The Rapha Extreme Rain Jacket has been developed for Team Sky’s cyclists to wear on days when the weather makes riding truly miserable.
Once a domestique’s job is done for the day, it isn’t: he still has to pedal all the way to the finish line. Riding home when already exhausted is a tough mental hurdle to overcome and, in the wet and the cold, it is harder still, so even the slightest bit of comfort in an uncomfortable situation can help keep a rider mentally strong. With this in mind, Rapha has developed a prototype foul-weather jacket for Team Sky which offers not only sufficient protection from the worst weather imaginable but also a superb level of comfort.
The seed for the idea was planted more than a year ago when, on Stage 16 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, the 100-strong gruppetto were freezing cold, miserably wet and at the back of the race. Team duties long forgotten, it was a case of survival, both to make the time-cut and to protect themselves from the brutal elements. Ploughing through roads flooded with icy water, snow piled ten-feet high alongside them, they climbed into a blizzard atop the 2,758m-high Stelvio mountain pass. Before the even colder descent, the group stopped to pour hot tea on their hands, or add a second, even a third, jacket, but it wasn’t enough. Many riders said afterwards that mentally, as well as physically, it was one of the toughest times they’ve ever had on a bike.
Following that day, Team Sky’s Head of Performance Operations Rod Ellingworth decided that, if race organisers were going to keep making his cyclists compete in such extreme conditions, his men would need suitably protective clothing. He had to look after the health – and happiness – of those riders who weren’t racing for the win. After conversations with Rapha, the idea snowballed into the development of the Extreme Rain Jacket.
For apocalyptic days on Tour, Team Sky now carries several of the jackets in the team car. It is a luxury emergency blanket to help keep the domestiques going until they reach the warmth of the team bus. And while it sometimes may not need to be used at a race, the jacket reflects Rapha’s dedication to developing technical products that cover all eventualities for Team Sky’s cyclists.
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 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. The Velcro straps are oversized too, allowing mechanics, or riders with numb fingers, to easily tighten them and the extra-long tail was a request made by the riders themselves, to help keep their gluteal muscles warm.
Completely waterproof, the garment’s most extreme-weather design element is a tight-fitting, peaked hood made of Japanese neoprene, which fits under a helmet. The jacket is not scheduled for release to the public, but as with all the technical innovations Rapha pioneers for Team Sky, the knowledge accrued will cross into our commercially available products in some form or other.
The Extreme Rain Jacket is as close to armour as foul-weather clothing gets; perfect for enabling Team Sky’s cyclists to stay battle-hardened and ready to race another day.
As featured in the first edition of Mondial magazine.