When riders are loading their helmets with crushed ice, you know that conditions are hot.
The Tour de France was beset by merciless heat as the race entered the Alps, placing a premium on lightweight and breathable clothing.
MTN-Qhubeka and Cannondale-Garmin are both supplied by Castelli. On a recent visit to London, Steve Smith, brand manager with the Italian marque, explained some of the fabric technology deployed.
Both teams, for example, wore the Climber’s jersey on the hottest days, a garment made from two exceptionally light fabrics, presenting challenges with shape and durability.
Smith explains: “You have to try to engineer in the correct amount of stretch and return because we still want this garment to be aerodynamic, so it can’t be too floppy. Also, to get it so light and to be used in the hot conditions, we have to use a very, very low lycra content. It’s easy to make a jersey stretchy with lycra, but the lycra tends to absorb moisture, and keeps the body wetter.
"It’s actually evaporative cooling that we’re trying to favour, so we have to create a fabric that has low lycra content, is lightweight, and has an open weave so we can get a lot of air to the skin, so it has a number of design parameters.
“To be perfectly honest, durability is very much a secondary consideration. We don’t totally ignore it…but I don’t mind saying that we did not make this to be the jersey that’s going to last you for the next eight years.”
More significant, perhaps, than the low lycra content, is the presence of titanium dioxide: a chemical that Smith describes as the most active constituent of sunscreen, and exceptional at holding off UVA and UVB rays, as well as reducing heat.
Castelli also used the titanium dixode in the Inferno short, one with a mesh weave in the side panels and the leg gripper. While the short gives every appearance of being woven from a dark fabric, the material is white, and darkened with a sublimated dye. It is the dyeing process that introduces the Titanium dioxide, as Smith explains.
“Even though your eyes see it as a black fabric, the sun’s rays - the ultra violet rays - see it as titanium dioxide which is extremely good at reflection UVA and UVB rays, so it actually keeps that harmful and heat inducing UV light off your skin.”
Riders on both teams also use Castelli’s lightest clothing in wet conditions, Smith revealed. The reason? It’s superior drying properties. It’s very rare that rain lasts for an entire day in the saddle, and when it stops, the Climber’s jersey and Inferno short dry more quickly than heavier fabrics.
For the only stage at this most recent Tour when the weather became really inclement, however, Castelli had another ace up its sleeve: the Gabba Perfetto – a short-sleeved garment, lighter than the original Gabba (for which you can find the full story in Issue 53).
“You would have seen it with the Cannondale-Garmin guys on the final stage,” Smith explains. “It had a solid green on the front and black on the back. The black fabric is a stretch fabric, but a non-membrane fabric: it allows more breathability, but still has the same water protection as the Gabba. It favours water protection, but is not quite as hot as the Gabba."
For the majority of the Tour, however, Castelli’s teams were clad in the aforementioned Climber’s jersey. Smith has another interesting aspect to add: that it’s aero performance matches any that Castelli had previously made solely for the purpose of slicing through the wind. The advantage? Riders could forget aerodynamics when considering which garment to wear on a different stage and focus solely on warmth and weight.
The elegant black and white stripes of MTN-Qhubeka provided arguably the most striking kit in this year's peloton. The African team made an almost perfect debut at cycling’s biggest race, with Daniel Teklehaimanot wearing the maillot a pois and Steve Cummings taking victory on stage 14.
The team’s visibility, however, owed as much to its striking jersey as the riders’ performances. Smith reveals that the black and white stripes – a Zebra-inspired reference to the team’s African roots – were chosen by Gérard Vroomen, co-founder of Cervelo, and refined by Castelli.
“A big part of it was us working with Gérard to convince the team and the sponsors that this was the way to go. The sponsors were a little bit scared of it, but at the end it did what it needed to do and got noticed.”
Castelli will be exhibiting at the Rouleur Classic, an intimately curated show of road cycling’s most desirable brands, to be held at Vinopolis, London Bridge, from November 19 to 21, 2015. To find out more, visit Rouleur Classic.