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Clothes do make the cyclist

UCI Road Worldchampionships

Clothes do make the cyclist

The fastest time and finest figure: asked the pros about the importance of cycle clothing.

Text: Daniel Feichtner, Picture: Franz Oss

Cycling is not only a highly technical and competitive sport, it also looks back on a long tradition. This increases the demands placed on athletes' outfits: not only do they have to be highly functional, they must also be in keeping with the latest style trends.

For many, workwear is part and parcel of their jobs. And the same applies to Markus Wildauer: in contrast to others, however, the perfect outfit for the 20-year-old is not "only" a question of professional etiquette, comfort and recognition factor. For the newly crowned U23 national time trial champion and Tirolean Cycling Team rider, valuable one-hundredths of a second can also depend on the right clothing - quite apart from the fact that it is also important for professional cyclists to be well dressed when they climb into the saddle. Emerging talent Wildauer and team boss Thomas Pupp explain how the combination of style and functionally create the perfect cycling outfit.

Cool head

Head protection is an essential element of cycling sport. Athletes rely mainly on their cycling skills when it comes to protecting the rest of their bodies - with a little extra assistance provided by their agility, weight and aerodynamics. All of that is of no use, however, when it comes to their heads: “All the talent in the world won’t help you in an emergency situation, such as a mass collision,” says Wildauer. "And a head injury would almost certainly mean the end of the race - or even much worse."

Air permeability is an important factor in keeping a cool head, as is ultra-lightweight construction. In regular races, however, aerodynamics are not the decisive factor. Helmets have only been compulsory at official races since 2003, after a fatal accident involving Fabio Casartelli during the Tour de France. Before then, athletes often only wore caps. “The wearing of helmets has since become de rigueur in the hobby sector", says Thomas Pupp with some pride. “You hardly see any hobby riders today not wearing a helmet. “It is simply the done thing. And that has been achieved without any legislation."

Old School

In recent years, however, the cycling cap has experienced a revival. Wildauer also wears this type of headgear - which was standard before helmets became obligatory - albeit in combination with a helmet.  "The cap is worn mainly at higher altitudes and lower temperatures and helps protect your head from cooling down," explains the professional. "If it gets warmer, it is better not to wear it to prevent overheating."
At the same time, the cycle cap is a tribute to the history of cycle sport. "Cycling is steeped in tradition and the 'old school' is often celebrated," Pupp describes.  "Personally, I think it's great that the traditional headgear is back in fashion."

Best optics

As with the helmet, sunglasses are an integral feature of protective clothing. "Dust, wind or insects can become really unpleasant, especially at higher speeds," says Wildauer. "And the best possible visibility must, of course, be guaranteed." That's why each athlete always has a range of interchangeable lenses for their glasses - darker for sunny weather and lighter or clearer for cloudy or rainy days.

“It is also important that the glasses are shatterproof," he adds. “Otherwise they could cause injury in the event of a fall.” With Gloryfy, we have found a Tirolean partner whose glasses meet the high standards required."

Fit like a glove

In summer, a short-sleeved jersey is usually sufficient for both professionals and hobby riders. It serves as sun, wind and weather protection, regulates moisture, has a little storage space in rear pockets where they are not in the way, and offers space for sponsorship logos. "A jersey has to fit as well as possible," says Wildauer. If it is too tight, it restricts breathing and freedom of movement. "Too big is just as bad. It is uncomfortable if the material becomes creased and it can slow you down if the jersey inflates in headwinds. Our outfitter, Cuore, guarantees to supply us with perfect gear."

Hobby riders usually only need a short and a long-sleeved jersey, and possibly a windproof rain vest. Competitive athletes who train all year round also require a thermal jacket that protects them from cooling down in winter. It is important to have the right combination to hand. This is ensured not least by the coaches, who provide athletes with suitable attire during races.

Hobby riders usually only need a short and a long-sleeved jersey, and possibly a windproof rain vest. Competitive athletes who train all year round also require a thermal jacket that protects them from cooling down in winter. It is important to have the right combination to hand. This is ensured not least by the coaches, who provide athletes with suitable attire during races.

Skin tight and padded

The same criteria for the athletes’ jerseys also applies to their shorts. “If they don’t sit tight enough, wrinkles may appear. And that is more than unpleasant,” says Wildauer. It is not just about comfort, especially when athletes sit in the saddle for hours on end: if they become chafed and sore, it can quickly turn into a real handicap. So not only do they have to be the perfect fit, they must also be padded.

