Preparing for take off

18 race days. 13 podiums. 4 victories. If pro bike racing has become a numbers game, these kinds of figures are the right ones.

As Team Sky debuted at the Tour Down Under in mid January, Sergio Henao’s third overall was a triumph for a man who suffered an almost career-ending knee injury 18 months ago. Peter Kennaugh then showed unseasonably hot early form with a fine solo win at the Cadel Evans Road Race in Geelong last Sunday (above) before he and Chris Froome took a 1-2 at the Herald Sun Tour. Meanwhile, Wout Poels had time-trialled to the lead of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana before Elia Viviani bested the world’s fastest sprinters in Dubai.

With these last three wins coming in the past 36 hours alone, Team Sky – kitted out in distinctive new Rapha Pro Team racewear – has made totting up the wins look easy. Behind the victories, however, has been an intense level of winter preparation at their training base in Mallorca, and an extensive fitting and testing process with Rapha starting last October.

The term ‘off season’ doesn’t seem to exist for Team Sky. Throughout December and January, riders come and go in week-on, week-off blocks, putting in intense training efforts that are tailored to each man. While you might see other teams on the island soft pedalling and chatting, every single ride that leaves Hotel Team Sky has a briefing beforehand, with power output goals for each rider to try and achieve.

Off the bike, the team has two professional physios and a doctor on hand throughout the winter and their own chefs man the kitchens to deliver nutritious food. The wider support staff also spend long stints at the hotel, helping forge a solid bond throughout the team, while Sir Dave Brailsford keeps everyone inspired with regular motivational speeches. The team’s leader has already said in public that 2016 has to be the best they have ever had. So far, so good.

It was during this period of preparation that Rapha delivered the 12,000 items of clothing for the team to wear this year. Before that, three fitting sessions had taken place in late 2015 to correctly measure up every single Team Sky cyclist, including the incoming new signings such as Gianni Moscon, pictured here. One session took place at Rapha HQ in London, one at Team Sky’s house in Nice, and another at a late season race.

The fitting process takes on average two hours for each rider, and goes far beyond simply trying on Small, Medium or Large sizes as every part of the garments can be adapted. For example, a stocky rider with long arms will receive a jersey that is differently constructed to a tall, slim rider with larger arms. The kit is tested and measured in an on-bike position to simulate race conditions too. It is truly bespoke racewear.

Once the almost 800 items of kit per rider have been delivered over Christmas, every jersey, skinsuit, arm warmer, etc. has to be tried on again by each rider so that different sizes can be re-sent before the season’s start if need be. It is an exhaustive but essential process to ensuring the team have the best possible racewear.

British Champion Peter Kennaugh, a man known for his all-round panache, has a keen eye for wearing the Union Jack colours in style. This year, Rapha has made a special black national champion jersey for the Manxman to train in and stop getting his all-white ensemble muddy. He likes it so much that he has taken to wearing it to the race startlines too.

Every great cycling style icon was a maverick in his own way, and Kennaugh fits the bill. After complaining that his national champ stripes didn’t wrap all the way round his torso last year, Rapha has made it happen for 2016. The new design, which will be available to buy from early March, has perhaps helped provide Kennaugh with the impetus to start his season well. To feel fast is to already go fast, after all.

Sky-Lead

As Kennaugh crossed the line in style alone at the Cadel Evans Road Race last Sunday, and alongside Chris Froome to win at Stage 2 of the Herald Sun Tour on Thursday (above), he did so wearing the Rapha Pro Team Aerosuit. The Aerosuit was developed by Rapha throughout last year to encourage Team Sky’s pro riders to make aerodynamic gains every day by wearing it on road stages and not just during time trials.

This challenging of conventions, and collaborative spirit, is part of what has made Rapha and Team Sky’s partnership so successful. 2016 promises to be a great final year together.

New for this year, Rapha Travel has developed Pro Team Camps for riders looking to take their riding to the next level and experience a slice of the pro lifestyle. Places are still available on the Pro Team Camp Girona, while the trip to the Côte d’Azur has already sold out.