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by Matt de Neef
March 3, 2015
For road cycling fans the new racing season brings about noticeable changes in the sport they love. Teams come and go, sponsors do too, riders change teams, and the colours and equipment of the peloton are altered in various ways. The changes come in at the start of the new year but many months of hard work is typically required behind the scenes to get to that point.
On a recent trip to Majorca CyclingTips’ roving reporter Dave Everett caught up with a few teams and their technical sponsors to see exactly what goes into preparing world-class teams with all the clothing and equipment they need for the new season.
One team that’s had a massive overhaul for the 2015 season is MTN-Qhubeka, the African Pro Continental team that has been riding on Trek with SRAM and Zipp for the past few seasons. With Trek focusing its efforts and finances on its in-house Trek Factory Racing Team, MTN-Qhubeka managed to pull together a bunch of brands that many will recognise as the suppliers that were part of the initial Cervelo Test team of 2009. That team eventually morphed into Garmin-Sharp and is now known as Cannondale-Garmin.
Brian Smith was brought on late last year as general manager for MTN-Qhubeka and has been instrumental in securing the sponsors that now supply the team. Cervelo, Rotor, KMC, 3T, Castelli and CeramicSpeed were all part of that initial Cervelo team; a team Smith helped bring together.
Many of these brands had staff on hand at the training camps in Majorca to deal with any final problems, tidy up loose ends and educate riders and staff about new kit. For most brands, sponsorship of teams goes beyond supplying kit for the season. It’s an ongoing process of development and improvement.
Castelli is entering its second year as clothing sponsor to MTN-Qhubeka. Along with MTN-Qhubeka the Italian producer supplies kit to the Cannondale-Garmin squad as well as the Swiss-based professional women’s team, Bigla.
While fans of the sport get to see a team’s new kit in early January, for the manufacturers it’s a process that starts many months in advance. I asked ex-pro and now race performance director at Castelli, Andrea Peron, about how the brand goes about preparing for a new season.
“If we are working with the same team it starts about 10 months in advance,” Peron said. “February we start with prototyping new products. We usually produce three models of an item in prototyping before we give it to a team. It’s not till June a team gets the first prototype.”
Theo Bos during the recent Tour of Qatar, on his Cervelo S5 and wearing his Castelli kit.
It’s around July (and especially the Tour de France) that riders are signing new contracts for the following year and for manufactures and brands it’s no different.
“Once the deal is struck and finalised ideally August is when raw materials will start to be sourced,” Peron said. “If all is going smoothly with sponsorship agreements and designs in place production is started in November”.
For fans, the prospect of being a pro and receiving a wardrobe worth of clothing each year is an appealing prospect. And sure enough, the list of kit that Castelli supplies its teams with makes for extensive reading:
MTN-Qhubeka’s Venter Jaco wearing the team’s Castelli-made kit; a new design for 2015.
The list above is just 70-80% of what a team will receive throughout the year. On top of this are the likes of jackets, top-ups and casual clothing. If there is a big change in sponsorship it could all be produced and supplied a second time.
For Castelli riders much of this kit is straight off the peg with no or little alterations. A few pieces may differ from stock standard kit — the pros have a choice of leg length with their shorts, skin suits and Sanremo suits. The skin suits also come in several sleeve lengths.
Castelli did at one point produce kit that was fully custom to a rider, but now with the amount of research they have pumped into their products they see no reason to do this. The company fulfils the teams’ initial clothing needs by shipping the items direct to the service course. Here the staff sort out and distribute the kit to the riders.
A photo taken at the Orica-GreenEdge service course in 2013. Riders kit is sorted by team staff and put into boxes for riders to pick up.
Andrea Peron had a 13-year racing career throughout the 1990s and into the mid 2000s, starting with Gatorade then including Motorola, ONCE, Francais des Jeux, Fassa Bortolo and ending with CSC in 2006. In that time, and in the years since, he has seen a noticeable change in the kit that riders receive.
“Now riders receive items for specific conditions, for instance they receive five different types of gloves. We used to get 10 different items, two different jerseys types, a thermal jersey, a jacket, a rain cape, shorts … now 65 different pieces are received by riders,” Peron said. “The overall quantity is about the same, the range of items now are designed for specific race and weather condition”.
MTN-Qhubeka’s chain sponsor KMC came on board via Spanish crank manufacturer Rotor. For a company like KMC the task of actually sponsoring a team is the first hurdle.
With large teams sponsored by either of ‘the big three’ — Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM — there is little chance that a team will deviate from using full groupsets. When an opportunity like that at MTN comes about, the likes of KMC jump at it.
For KMC it’s quite a straightforward sponsorship and supply process. They supply 500 chains a year on average which are delivered to MTN-Qhubeka as and when the mechanics demand them.
KMC chains are fitted to Rotor chainrings on the Cervelos ridden by MTN-Qhubeka.
