In today’s time trial stage at Le Tour de France, Rapha will debut the fastest time trial suit ever created. Rapha sponsors Team Sky, one of the best cycling teams in the world. In Team Sky’s contract with Rapha, there is a stipulation that Sky riders are allowed to wear any time trial skinsuit that they desire — in other words, Team Sky wears whichever suit is fastest. Last year, that was a Bioracer skinsuit, but this year, they’ve found something faster. Sky will be hammering the pedals in Rapha’s newest creation, the TT Skinsuit.
“This year Sky has verified that our new suit is the fastest option available,” said Derrick Lewis, Rapha‘s New York-based accounts and communications manager. It was “tested in the tunnel and on the track to be about 15-30 seconds faster over 30 minutes than the previous fastest TT suits available.” Rapha spent loads of time and energy perfecting the skinsuit by testing different materials, allowing them to achieve such a significant time advantage over the previous suit.
“A key part of the development process was that we used different textures of fabric (both super smooth and rough) on different parts of the body to manipulate the way the air moves around it,” said Simon Huntsman, head of R&D at Rapha. “In the end, we tested 17 fabrics with 25 combinations, and made 21 versions of the skinsuit before we chose the one that was fastest. The final validation was carried out in the wind tunnel using Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.”
Rapha worked alongside aerodynamics expert Alex Bauer of LeXXi Smartsuits to fine-tune the fit and comfort level while ensuring the highest speed possible. “The fabric, as well as being aerodynamically perfect, also had to be compressive on the legs and shoulders to keep the rider in an aero position — so there was a lot to the suit other than finding the most aero fabric and making it perfect. It had to work in the real world, too,” Huntsman added.
Team Sky’s eight riders will be wearing the TT Skinsuit, including Vasil Kiryienka, one of the fastest time trialists in the world. Interestingly, Sky’s ninth rider Chris Froome will go into today’s time trial stage in the yellow jersey which is manufactured by Le Coq Sportif (sponsor of the Tour). Technically, Froome would go into the time trial stage wearing a yellow skinsuit manufactured by Le Coq Sportif and not in Rapha’s new TT Skinsuit — though there is the chance that Rapha could work with the ASO (one of the governing bodies of the Tour) to have a Le Coq Sportif branded version of their suit made specifically for Froome.
The new TT Skinsuit is made specifically for pros only, but high-end tech almost always ends up finding its way into consumer products. One great example is Rapha’s Shadow line, which was developed specifically for Team Sky, but was then released in a consumer version as well. “While these suits are custom cut for each of the nine Tour riders, there will be trickle-down tech features that will work their way into consumer products,” Lewis said.