The Castelli Gabba jersey, first unveiled in 2011, is arguably one of the most innovative cycling garments of the last decade. The 'unfair advantage' it afforded the first pro riders to wear it, resulted in it quickly being adopted by the pro peloton, with rival manufacturers scrambling to bring out their own version of this versatile, race-cut windproof and water repellent jersey that negated the need for carrying a rain jacket in the changeable, cooler conditions of autumn, winter and spring. Where the professionals lead, we amateurs invariably follow and now there are several alternative 'rain jerseys' on the market.
Manufacturers of cycle clothing frequently unveil what they claim to be a 'game-changer' garment, but when Castelli unveiled the Gabba Jersey back in 2011, the Italian manufacturer stole a huge march on their rivals. Fast forward three years and there is now a plethora of other 'rain jersey' options available, all of which provide optimum riding performance in the colder months when a ride can be sporadically hampered by inclement weather conditions. The jerseys share much in common: all utilise highly technical, 4-way stretch fabrics (which explains why none of them are on the cheaper end of the scale) and there is an undeniable penchant for the colour black and a minimalist, classic design - only Castelli offer more colourful options.
The Castelli Gabba story stretches back to 2009, when the Italian manufacturer began developing clothing specifically for riding in more changeable, wetter conditions. The Gabba jersey was the manifestation of that research and was named after Gabriel 'Gabba' Rasch, a rider with Cervélo Test Team, who had first muted the idea of developing an aero, stretchy windproof and water repellent jersey.
The thinking behind the jersey was pretty straightforward: being less bulky it would provide better performance and the team riders would no longer need to carry a rain jacket should the weather conditions be changeable. For the domestiques there was the added bonus that those laborious, energy sapping trips back to the team car to discard or collect rainwear would be reduced.
Essentially a water repellent version of their Aero Race jersey, Castelli teamed up with W.L.Gore to develop the innovative WindStopper X-Lite Plus fabric that would make the Gabba such a ground-breaking piece of kit. The short-sleeved Gabba jersey, paired with Castelli's nanoflex arm warmers, immediately caught the eye in the pro peloton, when Garmin-Sharp, who were sponsored by Castelli, started wearing the sleek black jersey in competition, having been instrumental in the development alongside some of the riders of Cervélo Test Team.
Roger Hammond, now Team Director with Madison Genesis and a former Cervélo Test Team rider, hailed the Gabba as the best jersey he had ever worn. Likewise David Millar, speaking in February 2013, extolled the virtues of the jersey and the enviable advantages it gave his fellow Garmin riders over their rivals:
"Not only does it look pretty bad-ass . . . everyone is in their Gore-Tex jackets and you're in this kind of thicker, figure hugging, all-black, water-repellent jersey. It's the jealousy of the whole peloton. Every other team wants to have it. It looks good, it feels amazing and you actually have a clear performance advantage. So for a race it the best thing we've got"
Millar was right. All the other teams wanted the Gabba! And they wanted it so bad, they were more than willing to turn a blind eye to their expected loyalties to the manufacturers who sponsored their respective teams. Riders were soon ditching their rain jackets in favour of the eye-catching black Gabba, but not before they had ensured that the Castelli scorpion and logo had been carefully obscured.
Unfair advantage or marginal gains? American Andrew Talansky of Garmin Sharpe sprints to victory at the end of the rain-lashed Stage 3 of Paris-Nice in 2013, wearing a Gabba Jersey.
By the rain-drenched Milan San Remo Classic of 2013, when March snowfall resulted in the route being shortened, the adoption of the Gabba over team issue kit was evident and when a deluge enveloped Stage 14 of the Vuelta e Espana later in the year, riders were openly talking of wearing their Gabba jerseys. Even the UCI appeared to be turning a blind eye to their own rules on riders having to wear team issue kit, including rainwear, that allowed them to be identified.
