazing and stayed up perfectly. But mostly I wore the navy tights, they were the ‘jam’. They’re like a favorite sleeping bag, never too cold, never too hot. Lifesavers.
– Dan Langlois
Favorite product of the trip.
– Cole Manness
Sportwool is the primary material across all Rapha jerseys. The natural performance characteristics and feel of wool are substantial improvements of the all-synthetic fabrics found in most jerseys. We tested several different Sportwool blends for our Classic Jersey.
Halfway up Palomar on the last day, I remember looking over at Ben and right away I noticed the condensation on his back was starting to freeze over. He was literally icing up. I asked him if he was cold in just his Sportwool jersey and if he could feel the ice on his back. He just smiled and said “No”.
– Dan Langlois
I wore a merino base-layer, a Sportwool jersey and arm warmers almost exclusively the last half of the tour. I layered-up with my Stowaway here or there when the weather got really bad. Otherwise the combination of those three pieces was unbeatable in just about every condition.
– Hahn Rossman
Race Mitts & Gloves
With the Rapha Condor team’s need for a harder-working race glove, it inspired the designers to combine the beautiful leather palm and padding used in the Grand Tour Gloves with a synthetic, easy-on upper.
The race mitts are beautiful, the leather that wraps around the thumb can chafe a bit but otherwise they’re perfect. I like the fixed but elastic closure. Not having Velcro or snaps to deal with is nice.
– Dan Langlois
The newer version of the Criterium gloves started a bit tighter but broke-in much better and the seams and stitching are better quality, that glove just felt better. There’s a pretty noticable difference in the size between the pairs that I tested.
– Ben Lieberson