PRO SL LITE COLLECTION
Climate control as standard
EVIDENCE VS. PERSUASION
Professional cycling teams are not easily satisfied. When your object is to win the most demanding races in the sport, compromise simply isn’t an option. Lab tests, specifications and spreadsheets are so much background noise. The proof of a product or technology lies in its performance on the road. Nothing less, nothing more.
If the teams are discerning, the riders can seem little short of obsessive, but when your job involves riding tens of thousands of kilometres each year, the smallest change in materials can make the largest difference to performance.
“The Pro SL Lite Jersey II and the Pro SL Lite Bibshort are derived from the kit supplied to Movistar Team for the blisteringly hot Vuelta España campaign of 2016.”
Major alterations are greeted by professional cyclists either as a revelation or as an outrage. There is rarely a middle ground, and change for change’s sake is not welcomed. Suppliers to the big beasts of the UCI WorldTour are therefore always on their mettle.
A professional rider is as sensitive to a change in his bike or clothing as a bank clerk might be to a desk lowered or a guitarist playing with lighter strings. Alter the fabric of a jersey and you can bet the man inside it will know in a heartbeat. When his team-mates notice too, however, the supplier must know they are on to a winner.
So it was that Endura forged what has become their most prestigious association; not with the blunt force of economic compulsion or with data to prove the performance of a fabric, though they had the latter in abundance. Instead, the critical moment came at a training camp held beneath a blazing sun.
By supplying a ‘secret’ jersey and bibshort for a chosen rider in a controlled experiment, and allowing his team-mates to notice for themselves the superior performance of their colleague’s kit, Endura cemented a relationship that has since yielded more than 130 professional victories, including Grand Tours and Monument Classics. Evidence beats persuasion every time.
THE LASTRAS TEST
Pablo Lastras was the man designated to wear Endura’s ‘secret’ kit. A rider of unquestioned loyalty, who had spent his entire career with Abarca Sports, the vastly experienced group that can trace its history to the Reynolds team of Pedro Delgado, no one more than ‘Penkas’ could be relied upon to protect the integrity of the exercise.
The Abarca Sports hierarchy had devised a simple experiment to test Endura’s claims for its new fabric. Demanding more than spreadsheet data, they asked Endura to make a sample kit. From the outside at least, the clothing seemed identical to that worn by Lastras’ team-mates.
“Tested in the heat of the 2016 Vuelta a España, and validated by Nairo Quintana’s victory, the new Pro SL Lite collection comes with the highest credentials.”
“We got found out,” says Jim McFarlane, Endura’s founder and managing director, chuckling.
“Everyone else was drenched in sweat and their kit had changed to a darker shade of blue, but Pablo’s jersey was still dry. That’s when they noticed that he was wearing different kit. That same afternoon, when they’d come back from the training ride, I got a call from Movistar Team. That was the proof, as far as they were concerned.”
The test speaks volumes for both parties. For the men who run Movistar Team, it proved the value of their experience and of a stance that might be termed ‘prove it’. For Endura, their ability to walk the walk on the performance of their clothing, having talked the talk with pre-test data, showed how seriously they approached the task of clothing the most established team in the UCI WorldTour.
DELIVER, THEN CELEBRATE
Those who might consider signing a contract with a UCI ProTeam an excuse to break out the champagne do not know Jim McFarlane. Level-headed to the last, he was more consumed with the thought that the hard work of clothing the team was about to begin. Self-congratulation is rarely a component of building a multi-million pound business from scratch.
As evidence of McFarlane’s determination to get on with the job of providing the best for his new partners, consider his next move. Having gained an association with the grandees of professional cycling, he delayed the uptake of the contract by a year. Movistar Team’s riders would not roll out in Endura clothing until 2014.
“We never thought, ‘Oh, that’s the job done, because we’ve signed the contract with Movistar Team.’ That’s only promising to do the job.”
“When you’ve signed the contract, that’s not the time to celebrate. What you’ve signed up to is a promise, not a result. The time to celebrate is after you’ve delivered on the contract, and we had a whole lot of work to do to deliver on that contract.
“We said, ‘We just won’t do the job we’re capable of doing, if you give us a bit more time to work with you,’ and they agreed. I’m glad we did that, because we would have been on the back foot, not having given ourselves enough time to prepare and try the products.
“We never thought, ‘Oh, that’s the job done, because we’ve signed the contract.’ That’s only promising to do the job.”
