White jerseys the next technical advantage for WorldTour teams
Five teams opt for special edition jerseys during this season’s Grand Tours
Ahead of the Tour de France, several teams announced new jerseys for the Grand Tour, with a key similarity among them being a predominantly white design.
But is the white theme just another marketing gimmick, or are there advantages to be made in the summer heat of French and Spanish Grand Tours?
Team Sky were perhaps the most prominent jersey design change at the Tour de France following their switch from black to white. The Tour also saw alternate white jerseys from Trek-Segafredo, Katusha-Alpecin and a sponsor change forced a new jersey design for French Pro Continental outfit Fortuneo-Oscaro. Team LottoNL-Jumbo also donned a changed jersey to prevent clashing with the race leader.
With the Vuelta a Espana underway, Grand Tour debutants Aqua Blue Sport are also donning a special jersey for the final Grand Tour of the season, and the white trend continues.
The Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana are positioned in the heat of the summer months, unlike the generally cooler and wetter Giro d'Italia in May. Whilst this year's Tour rarely experienced any scorching weather, hot temperatures are expected in the Spanish Grand Tour this month.
Speaking to the brand manager for Castelli and Sportful, who make Team Sky and Trek-Segafredo's kits respectively, Steve Smith described how the change was a combination of a marketing push at the biggest race in the world, whilst adding there are various technical advantages to be made in hot weather fabrics.
"With Trek-Segafredo we wanted to give a fresh new look to correspond with the launch of the new Emonda and with Team Sky, we had done a white sample whilst exploring kit design options last year," Smith said. "We didn't feel it was the time to switch Team Sky from black to white, but everyone loved the jersey and so the decision was taken last fall to do the white jersey as a Tour de France special
"The jersey fabrics [Castelli and Sportful produce – ed.] you see as black start out as a white fabric that is then sublimated with black on top. The fabric contains titanium dioxide particles, which are used in the dyeing process of the white base fabric.
"Titanium dioxide is so good at reflecting UV light that it is a common active ingredient in sunscreen. On a hot day with direct sunlight, you can readily feel the difference in heat between a fabric that is dyed black (hot) and a white fabric that is sublimated black (much cooler), and it is hard to tell the difference between a white or black sublimated fabric."
It is not only the titanium dioxide additives that can reflect UV light and offer protection in the hot sun, the structure and molecular make-up of the fabric can also contribute to staying cooler in the heat.
"Your cotton t-shirt only gives a UPF protection level of around 8, whereas polyester molecules are highly effective at blocking UV light, in addition to the titanium dioxide particles used in the dyeing process," he said.
Whilst the structure of the jerseys and skinsuits can certainly offer some protection from the sun, Smith added how the companies try to strike a delicate balance of allowing cooling wind flow through the fabric, whilst offering protection from the sun at the same time.
"If you use an open mesh you'll get burned so we've figured how light we can go in various areas of the body and still provide adequate protection," he added.
"Obviously we protect the back the most, the sides at medium level, and we go as light as we want on the front. Generally, we're looking for a minimum of UPF 16 on the back and effectively blocking 94% of damaging rays. But we certainly don't recommend these garments as providing complete sun protection and you may want to add a sunscreen underneath depending on the conditions."
Aqua Blue Sport General Manager, Stephen Moore said when announcing the team's special edition jersey for the Vuelta "with the bright reflective quality of the white there is the added benefit for the riders to deal with the high heat of Spain in August'.
A big psychological effect can also occur with riders pulling on a white jersey as they head out on a hot race day, according to Steve Smith.
The UCI apparel regulations state 'Each Trade Team may have only one unique set of apparel (with identical colours and layout) which may not be altered for the duration of the calendar year', and so is likely all of the teams listed above would have applied for special dispensation months in advance of the Tour and Vuelta this season.
Whilst it is clear some heat management and sun protection is evident in WorldTour team jerseys, it is also heavily linked to the marketing strategy of each team, especially in the build up to the biggest races of the year.
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