Sportful Giara clothing - first ride review
Joining Fabian Cancellara at Strade Bianche in Sportful's new go-anywhere apparel
by Timothy John
You know how it is. You roll out from your hotel in Sienna for a quick spin on Tuscany’s famed white gravel roads with your close friends Ivan Basso and Paolo Bettini; a leg-turner to whet the appetite for watching the professionals contest the Strade Bianche the following day.
Then, before you know it, Fabian Cancellara’s calling from across the road, performing a sudden u-turn, and pedaling effortlessly past you to join Basso and Bettini at the head of the group. A ride like any other, right? Just you, your hosts from Sportful, an Olympic and double world champion, a two-time Grand Tour winner, and arguably the greatest Classics rider of his generation.
Strange, but even Basso and Bettini’s presence is diminished by Cancellara. It’s Spartacus, after all. Plenty in our group are riding replicas of his signature Domane, provided for the occasion by Trek, but here he is, the man himself. Cancellara. On his white bike. In full Trek-Segafredo team kit, complete with white Computer Associates logo splashed across his outrageously sized glutes. Wow.
Cancellara, it transpires, is guest of honour for the entire race weekend, and not just a superstar presence in our own group. He has joined us after unveiling a plaque engraved with his name on section eight at Monte Sante Marie. It seemed the least they could do.
Astonishingly, he’s able to ride slowly enough for me to keep him in sight; a feat I wouldn’t have thought possible, and surely one to rank alongside his three victories in the Strade Bianche. Less surprising is the ease with which he controls a group of amateurs - until recently he was patron of the WorldTour peloton. We stop to wait longer than is necessary for the follow car to catch up, but who is going to hurry along Cancellara? Not me.
The Sportful connection
We roll on to Tuscany’s famous white roads and through frankly breathtaking scenery, on a beautiful loop planned by Sportful and littered with gravel sections from the Strade Bianche and from the L’Eroica gran fondo that spawned the race (the exception to the rule that says races spawn gran fondos).
It’s a perfect location in just about any way you care to mention, but is especially resonant for Sportful who have chosen the location to launch their new Giara collection.
It’s one designed with mixed terrain riding in mind, and includes a short-sleeve jersey (£75) and bib shorts (£75), a loose overshort (£65) and a lightweight, water resistant and windproof jacket, priced at £95. There’s a matching cap (£17), mitts (£30) and socks (£17), too.
The jersey cut is relaxed, and its classy, understated ‘heathered’ finish, a trend popular in a host of sporting disciplines from running to yoga, gives further indication of a shift away from the race-focused clothing of the peloton.
This, of course, is a departure for Sportful, a brand with an impressive heritage in the top tier of the sport and which this year is represented in the men’s WorldTour by Trek-Segafredo and Bahrain-Merida, and in the women’s peloton by Drops.cc.
Sportful’s BodyFit Pro pad lies at the heart of the Giara bib short, which is a classy affair, accented with a reflective strip on the left leg, another thoughtful touch for all-day riding, and one that immediately proves its worth on our Tuscan adventure, where breaks to regroup (Cancellara and his elite comrades tire of the hanging around and leave), sees us return to Sienna in low light conditions.
Gravel: the new tarmac?
The pace at which ‘gravel’ has become a thing within road cycling is fascinating, even though ‘mixed terrain’ seems like a better phrase.
Commentators seem continually surprised by the speed with which the Strade Bianche race has become a favourite on the professional calendar, but surely the ingredients are simple and easily repeated elsewhere?
The Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix have proved the appeal of mixed terrain for over a century. More recently, Tro Bro Léon has mixed similar ingredients, and, even if the Breton scenery does not compare to the Tuscan (where does?), the race has become a cult classic.
The sudden rise of mixed terrain riding is underpinned by a simple fact: all-day adventures are bloody enjoyable, and gravel paths for too long have represented the path not taken.
The sketchiest moments on our ride across Tuscany’s white roads were the most memorable. The climbs were toughened by the loose surface and unpredictable gradients. And the general good humour that surrounded plotting and re-plotting our route back to Sienna added a different dimension to the wattage-suffering axis on which most road rides are plotted.
Here’s to gravel then, and to Tuscany, and to the Strade Bianche. Here’s to Sportful's excellent Giara kit. Here’s to the path less travelled and to the spirit of adventure. There’s a new world out there for us roadies to discover – a fact of which fat-tyred friends have reminded us for years. Pronto! (as they say in Sienna).