Avoiding Wardrobe Malfunctions At The Tour

Jul 11, 2004
Outside Magazine

In 2003, the heat caused problems for many riders at the Tour de France. In 2004, it's the cold and rain that has everyone wishing for a change in the weather. The forecast calls for cool and possibly rainy conditions for another few days, but as the Tour heads south into the Pyrenees, both the weather and the racing are sure to warm up.

Keeping warm during a long, wet race can obviously be a challenge. To make matters worse, the weather has been changing by the hour during the past few stages. As a consequence, riders have been putting on and shedding numerous articles of clothing every day.

In some ways, you have less to deal with when it's hot. A jersey, shorts, and a helmet are required and in terms of clothing, there's really no better option anyway. When it's cold, though, there's an entire closet full of clothing options: arm warmers, knee warmers, full leg warmers, shoe covers, vests, jackets, long-sleeve jerseys, long-finger gloves, etc. How do you know what to take?

For a race or long summer training ride you're going to start with a pair of shorts, a moisture-wicking base layer, and a short-sleeve jersey. If the weather looks threatening, you're also going to want to keep your upper body warm. In a race, you're not going to have time to stop and put on knee warmers, or put a hat on under your helmet; you need to carry clothing you can put on while riding.

In the Tour de France and other professional bike races, riders don't have to carry extra clothing with them. When the rain starts coming down, the team sends a rider back to the team car to retrieve rain jackets and/or arm warmers. Amateur racers don't usually have this luxury, so it's important to look at the weather forecast and carry any clothing you might need. Having a rain jacket during a wet road race is critical, as it helps keep your core temperature from falling. Racing in the rain without a jacket costs a lot more energy because you're working to keep up with the peloton and working to keep warm.

The tricky decisions come when the rain starts and stops during a race or ride. Once the rain stops, you're likely to overheat if you keep your jacket on. At the Tour de France, riders take their jackets off and send another rider back to put them in the team car. If it looks like it's going rain again soon, they might just stick it in a jersey pocket or stuff it under the back of their jersey. In an amateur race, there's no team car to give your jacket to, so you have to stuff it in your jersey.

Changing clothes while riding takes practice and good judgment. You have to be comfortable riding without your hands on the bars, and you have to be careful to keep sleeves away from your wheels. There is probably no worse way to crash than getting your jacket stuck in your back wheel while your hands are off the bars and your arms are still in your sleeves, except maybe getting an arm warmer stuck in your front wheel.

The pros know how to get into and out of jackets, vests, arm warmers, leg warmers, and even shoe covers while riding 30+ mph because they have to do it all the time. If you're planning on being a being a successful bike racer, you too need to know how to accomplish these tasks safely. Don't wait until you're riding in the rain to practice, either. Carry some extra clothes on your next ride, choose a safe area with no traffic, and practice putting on your rain gear. The skills will come in handy someday, I promise.

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