The phenomenal success of the Gabba and the undeniable benefits it provided, meant that its usage was quickly adopted by amateur riders, club riders and 'weekend warriors' alike. Not surprisingly other manufacturers quickly sought to bring out their rivals to the Gabba - as much a reaction to the demands of the teams they sponsored, but an acknowledgement of the potentially lucrative sales to the wider cycling public. Vermarc, the Belgian cycle clothing company that provides the kit for Mark Cavendish and Tom Boonen at Omega Pharma - Quick-Step and also for Lotto Bellisol, was one of the first to unveil a rival to the Gabba - their Aquazero Jersey was so close in design to the Castelli jersey that it was almost difficult to tell the two apart.
It is the USA/Italian manufacturer,Capo, however, that probably has the most reason to be aggrieved by the success of the Gabba. Their Lombardia jersey, they claim, pre-dated the unveiling of the Gabba, but without the endorsement of a UCI Pro Team and the benefit of an aggressive marketing machine (with a budget to match) that Castelli had at its disposal, the Lombardia never received the attention that it deserved.
Which came first? The Lombardia (above) or the Gabba?!
Those who have worn the Lombardia will testify to the quality of the garment - like the Gabba, it's a combination of hi-tech, innovative fabrics teamed with Italian design and construction. The Lombardia is not dissimilar to its more famous counterpart - a sleek, black, 4-way stretch jersey available in either a short or long-sleeved version.
The success of the Lombardia is down to Capo's utilisation of Element-4® fabric, similar to the Windstopper X-Lite Plus that Castelli developed with Gore. The Lombardia is beautifully constructed and provides warmth, protection from the wind and great breathability and temperature regulation, making it a sublime garment for the colder months.
Innovation may have been the driving force behind the development of the Lombardia and the Gabba, but their success has been due to a combination of advances in fabric technology coupled with an impetus to produce a garment with a very specific functionality. Gore, for example, provided Castelli with the laminate material for the Gabba, yet they concede that 'Castelli used their exceptional garment design and construction expertise to build a system solution' in order to bring Gabriel Rasch's vision to life'. It is similar collaborations that have resulted in the proliferation of the rain jerseys that we now see on the market.
One myth that has sprung up about the Gabba, and all rain jerseys for that matter, is that they are rain-proof. Despite some claims to the contrary they are not. Highly water repellent they might be, but subjected to torrential or sustained rainfall, they will provide protection and warmth, but the water will still permeate through the untaped seams.
It's interesting to note that Gore Bike Wear, given the part that Gore played in the development of the Gabba, is one leading manufacturer yet to bring out a rain jersey of their own. Their position is unequivocal: for a garment to be marketed as 'waterproof' then it has to be made of a 100% waterproof fabric - that's Gore-tex in their case - and have taped seams and a sleeve and collar design that ensures water ingress is kept to a minimum. Their new Oxygen 2.0 Gore-Tex Active Jacket, they would argue, is a far more robust and effective beast if the heavens truly open.
Different manufacturers use different fabrics. Vermarc use AcquaZero from the Italian textile maker, Sitip - so good, they named the jersey the Aquazero. Santini, who provide the clothing for both Katusha and Vacansoleil (and formely Orica GreenEdge, before the Australian team switched their allegiances to the Swedish manufacturer, Craft) also use AcquaZero. Craft, incidentally, have also jumped on the bandwagon last year, using their Ventair fabric to produce their stretchy EB Weather jersey (that stands for 'Elite Bike' by the way), which picked up a prestigious Eurobike Award in 2013.
Café du Cycliste, based on the sun-drenched Cote d'Azur offer the Josette short-sleeve jersey (above), which coupled with their new LouLou Rain arm warmers is a distinctively stylish option, that compliments their unique range of cycling gear. The Josette is a three fabric combination with the middle one being a breathable, waterproof membrane. Café du Cycliste were canny in their development of the Josette, working with an Italian manufacturer specializing in ski wear to produce a layering system to keep the flexibility - it has a four way stretch - for a great fit and maximum comfort.
