The season openers - 'The Spring Classics', are predictably unpredictable. There will be wind and rain, there will be snow and mud; then combine that with cobbles, gravel and gradients, and you'll see mechanicals, abandonments, frozen riders and beaten-up bikes. It is a challenging start to the European racing year.
Whilst we're fortunate not to be privy to such conditions in (most of) Australia - winter can bring some harrowing conditions. Team Wiggle rider Tim Wiggins outlines the kit that he recommends for wet and cold, extreme weather cycling that is characteristic of the Classics, after riding The Strade Bianche.
The Strade Bianche
The 'White Roads' of Tuscany provide a contrasting 'Spring Classic' to the cobbled climbs of Flanders (Belgium). These limestone roads historically linked vineyards and remote settlements; but they have become an iconic challenge when added to a road bike race.
Dusty and loose in the dry, paste-like and slippery in the wet; this surface provides a technical obstacle to all riders. Add in the unstable springtime weather, and you have a race that is unpredictable and very interesting.
Team Wiggle's Tim Wiggins rode the Strade Bianche Grand Fondo in 2017, in torrential rain and strong winds. The Grand Fondo follows the same route that the women's professional race takes the day before - 130 kilometres long, with 30 kilometres of Strade Bianche.
The length of the ride gave Tim enough time to reflect on the best kit choice for these weather conditions. Here's what he recommends…
Kit selection for a 'Spring Classic'
After much deliberation, I finally selected my kit choice and bike set up for the Strade Bianche. Despite praying that the weather forecast of thunderstorms and wind was inaccurate, it turned out to be spot on… so this was my kit choice for many wet hours in the saddle.
Cotton Cycling Cap
A simple accessory, but arguably one of the most important. A 'casquette' will keep the rain off your head, and its peak will shield your eyes from the spray and grit thrown up from the road.
Even though there were glimpses of sunshine on the Strade Bianche Grand Fondo, the main reason for wearing sunglasses is to protect your eyes from the elements. Wind, rain and earth do not aid vision. Particularly consider glasses with good wrap-around cover, like the Oakley Polarized Radarlock Path.
Mesh Base Layer
A base layer is essential in all conditions; helping to move moisture away from your body, and keeping you warmer and more comfortable as a result. I opted for a simple mesh base layer - the Sportful BodyFit Pro Sleeveless Base Layer.
Although the weather in Tuscany was far from summer-like, I did wear a Sportful Bodyfit Pro Team Jersey as a mid-layer. My reasoning was that it was an extra layer of insulation, an extra set of pockets for storage; and if the weather did heat up, then I could always peel off my outer layer to leave this on the outside (it didn't, by the way).
Sportful Fiandre WS LRR Jacket
A highlight of my foul weather kit selection. The Sportful Fiandre Windstopper Light Rain Resistant Jacket featured in our 'Foul Weather Jersey Group Test', and with good reason - it's one of the best out there. Protection from the wind and spray was provided by the innovative Gore Windstopper fabric; whilst the self-draining rear pockets and long drop-tail rear hem helped to avoid water infiltrating my layers beneath.
Sportful Fiandre Light NoRain Bib Shorts
The Sportful NoRain Light Bib Shorts are new for this year, and provide you with an incredible advantage if you're cycling in wet weather. The NoRain fabric repels rain and wind like a shield layer; with a double flap of fabric on the rear of the shorts giving double protection from rear wheel spray. Fitted with Sportful's Total Comfort Pro seat-pad, they kept me comfortable for 6+ hours in the saddle (my ride included riding to and from our hotel to the Grand Fondo event).
Sportful NoRain Arm and Knee Warmers
To protect my limbs, I used Sportful's NoRain Arm Warmers and NoRain Knee Warmers. These have long been a favourite of mine; with their fleece-brushed fabric backing providing insulation, and their shield-like fabric outer making water bead-up and run off, instead of soaking in.
GripGrab Neoprene Gloves
However good waterproof gloves are, once they get wet, they get cold. With water running down my arm warmers and onto my hands, it wasn't going to be long before any normal insulating fabric became saturated. Instead, I opted for GripGrab Neoprene Gloves. Neoprene, as used in wetsuits, provides insulation even when there is a layer of water between glove and hand. These worked a treat - avoiding frozen digits, and allowing me to keep shifting gear.
GripGrab Spring/Fall Socks
The GripGrab Spring/Fall Socks are significantly thicker than summer riding socks, and provided some extra insulation for my feet.
GripGrab Race Aqua Overshoes
Finally, to protect your toes… the GripGrab Race Aqua Overshoes are a fantastic pair of shoe covers. The Kevlar base means they stand up well to use and abuse, whilst the fabric coating and close fit help to shield your feet from spray and mud.
I didn't change much on my Eastway Emitter Team Bike, except for fitting a set of Hutchinson Sector 28 Tubeless road tyres, which I ran at 80psi for added grip and comfort.
I also added an Ass Savers mudguard, for a bit of added protection.
Tim placed 85th on the Strade Bianche Grand Fondo - the top British rider in the event, with a riding time of 04:16:42.
Next year, he's hoping for a dry and dusty Spring Classics event…