Team Sky’s British invasion of European cycling will have a strengthened identity in 2013, since the whole squad – riders, coaches, soigneurs and mechanics – will be decked out in Rapha clothing.
The London-based British clothing company officially took over from Adidas as clothing supplier on January 1, but has been frantically designing and making thousands of items of clothing for the last six months or more.
Each rider in the team receives over 700 items of clothing, several hundred of which were shipped out to riders in Australia and Majorca two weeks ago – in their new Rapha luggage. The deal is all-encompassing, including off-the-bike clothing and accessories, many of which are current Rapha lines that have been given the Team Sky blue-line treatment.
The off-the-bike lines extend to the rest of the staff. Mechanics get waterproof jackets and trousers, while soigneurs get their own bags. Developed from messenger bags, these are easy to open and include internal cool bags.
There’s even a jacket with padding under the arm for staff who spend hours in a team car, often uncomfortably, with one arm hanging out of a half-open window. The attention to detail is equal to the amount of kit that has been provided, and Rapha have brought new staff on board to manage the working relationship with the team.
All of which raises the question of how much the deal has cost Rapha, a young company that only started in 2004. Neither side is talking figures in relation to the four-year deal, but it must run to millions.
Just to be in the position to supply the kit is a significant achievement for Rapha. Founder and chief executive Simon Mottram spoke with Sky’s Dave Brailsford in 2009 during the team’s creation and was invited to provide the kit. But at the time his company was too small and had to decline.
It is no small achievement that three years later Rapha was in a position to take over from Adidas. According to a recent Financial Times story on the new partnership, the German sports brand has 47,000 employees and worldwide sales of close to £10.8bn. Rapha has 65 employees and had sales of £13m in 2011.
The Rapha fit with Sky is potentially better, and not just from a branding point of view. The company has built its reputation on style but is keen to stress that it has been working with cutting-edge fabrics for several years with the British Rapha-Condor professional team – expertise it drew on when developing the Sky kit.
“The deal with Sky opened a lot of doors,” Rapha’s senior designer Graeme Raeburn said.
Although the 2013 skinsuits use the same fabric as in previous years, much of the kit is new. Check out the back of the Sky jersey, which for the past three years was white.
Applying Rapha’s renowned attention to detail
It was designed to reflect heat, but Rapha has used Cold Black treatment (which allows a fabric to reflect more sunlight), meaning the new kit can be all black without causing the riders to overheat. This alone is a significant change. There are very few factories that can apply the Cold Black treatment, and Schöller, the licence holder of this process, insists on checking the fabric to make sure it is done correctly.
Then there is a climber’s lightweight skinsuit that weighs next to nothing. The upper section is a black mesh fabric that weighs around 75g per square metre, and the chamois is perforated to cut down weight and allow more airflow. It’s an incredible bit of kit that seems to weigh less than the hanger on which it is displayed.
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Rapha’s eclectic new range keeps the colour scheme of old
At the other end of the temperature regulation spectrum, the sleeves of the rain jacket have a reinforced taped section around the upper arm, allowing riders to cut their sleeves off (apparently it’s popular) without destroying the fabric or the jacket. Much thought has gone into it too, with the ‘touch points’ such as the zip coloured blue so the riders can find them easily while riding.
Heavy caseload: Each Sky rider will receive 700 items of kit
Oh, and the logos on the back are reflective – even the pros worry about getting seen by car drivers. The whole kit still has the Sky feel. As a Rapha spokesperson said, the firm wasn’t brought in to rebrand the team; it was selected to complement them and their strong established image.
What’s in the picture? This spread displays Bradley Wiggins’s kit for 2013. Pictured are roughly 300 items of clothing (a good chunk of which are socks; each rider gets blue, black and white socks, both short and long), including the standard jerseys and shorts but also the new Team Sky belt, chamois cream, Paul Smith-designed shoes, transfer jacket and essentials case. Wiggins also gets a few personalised items, like ‘mod target’ base layers. Ian Stannard’s base layers have ‘Merci Essex’ on the chest.
The roadside range
One of the aims of Rapha’s Sky deal is to involve the supporters more. In order to do this they have released a supporters’ range unlike any other cycling team’s.
Replica shorts and jerseys are of course on offer (three replica jerseys, in fact, at three different price points), but also off-the-bike clothing for when you’re nowhere near your bike. T-shirt, shirt, polo shirt, jeans and a lightweight spray jacket mean you can support the team at the roadside without having to stand around in Lycra all day. To see the range, go to www.rapha.cc.