Lauren Stephens rolled up to the start line in rather unconventional garb for the 2019 Unbound Gravel race in Emporia, Kansas. Under her trademark denim warm up vest (yes, sleeveless jean jacket, you read that right) she wore what looked like a standard TIBCO-SVB team issue TT Suit.
Only it wasn’t a standard custom skinsuit that rolled off Voler’s California factory floor. No, this one had the full Stephen’s treatment. She’d chopped off the long sleeves right above the elbow. Lauren liked the feel and compression of the extended short sleeves. She then sewed the lower portions of the sleeves onto the back panel to use as deep pockets (waste not, want not!). These were mods with a purpose. Sun protection, aerodynamics, and extra storage for the fuel needed to hammer through a hundred of miles of rowdy Flint Hills Gravel.
And hammer she did, taking the win in the 100 mile event, self-feeding with all the extra storage and conquering the grit, heat, and blustery winds of the Kansas prairie with her DIY mods. It’s on the shoulders of America's greatest racers like Lauren that Voler’s R&D process really gets put to the test.
After the win, she sent photos to Cammy Harris, Voler’s director of product development. Cammy’s been a garment guru for three and a half decades, spending time in the high tech, outdoor apparel industry. It’s invaluable expertise that’s developed her natural sense for patterning, tailoring, sewing and producing performance apparel with a purpose. But she’s well aware that the icing on the perfect product comes from the detailed feedback of Voler’s world class athletes.
Lauren’s modified skinsuit showed Voler what our athletes wanted the future of high-performance race apparel to be. It’s more than just exceptional fit and comfortable, technical fabrics–they wanted those fine details to nudge over those winning margins. For top road and gravel racers, that meant combining the aero benefits often found on time trial suits, with added refinements.
Cammy took Lauren’s rough skinsuit draft and refined it, prepping it for skinsuits to be made on the production floor. She dialed in the compression, stitching and lengths of the arms. She re-patterned panels to integrate pockets that would be secure and supportive without bunching. Then, she removed seams to boost aerodynamics and eliminate fabric bubbles that rob racers of precious seconds. The results were two new skinsuits, one for time trials and one for road racing, that were ready for the World Tour.
When Lauren and her TIBCO teammates headed back to Europe for the abridged 2020 season, they went wrapped in the skinsuits Lauren helped dial in. Voler has supported TIBCO for over a decade and it’s these relationships with pro tour teams that push product boundaries. The new skinsuits had been dialed in during the extended COVID training block, then it was time to put them through the pressure cooker of European World Tour racing.
In TIBCO’s first stage race back on the road, Lauren took the win in the 7 day Tour de l'Ardèche in France. She went on to Finish 11th at the World Road Race Championship in Imola, Italy before heading to Flanders for some of the roughest and rowdiest racing on the Women’s World Tour Circuit. There on the bergs and through the fields of Flanders, Lauren hammered away in the suit she helped inspire, finishing 6th in Gent-Wevelgem and 9th at one of the grandest monuments of them all, the Tour of Flanders.
But it was what Lauren did the following spring that put the most convincing stamp of approval on the soon to be released garments. It was at the 2021 US PRO Road Race National Championships in Knoxville, Tennessee. In the closing laps of the race, she bridged up to her teammate Clara Honsinger, got a tow to the base of the final climb where she attacked to catch the leader, then dropped her on the final descent. In full TT mode, with her newly refined skin suit slipping through the wind, Lauren Stephens soloed to victory and the US Pro Road Race Championship by over a minute.
It was the first National Championship win for Stephens, and she was wearing a skinsuit that she’d inspired through the R&D process, proving it could win on the gnarliest gravel and the fastest races everywhere.
And that is just one of the suits that will be dropping to help racers everywhere shoot for their goals, when this new race wear officially launches in January 2022. And when you see those polished, finely tailored finished products, just remember where they started, and the little details that have already helped the biggest of stars reach monumental achievements. It’s racers like Lauren that inspire us to go beyond our comfort zone, to build products that help all athletes reach and surpass their goals, whatever they may be.