Team Sky will use a new, innovative skinsuit when they line up for stage 3's 35.5km team time trial at the Tour de France on Monday, hoping it will give them an aerodynamic advantage on their rivals and help them gain precious seconds.
Cyclingnews understands that the new skinsuit – called the Body Paint 4.2b Speedsuit and produced by clothing partner Castelli – has recently been approved by the UCI and is fully compliant with the UCI rules.
Team Sky will be aiming to win the team time trial to help Chris Froome regain some of the time he lost after crashing on the opening stage, and to try to gain some significant time on rivals who struggle in time trials. A good performance from Sky might also put Welshman Geraint Thomas in the race leader's yellow jersey.
Team Sky sparked a storm of protest and envy at last year's Tour de France when several of their riders wore a new Castelli skinsuit in the time trials that included patches of vortex-creating pimples on their shoulders and upper arms that gave an alleged aerodynamic advantage of between 18 and 25 seconds in the 14km opening time trial in Düsseldorf.
Geraint Thomas won that prologue time trial and so took the first yellow jersey, while Vasil Kiryienka was third, Chris Froome was sixth and Michal Kwiatkowski was eighth. Froome gained half a minute on his overall rivals and 1:03 on Rigoberto Uran, who would finished second behind the Briton in Paris at just 54 seconds.
Other teams were outraged when they saw the times and the pimples on the skinsuit, with FDJ making a formal protest and claiming they abused the UCI technical rules. However, Team Sky simply took advantage of the loosely worded rules, always insisting that the vortex-generating panels of pimples were an integral part of the material.
In contrast to the vortex skinsuit, this year's design is made from super-smooth material and is especially thin and rather transparent, with Castelli brand manager Steve Smith believing it is the fastest option for the expected 55kph speeds of Monday's team time trial.
"It's an all-new skinsuit: the pimples are out and smooth is in. We showed it to the UCI last Wednesday and there was absolutely no problem with it. Indeed, they were happy we had a different skinsuit and appreciated us respecting the spirit of the rules.
"We've been working on it since last year. It's specifically made for the TTT and, of course, for super-high speed. If the Team Sky riders were riding the Düsseldorf time trial again, the older vortex skinsuit would have been faster, but our tests show the new smooth suit is faster in the TTT," Smith told Cyclingnews.
The new UCI Equipment Manager Jean-Christophe Péraud intends to finally amend and clarify the UCI technical rules by the end of the season and make it more difficult for teams and brands to take advantage of loopholes via different interpretations.
Castelli and Team Sky again carried out many hours of testing and tried multiple materials and cloth shapes and stitching to try to design the best possible skinsuit for the team time trial.
"We tried a lot of different things, testing hundreds of fabrics and shapes. We're not exactly sure why the Body Paint 4.2b Speedsuit is faster, but it is. We've called it Body Paint because it is pretty transparent and looks a lot like body painting," Smith explained.
Smith said Castelli and Team Sky were happy to appease the UCI with the latest skinsuit, in the hope that any new rules will allow clothing brands to be innovative.
"We need clarity to define the sandbox we can play in in the future," Smith said. "We want to be innovative but in a fair and reasonable way. Innovation should be guided and controlled, not stifled."
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