photos: jez hastings
i have always worked on the basis of if you don't ask, you don't get, so when rapha announced that they were to introduce a uci registered, continental pro team for 2008, in conjunction with existing sponsor condor cycles and adding recycling.co.uk, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. so i sent off an e-mail to team manager, john herety, offering my not inconsiderable services as a team rider. i carefully explained how i had strenuously defended my position as lanterne rouge in the 2007 london-paris ride, that i had read tim krabbe's the rider two and a half times, and that i had once shaken hands with johan museeuw.
i'm not sure which of those did the trick, but you can imagine my surprise when an e-mail arrived, inviting me to the team launch at the singapura restaurant in london, on 24th january. (i should probably keep this to myself, but i am reliably informed that, when told of my impending addition to the team, dean downing reputedly said 'who?' just shows you the kind of impression my c.v. has had on the professional peloton). if you find this hard to believe (and i'm not sure i believe it myself), just look at the team photo above - that's me in the white and pink rapha cap, fourth from the left.
of course, team presentations are a hustle and bustle affair, and i found it almost impossible to have a word with my new team manager, so no doubt my race programme is already in the post, though i had expected it would have arrived a mite sooner. the only events that i know are on my rouleur calendar, are the tour of bowmore co-op, london-paris 2008, and the ride of the falling rain in august.
what has turned up though, is my 'proper' team jersey - those at the team launch were lycra, since the sportwool (50% merino, 50% polyester) version was not ready in time, and befitting the conditions in which i have to train, those nice people at rapha sent me the long sleeve version. actually the short sleeve issue won't be along just yet, but it's the thought that counts.
my team issue is similar in style to the recently released rapha long sleeve jersey, but what have they done to the sportwool? the black, full length zipped design, featuring three prominent team logos in white on the front and back, is almost sublimely soft - this has to be the very best incarnation of sportwool it has ever been my privilege to wear. i promise i'll be much faster wearing this.
under the screen-printed rapha, condor and recycling.co.uk logos on the back, are three generously sized pockets and the mandatory zipped one - the outer two scalloped, and the middle one with an internal pump pocket. the zip sidles into the rapha trademark foldover at the collar (lined in british racing pink), while the generously 'dropped' tail features more of that grippy lining stuff to keep it in place, during my expected heavy training sessions.
interestingly enough, while we're on that point, i e-mailed all my new rapha team-mates to invite them on the sunday ride. and i did wait an extra ten minutes, but strangely, none of them turned up - perhaps it was too windy for them.
anyway, successfully transferred from the existing long-sleeved jersey, is the elastic pullcord at the waist, meaning it's a cinch to keep the wind from attacking your merino baselayer. it'll even keep the back of the jersey where it's meant to be, when it cowers under a stowaway jacket in the rain. i have gone on record more than once, declaring my undying enthusiasm for long sleeved jerseys, but this one has ticked boxes i hadn't even subjected it to. there is the expected, nay demanded, white hoop on the left sleeve with the rapha logo tastefully embroidered in white, but the length of the sleeves and the cleverly scalloped cuffs, leave absolutely nothing to be desired. i did mention that i really like long sleeved jerseys, didn't i?
since the rest of the rapha team obviously weren't turning up, i headed off on my own for what would have to count as my first 'real' team training session. yes, ok it is quite difficult trying to parctice riding in an echelon on your own, but i surely deserve some brownie points for trying. i'm sure mr herety will be impressed when i tell him.
however, it's a strangely satisfying feeling, powering through the countryside wearing a team jersey - maybe there weren't enough people around on an islay sunday morning to notice, but i'm sure they'd be impressed if there were. i need hardly mention that i was first to be served with an espresso at debbie's. the jersey is cosier than it perhaps promised, but oh, that sportwool. it felt just like the bouncy fabrics that feature in most washing powder adverts. had it not been deemed too unprofessional (at least, that's what mrs washingmachinepost said) to lounge about in it for the rest of the day, i would still be wearing it now.
the cost is a reassuringly healthy £130 ($235) for a jersey of unimpeachable quality, but think of it less as acquiring another jersey, more as a means of supporting what could become the brightest international cycling success that britain has had for a long time. more rapha condor recycling kit will be available in the fullness of time, but you can already nab a pair of team bib shorts for £120 ($200) enabling you to kit yourself out the same us us professionals.
now if i could just have my training schedule mr herety...mr herety...
photos: jez hastings