McFarlane did allow himself the quiet satisfaction of having found people he could work with. The riders, naturally, command the spotlight, especially when they are as successful as Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, but figures like Movistar Team’s technical director Alfonso Galilea impressed McFarlane at least as much as those with Grand Tour victories on their palmares.
THE SEE OF GALILEA
They do not come more knowledgeable than Galilea. A senior figure at Abarca Sports, his knowledge has been pivotal to the successful relationship the team now shares with Endura.
Reminded of the experiment with Lastras, staged as an opportunity for Endura to prove the data for its new fabric, Galilea is clear on the importance of real world testing.
“Real cycling, and testing in the real world, is much, much more important than laboratory tests. We need real world testing to be sure of the performance of the clothing or any other component.”
“Real cycling, and testing in the real world, is much, much more important than laboratory tests. At the end, cycling is a very complicated sport and we need to take into consideration a lot of different points and issues that you cannot replicate 100 per cent in a laboratory or a test. We need the real world to be sure of the performance of the clothing or any other component.”
Galilea raises an interesting point: the evolution of cycle clothing in the last decade has pushed performance levels to new heights. He singles out Endura, noting the scale of the Livingston brand’s commitment. If this seems like a partisan opinion, it’s worth referencing an earlier part of our conversation, in which he makes clear that all Movistar Team’s partners - past and present - are due respect.
“If you compare the clothing that the riders wear today to the clothing they wore ten years ago, the change is super important, and that’s thanks to the clothing brands. In our case, we need to thank Endura, for all their investment. They are trying to find the best solution for fit, not only in comfort, but also in aerodynamics, and in the behaviour of different fabrics. It’s something that Endura has devoted a lot of time, money and human resources towards.”
THE ‘OFFERING UP’
McFarlane is unflinchingly honest when he describes Endura’s first approaches to Movistar Team, and later his determination to face down the dangers of complacency. His insights cover the full gamut of the brand’s relationship with its WorldTour clients, from suitors to suppliers.
He recalls sending a sample glove in the pre-contract phase, which he now describes as “way too complicated.” Movistar Team told him as much, and in no uncertain terms.
“Take yourself out of the situation, and say, ‘Are you likely to make better road clothing because you’re supplying it to a WorldTour team?’ You’d say, ‘Yes, surely,’ but you don’t know until you start doing it.”
“They said it was a step back and they were a bit concerned whether we’d be able to deliver. There followed a really stressful period in getting that momentum back, and that was a learning; that absolutely was learning about what we were doing in WorldTour.”
Endura was no stranger to clothing cycling teams. It had owned, as well as operated, Endura Racing, the UCI Continental squad that swept all before it in 2012. A graduation as sponsor to the NetApp-Endura UCI Pro Continental team continued a pathway that led to professional cycling’s top tier.
McFarlane’s revelations about Movistar Team’s heightened professionalism, however, give the lie to the theory that ProTeam association is little more than a marketing exercise. When I ask if the partnership has increased the performance of Endura’s consumer range, he answers in a word: “Hugely.”
“Take yourself out of the situation, stand back from it, and say, ‘Are you likely to make better road clothing because you’re supplying it to a WorldTour team?’ You’d say, 'Yes, surely,’ but you don’t know that’s quite going to be the case until you start doing it.
“It absolutely has been the case, in a more emphatic way than I’d anticipated. I thought there’d be some of it; there’s been a lot of it. I’m proud to say a lot of that is down to us ‘offering up’, rather than Movistar Team demanding.”
AVOIDING THE PLATEAU
This ‘offering up’ has included a host of developments, including a choice of width in the 700-series pad, supported by the Gebiomized pressure mapping service, and, most notably, the fruits of Endura’s relationship with Simon Smart of Drag2Zero: a collection of aero garments developed in the wind tunnel at the headquarters of Mercedes F1 in Brackley, Northamptonshire.
Endura now faces a new challenge: continuing to surprise and delight an already satisfied client. McFarlane is keen to guard against complacency. With victory for Movistar Team riders now almost routine, from Alejandro Valverde’s annual decimation of his rivals in the Ardennes Classics, to Nairo Quintana’s heroics in the high mountains of the Grand Tours, the question of Endura’s readiness for the challenge of WorldTour racing has long been answered. The focus has shifted.
“The onus is on us to keep up the discipline, rather than expect Movistar Team to keep pushing us, because it’s hard for them to push us when they’re very happy.”
