Wednesday 8 February 2012

Presenting... the most stylish team in professional cycling!

Modern team kits tend to be very different to those of decades ago. Think of Merckx in his Molteni Arcore kit, Anquetil in St. Raphael-Gitane, Koblet in - well, everything Koblet ever deemed worthy of covering his perfect back. In those days, teams had just one or two sponsors; allowing designers to come up with simple, beautiful designs that made use of large sections of complimentary colours. Now, a ProTour team has as many as 30 or more sponsors, each of them wanting their identity emblazoned on the kit as prominently a possible in order to get something back for the money they put in. As a result, jerseys are complicated, messy, ugly patchworks of logos, slogans and corporate names.

In 2011, Leopard Trek bucked the trend and turned out in the first genuinely tasteful professional kit seen since the early 1980s. Using just three colours, a wide expanse of black across the shoulders and upper torso, separated from the pure white midriff by a band of sky blue, it could have come straight from the drawing board of a top Italian designer - and if the team's matching Mercedes Benz cars and enormous, space-shuttle-like bus are anything to go on, they had the money for it to have done so. Logos were kept to the minimum. There was Leopard, the name of manager Bryan Nygaard's racing company, Trek who supplied the bikes, Mercedes and a few restrained placings of the team's symbol, which rapidly became as recognisable to cycling fans as the Mercedes star is to car fans. Then there were the bikes: all Trek Madones are beautiful, but when painted up to match the kit, the effect was stunning - but it lasted for just a year because, when Leopard Trek merged with Radioshack, a fourth colour was added and new logos appeared. It's still one of the better kits, but the simple beauty was gone.

The best-looking kit in professional cycling?
(image credit: On The Drops CC)
So, who has the best-looking kit in professional cycling now? Enter Britain's Matrix Fitness Racing Team, also known as On The Drops after their website (home, incidentally, to the riders' blogs which offer first-rate insights into the races they enter). Having ridden in primarily blue kits in the past, new sponsor Matrix has inspired a change to black, white and red kit designed by Prendas Ciclismo and Santini that easily outclasses anything else on the professional circuit. Black across the shoulders is separated from a white middle section bearing the Matrix logo by a thin red band, then a thin black strip separates white from the red midriff.  There are more corporate logos than Leopard Trek could display - due to the criminally low exposure women's cycling receives, teams have no choice but to give back far more for each every pound, euro and dollar the sponsors put in than the men's teams have ever done - but excellent placing keeps the overall effect simple.

Helen Wyman, winner of the 2011
Johnson Health Tech Grand Prix
(image credit: Thomas DucroquetCC BY-SA 3.0)
"The kit is second to none. We’ve been with Santini now for 12 months and once you’ve experienced the quality of their kit, change isn’t really an option," says manager Stefan Wyman, husband of seven-time British cyclo cross champion Helen who also rides for the team in road race events. "It stands out, the riders love it and we feel it gives us the edge we always look for." The team consists of Joanna Rowsell, Hannah Rich, Dani King, Penny Rowson, Jessie Walker, Hannah Walker, Annie Simpson and, new for 2012, Sarah Reynolds in addition to Helen, all highly talented riders and arguably the strongest squad in British cycling - so expect to see the new kit crossing the finish line at high speed throughout the new season.

Fans will be able to show their support with replica kits, available to buy from Prendas Cyclismo at the end of March - and there's really no reason not to do so.

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