Another jersey to keep an eye out for is the Equipe Classics Jacket from Endura. In 2013 the Scottish manufacturer signed a deal to provide kit to the Spanish UCI Pro Team, Movistar, and have invested huge amounts of money into developing clothing fit for purpose for the likes of Nairo Quintana, Alex Dowsett and Alejandro Valverde. Developed with help from the Movistar riders, the Classics jacket will not be available until February 2015 at the earliest, but as the name suggests, this is a jacket that will provide the necessary protection should the rain start to fall in the Scottish Glens, the Spring Classics or the Voltya de Catalunya! As Endura say themselves, the Equipe Classics Jacket is 'designed to meet the severe demands of the spring classics without compromising race performance, and brings pro level clothing to the masses.'
Somewhat surprisingly, two cycling clothing heavyweights and two of Castelli's rivals in the upper end market, Rapha and Assos, are yet to unveil a rain jersey, though the Rapha Pro Team Jersey and Assos ij.Intermediate s7 are as near as they both get . . . for the moment. Word on the street is that the British manufacturer has a rain jersey in the offing - no doubt prompted by the demands of Team Sky. One would assume that Assos, who do not sponsor any UCI Pro Team, will be quietly developing a similar garment in their HQ near Lake Lugano in southern Switzerland.
The Gabba, however, will always be seen as the Daddy of them all, irrespective of the debate as to who produced their rain jersey first, but now that many other versions of this very specific jersey are available, the 'rain jersey' is yet another garment that a road cyclist should consider adding to their wardrobe.
Below are just some of the rain jerseys currently on the market, though some can be a little elusive in the UK, even with online retailers, so be prepared to shop abroad.
The Castelli Gabba 2, the latest manifestation of the jersey, comes in both a short sleeve (£150) version and long sleeve (£185). Available to buy online from Wiggle or Chain Reaction or Evans Cycles. Alternatively, you can opt for the versatile Gabba Convertible, which at £220 it is not cheap, but with zips on the arms, you have a choice as to whether to wear the short or long sleeve version. Again, they are available to buy from Wiggle, Chain Reaction or Evans.
Capo's Lomardia, like the Castelli, comes in both a long sleeve and short sleeve version, priced at £110 and £160 respectively. More information and stockist details can be found on the Capo website. Sussex based online retailer Nordic Life offer a good range of kit from this well regarded US-Italian manufacturer.
Men in Black: the Gabba, Capo's Lombardia and Endura's Equipe Classic.
The Café du Cycliste Josette jersey is only available in a short sleeve version, priced at €155.00, but can be paired with their new Loulou rain armwarmers (€42.00) for added warmth and protection. For more details on these products and the entire collection, visit Café du Cycliste
Vermarc Zero Aqua PRR comes in both a short and long sleeve version. The Belgian company unveiled the originally named Aquazero around the same time as the Gabba, which suggests that Castelli and Capo were not the only manufacturer working on producing a rain jersey. More information can be found on the Vermarc UK website.
Italian manufacturer Giordana have a greater brand presence in the USA and in Europe, so getting hold of the G Shield short sleeve jersey in the UK is not easy. Made with Super Roubaix AZ (AcquaZero) fabric, it is one of the more minimalist rain jerseys on offer, though the white band above the pockets recalls the Gabba and branding down the back of the jersey, though relatively discreet, may not be to all tastes.
Italian manufacturer Santini use the Sitip AcquaZero fabric in several of their garments. The Santini short sleeve Reef Rain Jersey was developed with Team Belkin riders and also incorporates their highly breathable Tempo membrane. Priced at £139.99 the jersey is available online at Chain Reaction Cycles. Alternatively, the long-sleeve Acquazero Thermofleece Jersey, which actually retails at a little less than its short-sleeve sibling, is a good option for winter riding.
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