Providing kit to Ineos Grenadiers is probably the most significant contract in cycling clothing. A tender formerly held by Rapha and Castelli, two of the sport's most recognisable brands, it's a job recently taken on by Belgian firm Bioracer. In the English speaking world, awareness of Bioracer might be limited to fans who've spotted its Vitruvian logo on the jerseys of the Belgian, Dutch or German national squads. However, having amassed over 1,000 medals at Olympic, World, and European Championship levels, Bioracer's work with pro and amateur athletes extends far beyond simply clothing them.
Founded in 1985 by former racer Raymond Vanstraelen, Bioracer began by offering computerised bike fitting services. Growing out of Vanstraelen's work as a coach and soigner, in short order, he also began collaborating on the design of frames and shoes while also pioneering the use of heart rate monitors as training aids. Equally interested in the performance potential of cycling clothing, with the help of his wife Annie, Vanstraelen soon began producing this too.
Related: The Bikes and Tech to see at Rouleur Live
Initially a two-person company relying on a pair of Singer sewing machines and operating out of a spare room, Bioracer quickly came to provide clothing for the Panasonic Isostar team, and by 1994 had partnered with the Belgian National Federation. Meaning that if you've bought a baby-blue Belgian jersey as a souvenir during the last three decades, it will likely have Bioracer's logo on it somewhere; this association has allowed the firm to work with a vast list of famous riders.
A scientific approach
With the Dutch and German federations soon following their neighbour in signing with Bioracer, as much as its clothing, each was drawn in by the holistic services Vanstraelen's company provided. An early adopter of a scientific approach to cycling, today, Bioracer has expanded to encompass its own biomechanics labs, a CDF computer modelling suite, and a private wind tunnel.
Helping riders from various national teams prepare, these facilities are also available to all athletes, not only those sponsored by the brand or supported by an associated federation. Often working with teams or individuals on one-off projects, this contract work saw Bioracer previously collaborate with Team Sky to create Vasil Kiryienka's skinsuit for his winning ride at the 2015 World Championship time trial.
Now signed up as their exclusive clothing supplier, the two notoriously meticulous organisations will again be working together. In a way, their collaboration represents a return of the testing capabilities enjoyed by Team Sky during its previous association with British Cycling. Profiting from Team GB's in-house capacities during its early years, in signing with Bioracer, the squad now known as Ineos Grenadiers will again benefit from services that also support the most successful national teams.
Kit for racers
Unusually for a clothing brand, these specialised services still constitute a major part of Bioracer's business, a fact reflected by the majority of the firm's products being custom made. Alongside the pro and national squads, custom clothing for amateur clubs and teams still constitutes the majority share of Bioracer's production. And while the cost of the in-person fittings enjoyed by Ineos Grenadiers along with riders like Wout van Aert and Anna Van Der Breggen might be beyond most amateurs, the firm offers many of its products in a vast range of custom measurements. Allowing consumers infinitely more tailoring than simply selecting between a small or a medium, it's about as close to the pro experience as you'll find.
It's a business model as distinct from previous sponsor Rapha's as you'll find. Yet, it makes greater sense when you consider the more club-focused nature of cycling in mainland Europe. Either way, it's an approach that's seen Bioracer grow to employ around 450 staff across five fully owned production sites. Producing over 1,000,000 items of clothing each year, each promises to focus on increasing athlete speed through greater efficiency, comfort, and temperature regulation.
Backed by the fact this is what most of Bioracer's clients are paying for, it makes its claim to be motivated by science and performance and not fashion more believable than most.
Sponsoring the world's richest team
Although likely to pick up a few extra sales from fanboys buying replica kit, according to Bioracer, its sponsorship of Ineos Grenadiers doesn't signal a significant change in its business model. And though the Epic line products supplied to Ineos Grenadiers will be available off-the-peg, Bioracer expects most of its business to remain outfitting riders looking for custom or team kits.
This is partly a product of Vanstraelen's longstanding philosophy of letting customers come to him. Driven by the fact that many of his clients have conflicting sponsorship agreements in place, this is unlikely to trouble many club level riders. Still, it's nice to know you're benefiting from the same expertise as riders at the peak of both international and professional competition.
With Bioracer attending Rouleur Live, the show will be an opportunity to see the kit Ineos Grenadiers will be racing in next year. Taking place in London between the 4-6th November, more information and tickets can be found here.