For a brand like KMC MTN-Qhubeka’s wild-card invite to the Tour de France is a huge marketing chance — one which KMC estimates will account for 80% of the team’s publicity this year.
KMC’s work at the training camp involved making sure mechanics were happy with the products. Most riders only notice a chain when it doesn’t work.
Speaking with 3T it’s a similar setup to KMC. The items they supply the team with are essentially standard kit. Brand reps arrive at early training camps in December where, with the Retül bike-fit technology, they start the process of getting riders fitted out. With this information, the knowledge that 3T already has through experience, and also viewing the riders in training in a neutral environment, they are able to help them decide on what bars best suit them.
Even if a rider has a history with 3T products they start the fitting process from scratch again. Any number of variables could have changed since the previous time they used them, from bike sponsor to saddle choice.
Supply of 3T goods is taken straight from the company’s inventory. It’s a simple process that has a turnaround of about a week once they get every rider’s position nailed.
Trek Factory Racing is unlike MTN-Qhubeka and many of the other teams within the pro peloton in that bike brand Trek doesn’t just sponsor the team — it also holds the WorldTour Licence for the team. In essence the team is an arm of the Trek business.
As I found out when I visited the service course last year, Trek funds the team in part from its advertising budget and also from its research and development budget. Bar the components made by Shimano — whom Trek has a close working relationship with — nearly every item is produced by Trek or its in-house brand Bontrager. The only exception would be the team’s powermeters which are made by SRM.
Does this result in a whole different process for organisation and preparation of the team at the start of the season? I spoke with the team’s Technical Manager Jordan Roessingh to find out.
“Typically from a planning perspective we start during the Tour de France,” Roessingh said. “The bike and component orders will typically happen in July and August, the year prior. And then we start taking delivery of product for the coming season starting in September/October and November — this is when the bulk of shipments arrive.
“Trek is a little bit unique in that obviously we are a bike manufacture and we own the team, so there’s some of the ordering process that can be integrated between the two. A lot of the time we have products that are shipped directly from our suppliers to our service course, instead of going through Trek. This cuts down on some of the shipping and lead times.
“There’s still a pretty significant ordering process to get every thing organised and in on time for the training camps.”
Apparel is another thing that Trek’s in-house brand Bontrager supplies for the team. This, according to Roessingh, is one area that is especially complicated due to each rider having unique needs. The team actually offers each rider custom-fitted kit for every item that they will be using throughout the season. It’s a fitting process that starts pretty much as soon as the last pedal has been turned in anger in Europe.
“This year we did our apparel fitting process in Lombardy. The day after Lombardy we had a small team camp where we went through rider by rider. It’s about an hour-long process where we have a size run of each piece of kit we offer them,” Roessingh said. “Then we can see if they want the zippers longer or shorter, sleeves longer or shorter, pieces may want to be tighter or looser as well. Whatever they want.
“That way we know that each rider’s kit will fit perfectly [which] from an apparel perspective is really important”.
Winter kit is delivered to riders at the end of the season including other jackets, thermal items and wet weather jackets.
As for the race kit it’s the same as MTN-Qhubeka — the bulk of team kit arrives at the start of the season and there are top-ups and supplemental items provided throughout the year.
Fabian Cancellara’s weapon of choice.
Of all the items that the Trek Factory Racing Team seems to go through it’s the number of bib shorts that stand out. Each rider might go through 20-30 pairs of bibs throughout the year; an amount many amateur riders might only get through in a lifetime, let alone a season.
Much of Bontrager’s standard clothing range that customers can buy is made in the far east, though the team’s clothing and Bontrager’s new race shop limited products are all produced by an unnamed Italian partner. This lends itself to an easier and closer partnership. If by any chance a team rider manages to take a national champ’s title or a leader’s jersey it’s a damn sight easier to get items produced and shipped in time from Italy, rather than Asia.
As for the bikes the riders have a choice of the three top-tier models: the Domane, Madone and the Emonda. When organising and fitting a rider it depends on the history they have with Trek. Jordan Roessingh explained the advice and help the team offers to a rider to get them on the right bike.
“A good example is Bauke Molloma. He’s a brand new rider on team and so we provided him with a Madone and Domane before the training camps so he could determine what bike he wanted,” Roessingh said. “We can also give the riders the quantifiable data so if they’re interested they can see how the bike performs from a laboratory perspective”.
More from Cancellara’s bike.
From talking with MTN-Qhubeka, Trek Factory Racing and multiple sponsors it’s clear that preparing for a new season is a longer and more involved process than many people might realise. The guys and girls in the back offices, factories and service courses of the sponsors, not to mention the team staff, are all instrumental in preparing the pros to race at their best and, ultimately, allowing us fans to enjoy the spectacle.
So next time you see a pro posting a picture of all the kit they receive or their shiny new bike spare a thought for the people that put in the hard graft behind the scenes to make that possible.