“The challenge for us going forwards is how to keep the pressure on ourselves when we have a very satisfied client. It’s for us to keep the self-discipline that served us so well initially,” he says.
“The pressure has evaporated as the standard of the clothing has got higher and higher, and Movistar Team’s satisfaction levels have got higher and higher. It’s harder for them to take the time to come to us and say, we want you to work on x, y or z, when they already think x, y or z is excellent.
“The onus is on us to keep up the discipline, rather than expect Movistar Team to keep pushing us, because it’s hard for them to push us when they’re very happy. I just want to make sure we hold on to that, because that’s now the risk - that the relationship plateaus.”
It’s hard to fault McFarlane’s analysis, even if those who have worked alongside him, or witnessed his team of garment technicians, whether fitting the riders in Pamplona or stitching the garments in Livingston, might argue that the prospect of Endura collectively taking its foot off the pedal is remote.
Visit the vast headquarters in West Lothian, speak to the men and women designing, stitching and printing the garments by hand, and the sense of pride is palpable.
A TACTICAL DEPLOYMENT
When McFarlane talks of Movistar Team’s feedback pushing Endura’s consumer range to new heights, he might point to the new Pro SL Lite collection. The Pro SL Lite Jersey II and the Pro SL Lite Bibshort are both derived from the kit supplied for the aforementioned Vuelta España campaign of 2016.
As early as the opening week, when the race skirted the Galician coast, conditions quickly became intense. Quintana and his Movistar Team colleagues, however, kept cool while their rivals felt the heat.
“A Professional rider is as sensitive to change in his bike or clothing as a bank clerk might be to a desk lowered or a guitarist with lighter strings"
A close inspection of their garments would have revealed the truth behind their unruffled appearance. A soigneur delivering freshly laundered kit to his riders each morning might have noted the super lightweight construction of the bibshorts, or the precisely cut pad contained within; one with no excess material, providing support while keeping weight to a minimum.
Performances obsessives like Endura’s garment technicians, or, more particularly, their competitors, might have been tempted to cut open the pad to reveal a reticulated foam core, optimised with a more open cell structure to enhance moisture transfer. Only a chemist could have reported with accuracy the presence of Coldblack, heat-dispersing treatment on the fabric’s exterior. The perforated side panels, of course, were obvious to all.
Our curious soigneur might then have transferred his attention to the minimalist construction of Movistar Team’s jersey, noting the extra fine mesh front panels, or the high-wicking rear panels, made from Endura’s proprietary Translite fabric. It’s easy to imagine a silent nod of approval at the internal, silicone cuff grippers, or the pared back interpretation of the classic triple pocket configuration.
We can leave behind our fictitious swanny (even if our hypothetical chemist is again required to note the jersey’s UPF25 sleeves) and fast forward to the present. All of the features included in Movistar Team's ground-breaking kit for the 2016 Vuelta a España are included in Endura’s new Pro SL Lite collection.
ENTRY INTO MADRID
Galilea was among the Movistar Team entourage that rolled into Madrid in 2016 in the wake of the race’s new champion. A member of the Abarca Sports hierarchy since 1988, when the team was called Reynolds and the lead rider was a certain Miguel Indurain, he is no stranger to witnessing Grand Tour victories from the inside.
Still, Quintana’s victory, realised in such emphatic style, was special. The brutal trials of a three-week race, the host of uncontrollable factors, he had come to expect. The searing heat in which the 2016 Vuelta was contested, however, added a new dimension to the suffering.
“When you win a three-week race, it’s an incredible moment, and not only because of the victory, but because of the effort of people around the team.”
“That race was extremely hot,” he recalls. “The weather is changing. Winters are stronger - this year has been very hard, with snow and cold temperatures - but in summer, it’s becoming very, very hot. To ride in a professional way and try to win a three-week race is not easy. First of all, your body needs to be prepared for such high temperatures, and of course clothing is a key item in order to try and fight against those heightened temperatures.
“What Endura has done in the last few years is completely amazing. They have developed very high performance items. Of course, you cannot avoid the high temperatures, but you can at least mitigate the effect. The clothing helps a lot and can be a big difference in performance.”
He recalls the moment when Quintana rolled into Madrid at the head of a decorated support team that included Alejandro Valverde, winner of the 2009 Vuelta. Galilea is as keen, however, to shine the spotlight on those whose tireless support proved as vital to the Colombian as his fellow riders.
