All cycling kit is not created equally. Team Sky might not realise that just yet but they will come next year when their kit deal with Rapha ends.
They might get a bit of a surprise when the next kit agreement comes around. There are only a couple of brands in the same league and they already have world tour teams to look after.
Even the mainstream, “affordable” brands are pretty well covered when it comes to world tour teams, which could leave Team Sky with a bit of a headache.
Mind you there’s always Aldi. They do a perfectly good line in cycling gear. That should please the “why pay more?” brigade that frequents the online comments sections, boost the fan base a bit when they can trot off to the local branch and pick up a full replica kit for under a tenner, including socks. Better still, how about a few Primark t-shirts and some boxer shorts? Dulux a blue stripe down the middle of the t-shirts, sellotape some chicken fillets in for padding. Raw, naturally. Don’t know why no-one’s thought of that already.
Not sure how the marginal gains would come into it but if anyone can spin it out, it’s Dave Brailsford. He did convince the French media that Team Sky had rounder wheels than everyone else, after all.
That’s the thing with pro cycling kit though, the riders don’t generally get to choose. Deals are made with the manufacturers at management level and then a box of stuff turns up. I write this having never ridden professionally but on the basis of the tweets riders send out when the new kit is delivered to their front doors.
There might be grounds for some sort of renegotiation in the event of a sudden outbreak of crotch rot, but as a rule it would be a case of “there’s your kit, now wear it.”
It’s hardly as if the pros are suffering from the kit they are supplied with, no matter who makes it. It’s all comfortable and perfectly rideable and the longevity element doesn’t really come into it when you get through as much as they do. Take Team Sky for instance. Rapha supplies each and every rider with 750 pieces of personalised kit every season, a total of around 12,000 items.That works out at a lot of fresh jerseys, not to mention the special yellow-stripe ones they produce in the event they start winning.
It’s an expensive undertaking for a manufacturer, which is why only the really established brands can even afford to kit out a team. No place for a startup. It’s not even as if you earn any money out of it. Rapha’s Simon Mottram said sales of replica kit only just covered the investment in Team Sky, which from that you can take that the shortfall was bearable. When you consider Rapha has a six-man team dedicated solely to Team Sky, including four concentrating purely on product development, you get an idea of the workload involved.
Riders are kitted out with entire wardrobes, not just cycling kit, and some of it is custom made, particularly if a rider has an allergy or is possessed of particularly abnormal physical attributes.
Rapha must have been weighing this and many other factors up when they were deciding whether to sign up for another four years.
The million-dollar question now is who will fill Rapha’s shoes? It’s going to be a tall order, that’s for sure, and Team Sky’s high standards will rule out all but a couple of players. There are Castelli and its stablemate Sportful, or maybe Poc might have a go - they supply Cannondale Garmin’s helmets but don’t actually provide clothing to any world tour teams yet.
Of course adidas could well throw their hat into the ring, having lost Team Sky in the first place with their half-baked approach to cycling. They certainly have the firepower to bring to bear and now they’ve realised what a cash cow the sector can be, they have been inclined to take it a bit more seriously.
Rapha won the hearts of Team Sky thanks to their devotion to cycling and their pursuit of continual improvement. Only a couple of other brands possess a similar drive. If Team Sky are looking to be impressed that’s where their attention will turn. If they get lucky one of those brands might even warm to their advances.
With Aldi’s present run in the supermarket wars I wouldn’t rule them out, either.
This column first appeared on www.thetimes.co.uk/onyourbike on November 6 2015