'The Cycling Boom'. 'The 'Wiggo Effect'. Call it what you like, 2012 was the year that Britain finally woke up and started to embrace the sport of road cycling with the same enthusiasm as our Continental cousins.
Rapha, the official clothing supplier for Team Sky for the next four years, appear to have been alert to this awakening interest well before Bradley Wiggins had even completed his first victory lap on the Champs-Elysées in July. Last week they rolled out their extensive Supporters Collection, which features a range of garments to wear on and off the bike and an opportunity for diehard Team Sky fans to nail their colours firmly to the mast.
'Rapha is proud to introduce the Team Sky Supporter collection, an exclusive range of apparel and accessories to help you follow the world’s leading cycling team in style. Designed to be worn on and off the bike, products in the range combine trademark Rapha performance with distinctive Team Sky livery.'
The Pro team kit has been well received already. Not an attempt to rebrand the team look, the Rapha designers sought to rejig it a little and add plenty of Rapha flourishes and attention to detail. The pro team range is not cheap, but the price reflects the high quality and the technical aspects of the kit that Sir Brad and Co will be wearing this season.
The Supporters Collection, however, is a far more affordable range of clothing and will no doubt be snapped up by both enthusiastic cyclists and armchair fans of the sport.
So, whilst the members of Team Sky prepare themselves for the demands of the forthcoming season in Mallorca, we can now prepare ourselves to support their efforts. With Sir Bradley focusing on the Giro d'Italia in May and looking likely to support Chris Froome in the Tour de France in mid-Summer, there is going be plenty of opportunity to rally behind the British team over the coming months.
But sandwiched between the Tour of Oman and the Grand Tours we have all the Classics to look forward to and Sir David Brailsford has made it clear that Sky will be targeting some of the one day races this year. So if you are heading over the Channel to cheer on the boys at Paris-Roubaix or the Ronde van Vlaanderen then the Team Sky scarf or the Winter Collar might be what you need to fend off the icy winds of northern France and Belgium. And why not finish off the look with this rather fetching reversible merino beanie?
Rapha have also brought out numerous other garments featuring the distinctive blue of the Team Sky, including hoodies, shirts, polos and jeans, but come Spring it will be the T-shirt (£25.00) and Supporter jersey (£40.00 pictured below) that fans will be wearing - the latter even coming in a special Wiggo version!
The Supporters range includes items to suit all budgets - from a musette for £15 to a pair of jeans for £150. It is a move, no doubt, to deflect accusations levelled against Team Sky that adopting Rapha as its official kit supplier - a label renowned for being exclusive and upmarket - might prevent some fans buying Team Sky merchandise.
For those of us who want to emulate our heroes on the bike, Rapha will be releasing a Team Sky replica jersey and bib shorts in March, which will retail at a substantially cheaper price than the Pro team range and include a kid's jersey too. The replica range, so our spies tell us, will deliver the quality, performance and attention to detail synonymous with the brand.
Some may argue that the Rapha prices are still too high but compare them with the cost of the replica jerseys that football clubs rebrand often (not forgetting the additional cost of adding names and numbers) and the Rapha prices begin to look reasonable, especially as the Team Sky jersey is unlikely to change a great deal over the next four years.
Continuing this comparison with football, there is one bit of merchandise that Rapha have failed to pick up on - namely the flags that flutter from cars and vans throughout the duration of a World cup or European Championship. Surely all Team Sky fans would want to fly the Team Sky livery from their seat posts during the Tour de France?
But then again, maybe not.
More details on the Rapha Team Sky range and the Supporters Collection can be found on the Rapha website, www.rapha.cc
Photos courtesy of Rapha
Photo of Bradley Wiggins training in Mallorca, January 2013 by Scott Mitchell/Team Sky
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