Apparel & Accessories

Technical FAQ: Race jerseys

How do the big races produce custom leaders' jerseys so fast?

Originally published Aug. 18, 2009

Question: This is more a logistics/operations set of questions.

When I watch the big tours, I notice that at the podium ceremonies that the organizers are ready with the leaders’ jerseys all decked out with the teams’ sponsors. Those jerseys are special podium versions with rear zippers. They look like they are fabricated onsite by bonding a panel to the jersey. However, the next day the leaders show up with a complete kit that has all the sponsors’ logos sublimated onto the colored version of the team uniform (sometimes even a skinsuit version).

I can see how the team like Columbia may prepare a green kit for Cavendish or CSC for Hushovd. But no one really plans for Feillou or Nocentini to be in Polka dots or yellow.
Do the kit manufacturers (e.g., Nalini, Santini, MOA, Pearl Izumi, etc.) send vans with the mobile capability to fabricate sublimated jerseys?

Also for the matching bike, how do they come up with a “colored” version so quickly? Again, I can see how Saxo Bank may carry an extra frame in green or yellow trim for Hushovd and Sastre. I know that Lance has Ben from Trek caddy around a whole van-full of special edition bikes. How did Ag2r come up with a yellow bike for Nocentini? Does the frame rep pull out a can of Krylon and a hairdryer?


Dear Thomas,

Below is the answer from Castelli, but let me offer a bit of information from my own experience first.

To make sure I’m not assuming any prior knowledge, let me first explain sublimation printing. To sublime is to change a solid directly into a gas by adding heat, without having it pass through an intermediate liquid state. Once cooled, it tends to re-deposit as a solid. In this case, dried ink goes from the solid state directly into a gas and permeates the fabric, re-depositing upon the fabric fibers. This is far superior to screen printing right on Lycra clothing as was done in the 1980s, which, as you know from heavily-printed T-shirts, is stiff, won’t pass air through, and cracks and flakes off over time. Instead, sublimation printing infuses the fabric with the colors permanently without compromising the properties of the fabric (i.e., breathability, flexibility, etc.).

The sublimation papers to which Steve Smith refers below are pieces of heavy, white paper onto which the design that will be on the clothing has been silk-screened. The papers are laid onto the fabric, ink side toward the fabric, and put in a heated press, similar to a large ironing press. When the paper is removed and the fabric cools, the design is permanently incorporated into the fabric.

And as for the bikes, you are correct that some bike sponsors plan for their rider to get the GC, sprint, or mountain leader’s jersey ahead of time and have bikes ready for that. But in the case of surprise category leaders, those tend to be an all-nighter that dedicated people pull, painting up a new frame and delivering it to the team post-haste. And of course the burden often falls on a team mechanic to build it up in a hurry.

Answer from Castelli: The leaders jerseys are produced by the sponsor of the leaders jerseys: Nike for the Tour de France. The jersey as delivered to the race organizers has a white space where the rider’s team’s logo will appear. The team’s clothing sponsor supplies heat transfers (sublimation papers) to the team who delivers them to the race organizer.

At the finish of the race, the race organizer has a heat press where they can transfer the team’s logos onto the podium jersey in about three minutes after the finish of the race. Many times the jersey is still hot for the podium presentation. At some smaller races the organizer doesn’t have a heat press, and we supply stickers for these races.

The matching shorts and kits are made be the team’s clothing sponsor prior to the race. We take a look at the team roster and figure out which riders have a shot at the various classifications and then make up shorts and sometimes gloves and shoe covers to match. We don’t actually plan it per rider, but per size of shorts.

At the Tour, for example, we made polka dot shorts in size S that would have covered Sastre, Cuesta or Marchante. But we didn’t make them in size L for Hushovd, Lancaster and Roulston. But we did make the green shorts in L for those guys, and also M for Haussler, but not S for the climbers. We make three pairs per size per color. These pieces are delivered to the team prior to the race and stay in the truck through the race. Typically they’re kept out-of-sight until needed because most cyclists are superstitious.
-Steve Smith, 
International Marketing Manager,