“When you win a three-week race, it’s an incredible moment. It’s not only because of the victory, but because of the effort of people around the team - the soigneurs, the mechanics, the data experts - have been working very, very hard to win that race, so it’s an incredible moment in which we need to thank all those people.
“To have that feeling after three hard weeks, with a lot of different conditions, health problems and crashes, to be able to win is incredible. We are proud to have won some important three-week races, some Grand Tours during our history, but every time we reach that point it’s an incredible feeling. It’s not easy to explain, but for our team it’s one of the big goals of the season.”
THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
Ask McFarlane to choose a Movistar Team victory of especial significance, however, and it is not Quintana’s triumph at the 2016 Vuelta a España, or even at the 2014 Giro d’Italia that resonates.
For one who has worked so closely with the team, and come to know its riders, McFarlane is able to see beyond the highest-profile victories.
“Alejandro is a lovely guy. To see his robustness and his capacity to come back from serious injury is special.Despite all that he’s achieved, he’s still hungry to go out and race. He’s never lost that love for the bike.”
When we speak. Alejandro Valverde has recently returned from a seven-month absence and what many had feared would be a career-ending knee injury to win the Tour of Valencia.
Historians, presented with a palmares containing four (and counting?) victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, overall victory at the 2009 Vuelta a España, and podium finishes at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France are unlikely to focus on Valverde’s success in Valencia.
McFarlane, however, having worked with Bala since 2012, sees a deeper significance.
“Alejandro is a lovely guy. He’s been really easy to work with: low maintenance, humble and appreciative; for a star rider, in particular. To see his robustness and that capacity to come back from serious injury is special.
“He’s a guy whose season starts on January 1 and he wants it to end on December 31. His love of riding his bike is unsurpassed by anyone I’ve ever met. He just can’t get enough of it.
“He’s done it, year in, year out, and still hasn’t lost that almost childlike love of riding his bike and racing. It’s still fresh to him, and, despite all that he’s achieved, he’s still hungry to go out and race.
“It would have been so easy for him to throw in the towel, from where he is in his career and after seeing Mikel Landa come to the team, along with Nairo, but to come out and win almost his first race of the season is really special.
“The Volta Valenciana is not the biggest race, even though there was some proper competition in it, so he wasn’t racing for prestige, but his appetite is absolutely undiminished. That’s really special.”
A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
The strength of the relationship between Endura and Movistar Team is writ large in the new Pro SL Lite collection. Tested in the relentless heat of the 2016 Vuelta a España and validated by Nairo Quintana’s overall victory, this is summer clothing with the highest credentials. The Colombian, an icon in his homeland, is not given to accepting second best.
Moreover, these are technical garments that prove the connection between supplying world class athletes and making world class products. Endura has grown from a kitchen table in Edinburgh to become one of the biggest players in the bike industry, but its relationship with Movistar Team is no vanity project.
“Endura’s ability to walk the walk on the performance of their clothing, having talked the talk with pre-test data, showed how seriously they approached the task.”
The Pro SL Lite collection is another definitive statement of Endura’s identity as a progressive, technical clothing brand and a further expression of the commitment to leading edge technology that underlies the aero collection, developed with Drag2Zero at the Mercedes F1 wind tunnel in Brackley, Northamptonshire. The mavericks of Livingston are very definitely not a ‘heritage’ brand.
McFarlane has built a reputation with a direct, no-nonsense approach. His delay to the start of the Movistar Team contract, a 12-month pause to be certain that Endura would deliver clothing of the highest quality to its most demanding clients, is the ultimate evidence of a partnership built on delivery, rather than spin. Those with less integrity might have cranked up the marketing machine at the first opportunity.
Galilea has been involved in countless Grand Tour victories and, as the man responsible for equipping nearly 40 of the world’s best riders, male and female, including Quintana and Valverde, is not in the business of handing out easy compliments. When he describes Endura’s achievements with warm weather clothing as “amazing”, he does so in the knowledge that he will not be contradicted by those who race in it.
Fine mesh fabrics, perforated panels, a pared back, super lightweight construction, a pad built around a core of reticulated foam…with Pro SL Lite, Endura has proven that there is room for innovation even in garments as apparently simple as a bibshort and a short-sleeved jersey. Victory in the hottest Vuelta of recent memory is the ultimate validation of their philosophy, Renegade Progress.
Footnotes Words by Timothy John. Images by Sean Hardy, Flak Meier and BlakeThrough Media
© 2021 ENDURA