Despite the chaos of the team time trial at stage one of the Vuelta, you may have noticed that the Movistar riders were wearing some particularly sleek looking skinsuits provided by Scottish company Endura.
At the Tour de France Movistar’s riders wore skinsuits with ribbed upper arms and shoulders. However, the skinsuits worn by Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde et al in the stage one team time trial of the Vuelta had replaced the stripes with a new surface texture technology- which appears to use lots of small arrow head shaped protrusions to create frequent changes in texture.
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Endura would not confirm what the technology is, but you’d expect they have done some testing that suggests it is more aerodynamic than the previous skinsuit texture.
Aerodynamics expert Dr Xavier Disley of Aerocoach Ltd UK explained to Cycling Weekly that “using a different surface texture will manipulate the airflow in a different manner.”
Disley confirmed that the idea of using material with different texture on the arms and shoulders is to create turbulence meaning the air will stick to your body for longer and therefore mean you go faster.
“As the upper arm sees relatively clean air you want to disrupt the air, making it turbulent flow rather than laminar so that it stays attached to the arm for longer before separation, ” he said. “Delaying separation reduces net drag force and speeds you up.”
Based on the various skinsuits being used in the pro peloton, there are different schools of thought on what is more aerodynamic — multiple indentations or strategically positioned individual strips?
The theory behind multiple indentations is that having a larger area of varying textures increases the likelihood of achieving the best turbulence for a rider, whereas some favour using individual strips (such as the Aero Trip Strips) that have been carefully shaped and placed in the optimal position for the individual rider.
It wasn’t just the interesting looking arms of the suit that got people talking. The race numbers were held securely in place and flush to the back of each Movistar rider. Movistar aren’t the only team in the WorldTour using a number pocket system, LottoNL-Jumbo were seen using the Nopinz Speedpocket in the Tour de France.
Endura confirmed that as far back as late 2013, during initial conversations about becoming their kit supplier, Movistar asked Endura whether there was a solution to flapping numbers. This resulted in Endura sharing a prototype to the team at their launch in Madrid on January 31, 2014- as shown in the Twitter post on August 23, 2015.
Following some testing with Simon Smart of Drag2Zero, Endura came to the conclusion that although some watts could be saved by keeping a number flush to a rider’s back, there were greater savings to be made in other areas- as speculated above.
Therefore, Endura put its focus on other design aspects and the number pocket became a low priority whilst Endura waited for improved bonding technology to be developed and sourced a number cover that was both transparent and permeable.
However, this all changed when Endura saw the drastic watt-wasting range of positions Movistar riders were pinning on their numbers at the Tour de France team time trial.
As a result, having sourced the transparent air permeable material and having taken delivery of the latest bonding equipment, in time for the Vuelta Endura issued the new suits to ensure the race numbers would not be positioned too high up a rider’s back.
Endura was not able to confirm when the new suit would become commercially available.
Innovative changes to the texture of a skinsuit doesn’t always mean the suit is faster — you may recall the issues the US speed skaters had with the Mach 39 Under Armour suit at the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. It will be interesting how quickly other manufacturers respond to this alleged ground breaking skinsuit.