Colorado tech: Pearl Izumi’s speedy leader’s jerseys

How Pearl Izumi's Speed Shop made sublimated clothing for the USA PCC category leaders

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Colorado tech: Pearl Izumi's custom sublimation at the USAPCC
Pearl Izumi's tiny mobile sublimation press makes the whole process possible. Photo: Caley Fretz © VeloNews

DENVER, Colo. (VN) — In each team’s ever-present battle to save seconds, any and every tiny improvement to both rider and equipment is welcome. That’s why almost every major team now uses some sort of aerodynamic road jersey designed to fit tight to the skin, eliminating folds and wrinkles that act like tiny parachutes as a rider fights the wind. The aerodynamic clothing can save as many (or more) watts as deep aero wheelset, without any of the weight and handling downsides.

Ironically, the leader’s jersey of many stage races is not an ultra-fast, skin-tight piece of kit. So the fastest guys in the race are often wearing slower clothing. See Chris Horner’s ill-fitting race leader’s skinsuit at the Amgen Tour of California for a perfect example. That was not the case at the 2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge.

On top of providing clothing for team SpiderTech, Pearl Izumi delivered its top-of-the-line Speed Jersey to the leaders of each classification for the entire USAPCC, and also made custom Speed Suit skinsuits for Thursday’s Vail time trial. The company sublimated the correct logos onto each piece of clothing following each stage, embedding the graphics into the fabric just like they would with any other artwork.

“We focus a lot on fit so we didn’t want to do a normal jersey that’s baggy and flaps a lot, so we sublimate our Speed Jersey front and back,” explained Pearl Izumi Speed Shop product developer Ron Rod, who is in charge of the daily sublimation process.

Rod said Pearl Izumi prepared for the race by “printing out enough sublimation screens for three different jerseys for each team per day. That’s about 1,100 different logos.”

Colorado tech: Pearl Izumi's custom sublimation at the USAPCC
Ron Rod headed back from the podium, where he just sublimated the jerseys for each category leader. Photo: Caley Fretz © VeloNews

Rod has to sublimate the podium jerseys (which have the zipper on the back so they’re easy to put on) within about five minutes of the stage finish. He brings a small sublimation press back stage. “As soon as we get word who the jersey wearers are going to be we press those,” he said. “Each one takes about 45 seconds at 400˚ F, with lot of pressure.”

After each jersey leader gets his podium kisses, he comes backstage to be fitted for his race jersey for the next day. Rod then runs back to the Pearl Izumi tent in the expo area, grabs the proper sizes and the sublimation screens from the right teams, and gets to work.

In front of a crowd, Rod carefully places each sublimation screen in a blank space on the front and back of the jersey, sets his egg timer for 45 seconds, then lowers the sublimation press down on the whole package. A puff of steam wafts out as he lifts the press again, and the jerseys are complete. Thanks to the sublimation process the logo is just as much a part of the jersey as any other coloring or graphic. It can stretch, be washed, and can never peel. And it’s on one of the fastest jerseys in the peloton, which the race leaders certainly appreciate.

For the Vail time trial, the Speed Shop went a step further. The crew fit each rider then finished off their Speedsuits in their Louisville, Colorado, facility. “We had our facility in Louisville finish stitching the tops and bottoms together, then they drove them up here and got here at 1 a.m. Thursday,” Rod said.

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