"It is important that the padding fits anatomically," says Pupp. “Sometimes that means trying many different styles, until you find the right shorts for your body type. Otherwise it can be counterproductive." The leg end must also fit perfectly. Not too tight, but not too loose either, otherwise they could slip or flap around in the airstream. Moreover, he warns that the shorts must always be freshly washed. While it is possible to wear a jersey for two days (if you can stand the smell), the highest standards of hygiene apply to shorts. "Especially in multi-day races, the immune system is put under immense strain. It is therefore imperative to have freshly laundered shorts. And hobby riders should take that piece of advice to heart."

Flexible in modular form

Instead of carrying a complete second outfit in their luggage, cycling pros have been relying on a smarter solution for some years now: Lycra sleeves and leg warmers, with which an outfit can be quickly augmented. "The solution is as simple as it is ingenious," confirms Wildauer. "You can just pull on sleeves during a race and leg warmers can be slipped on quickly during a short stop.” And because they are so small, athletes can take them with them in their jersey bags and are not dependent on their coaches having to bring clothes to them.

"We also use cotton-lined sleeves and leg warmers for colder weather," says Pupp.  And of course these "topcoats" must match the rest of the jersey. “It is a question of style. As is the right combination. Long sleeves and leg warmers are acceptable. Or sleeves and shorts, but short sleeves and long bottoms are an absolute no-go!”

Everything under control

Gloves are just as essential as padded bib shorts and a cycling jersey. In an emergency, they prevent injuries to the hands, which can quickly become a problem.  “They also help you grip the bars better,” says Wildauer.  “Especially when your hands are sweating. It is just more pleasant. Your hands don’t fall asleep so quickly with gloves on either.” As with the protective glasses, Tirol Cycling Team has entered into a working collaboration with a Tirolean manufacturer: expert ski-glove manufacturer, Zanier, equips the riders with cycling mitts.

Question of fashion

The fact that cycling is fashion orientated can be seen from the socks used by the pros.  "It used to be an unwritten rule that white ankle socks were worn in cycling races," says Pupp. These fashion standards were first tottered by Lance Armstrong, who raced with longer, black socks. "That was a scandal back then, which affronted the bastions of traditional cycling fashion," says the team boss. “And that was long before the doping affair came to light."  In the meantime, longer socks are not only "allowed" in cycling, they are also highly fashionable - and used not least by sponsors to present their brand to the public.

Pivotal point

Finding the right shoe is not easy. "You have to experiment - especially because every foot is different," Wildauer recommends. "Once your feet start hurting in a race, it's over."  For this reason, Tirol Cycling Team works closely together with DMT, who supply their shoes. The Italian sponsor measure not only both sides of the athletes' feet, they stretch and adjust the shoes individually to suit personal requirements. “They are the final point in transferring power from the leg to the pedal." For this reason, professionals use stiff soles. “You can have the best legs in the world, but if you don't transfer that power efficiently to the pedal, it is of no use to you at all," Wildauer agrees. The soles of his shoes are made from carbon, which not only provides the necessary stiffness, but also saves a lot of weight. Their fit, of course, is another deciding factor. Feet may swell, especially in warmer climes, for which the shoe must allow sufficient room.

A question of style

Even if they are not directly related to clothing, shaved legs are an essential and eye-catching element of every bike outfit. There are practical reasons for this, as Markus Wildauer explains: “Legs are an exposed area. They can be injured relatively quickly and easily. Wounds heal better if they are not hampered by hair. And in the event of a more serious accident, no-one needs to shave you before treatment can begin. That being said, it is not only hair that sometimes gets in the way. “Cyclists must suffer many things,” Pupp points out. "One of their important caregivers are physiotherapists. Having shaved legs also makes their work easier.

However, this doesn’t entirely explain the penchant for smooth legs. Because like many others in professional cycling, this is not just about tradition – there is an element of showmanship going on here, says the team boss quite openly: “You want to show your opponent what you are capable of. When pros get together they will look first at their opponents’ legs - and want their own, of course, to look their best." “So leg shaving has developed into an important part of cycling etiquette - even for hobby cyclists.” In a way, it shows that you are serious about your sport."  

Markus Wildauer

Thomas Pupp 

Markus Wildauer has been an active rider in the Tirol Cycling Team since 2017. The twenty-year-old won not only a stage at the Giro Ciclistico d'Italia this year, he also triumphed in the U23 national time trial championships and took bronze at the European Championships.

Thomas Pupp founded the Tirol Cycling Team together with Georg Totschnig in 2007 and has supported Austrian cycling talents in their training and participation in national and international competitions ever since.



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