This Sunday marks the typical beginning of cycling's Holy Week; the eight-day period that is bookended by the two biggest Monuments of the year. It starts with the Tour of Flanders and, in the pre-COVID era, would be capped off with Paris-Roubaix.
Unfortunately, Paris-Roubaix has yet again been affected by the pandemic - the third time in 12 months - and so an even greater level of importance lies on the Tour of Flanders' 263.7km route between Antwerp and Oudenaarde.
As the weekend approaches, one thing that remains certain is that Mathieu Van der Poel will line up with the number one on his back. The defending champion took a huge scalp in his eternal rivalry with Wout van Aert in a two-up sprint to the line, after their only other breakaway companion, Julian Alaphilippe, crashed out after hitting a motorbike.
The thing that remains uncertain, however, is which colour shorts Van der Poel will opt for on his race suit. Will he go with the conservative and subtle aesthetics of black shorts, or the garish and bold stylings of white?
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Short colour is a hot topic among cycling fans. Each year, the AG2R team sparks the so-called brown-shorts-debate when launching their latest design, but white is considered by many to be somewhat of a cardinal sin in cycling fashion.
With that said, over recent years Van der Poel, Bradley Wiggins, Peter Sagan, the entire Groupama FDJ Team, and former UK national champion Adam Blythe - a keen commentator on the subject - have braved the backlash and proven that white can indeed be worn to varying degrees of success.
According to Alpecin-Fenix's kit sponsor, Kalas, Van der Poel "likes to try different combinations," and has previously been supplied with race suits with black, white and even blue shorts - a colour he is yet to rock on a race day.
As for the rules, short colour is an area in which the UCI is uncharacteristically relaxed. According to the team's press officer, Ward Callens, "There are UCI regulations about the morphology of clothing, but not about their colours (as long as they are sufficiently distinct from world champions', UCI cup and classification leaders' and national jerseys to avoid confusion)"
So far this year, the Dutch road champion has erred on the side of cautious black for the most part but has taken to white shorts in a few races, including Milan-San Remo, where they were paired with white leg warmers creating a wave of outcry on social media and prompting a story from Cycling Weekly, and more recently on Wednesday's Dwars door Vlaanderen, where he was also given a new colour-matching Canyon Aeroad.
Van der Poel himself has spoken about the subject in an interview with Kalas, stating his choice "depends on the kit above", however it was his father Adrie that provided greater detail, claiming that the decision is largely a tactical one.
Speaking after his son's 2019 ride at the Tour of Flanders, Adrie told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf: "It was a conscious choice by [team managers] for tactical reasons. They had seen in Dwars door Vlaanderen that in the helicopter images Mathieu was difficult to distinguish from the [then] Luxembourg champion Bob Jungels. With white bib shorts, they were able to recognise Mathieu much faster and give him the right tactical tips via the course radio."
Such was the furore around the debate at the time, Belgian bookmakers were even taking bets on his choice ahead of subsequent races.
No matter his choice of colour, we know that Van der Poel will be wearing the Kalas 'PRO 09 | Brios/SPEED' race suit, a short-sleeve suit that takes the same technologies from its Sonic time trial suit, but with road race-friendly adaptations such as the trio of rear pockets and an 'opening' between the upper and lower parts for easier comfort breaks.
Little-known for its off-the-shelf product range, Kalas is better known for its custom offering, earning a place in our guide to the best custom cycling kit brands, no less. The brand has recently signed a new three-year deal with the team, has recently announced sponsorship of Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado's new Plantur-Pura team, and will also be represented at the Olympics by Team GB.
Unfortunately, this exact skinsuit is unavailable for purchase, however, if you want to brave the public opinion of white shorts yourself - or want to don any of Alpecin Fenix's 2021 designs, including the Dutch and Belgian national champion's kits worn by Van der Poel and Dries de Bondt respectively, various options are available at Kalas.
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