“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. I travelled back home after La Flèche Wallonne especially to have my Shadow kit for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and it allowed me to perform at my best, even in that tough weather.”
Wout Poels won Team Sky its first Monument on Sunday 24th April, wearing Rapha’s revolutionary Shadow racewear to keep him warm and dry in the snowy conditions. As he said afterwards, it was worth driving home to Holland for.
“The clothing we had from Rapha… was crucial”
– Team Sky directeur sportif Kurt Asle Arvesen
Pro Team Shadow, which Team Sky’s riders have been wearing for over a year, keeps out the rain and wind but lets body heat escape. The jersey performs like a winter jacket but fits snug, and the bibs keep legs dry in all-weather conditions. Designed for no-compromise days like Sunday in Belgium, Shadow is the future of foul weather racewear.
Wear It Like Wout
By Harry Dowdney
In the fabled 1980 edition of Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the snow was as thick as the jackets worn by the riders of the era. Bernard Hinault, a bullock-like Breton ball of muscle, wore a full red balaclava and Renault–Elf–Gitane winter coat with bare legs, and rode away in the middle of a blizzard with 80kms to the finish. When he finally made it to the line, hands frozen to the handlebars and a full eight minutes ahead of anyone else, the incredulous fans celebrated yet another notch in the iron-cast palmarès of ‘The Badger’. His hands are still affected by the cold of that day.Continue Reading »
Last Sunday, 24th April, the peloton awoke to conditions similar to the 1980 ‘Neige-Bastogne-Neige’ (‘neige’ means snow in French). These are days that riders hate and fans love but everyone remembers. The kit nowadays is better than in Hinault’s era, although some of it performs much better than others. Flappy bin-bag jackets and rudimentary shoe covers still exist, much to the disappointment of the riders who are forced to wear them by their team. For these, it is still a case of wearing as many layers as possible.
As the first riders gingerly clip-clopped off their team buses in Liège, cycling journalist Daniel Friebe tweeted: “formbook out the window… could well come down to who has the best/warmest/most waterproof clothing” – a prescient observation on what would be a hard day under Belgium’s meanest skies.
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Team Sky’s Dutchman Wout Poels is climbing his way to the top of the sport. In his ninth professional season, the 28-year-old has always been a winner, but the victories are now arriving at a higher class of race. Last year he soloed to a Tirreno-Adriatico stage win and in March of this year was victorious on the Queen stage of the Volta a Catalunya. When not leading Team Sky, he works as one of Chris Froome’s final mountain domestiques, a prestigious role that only a few in the world are capable of.
The pedigree of Poels in one-day races has not been as thoroughbred, however. He came into the Team Sky Ardennes classics squad this April as a protected rider, but not necessarily the lead. After Michal Kwiatkowski stepped off the bike at the Amstel Gold Race last Sunday, and with Sergio Henao’s temporary suspension from racing, a greater onus fell upon the Dutchman. Racing to within four seconds of the podium for a career-best fourth at La Flèche Wallonne, he delivered. The legs were clearly good.
Aside from his bicycling talent, Poels doesn’t fit the mould of a team leader. A joker in the pack, he is always the first Team Sky rider to offer up a quirky aside and get everyone laughing. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but is unquestioningly professional when it is needed, and is well respected by his peers as a result. Perhaps the light touch comes from having overcome a terrible crash in 2012, which left him with a ruptured spleen and kidney as well as three broken ribs and bruised lungs. There are more important things than bike racing. Nor is Poels one for bold statements, telling CyclingNews ahead of Sunday that: “I think it [Liège-Bastogne-Liège] also suits me but it’s a whole different race and 50 or 60 kilometres longer. But I’m in good shape, so we’ll see.”
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First run in 1892 by L’Express newspaper, Liège-Bastogne-Liège takes place in the rolling, forested Ardennes region of south-east Wallonia. The hilly nature of the 250km-plus course makes it very punishing; add bad weather conditions and you have arguably the hardest of the spring classics. It is one of six ‘Monuments’ that Team Sky had never managed to win in 33 attempts. This failure was one monkey on the team’s back that not even Dr Steve Peters could help cage.
Two hundred brave men took to the startline on Sunday morning, knowing that they would have one of their hardest, most memorable days on a bicycle ahead. Snow was already falling at points along the route, and shortly after kilometre zero the decision was made to avoid one snow-dusted climb, but the rest of it remained as planned. They call this race ‘La Doyenne’, meaning ‘The Old Lady’ and on Sunday she was at her harshest, scolding worst.
While the weather was spectacular, the racing wasn’t exactly. Movistar controlled the tempo throughout, a swath of blue bearing the brunt of the snow and sleet showers that fell all day. It was apocalyptic, abominable stuff that probably scared off anyone looking to emulate Hinault’s long range heroics. Little by little, the squeezing process reduced the throng of leaders to twenty or so, and it was with under 3km to go on the Rue Nainot, a new 600m cobbled climb with a 10% average gradient, that Swiss baroudeur Michael Albasini of Orica-GreenEDGE finally made the decisive move. Poels and a couple of others recognised that this could be the right train and jumped on.
With no domestiques left and every man for himself, Albasini’s break had a puncher’s chance and for Poels, the gloves were off, discarded and forgotten behind him in the road. It was a ‘no-holds’ gesture from the Dutchman: 400 metres from the finish line and at the front of the oldest one-day race of them all, a little savagery was required. He was about to win a Monument.
Around the final bend in second wheel, the Team Sky man delivered the sucker-punch, a long unraveling of what he had left with just over 200 metres to go. After 250km, a sprint isn’t a sprint; it’s a slow walk with elbows out. The Dutchman’s windmill legs cranked the biggest gear he had, as behind the bearded warhorse Albasini and the other two reached out to cling on.
The line approached, a sunny release to an unforgettable day. Poels looked back briefly at the ragged, desperate Albasini and raised his fist in the air. Out of the shadows and into the light, a victory to mark a revolution in foul weather racewear.