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Be The First To Catch Our Exclusive Sports Capsule

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge | Photography by Mr Thomas Prior | Styling by Mr Dan May

5 July 2017

The pair behind the Tour de Test Valley event road-test our latest cycling and running gear in the Pyrenees.

Fitness fans, rejoice. Arriving this week on MR PORTER are four exclusive collections sure to delight those who like to spend their weekends in a self-induced state of exhaustion. For runners, there are shorts and tops from Soar Running and Iffley Road. For those who prefer life in the saddle, there are jerseys, bib shorts and cycling caps from Pas Normal Studios and Café du Cycliste.

Sporting aficionados will recognise these brands as among the very best in the world, with reputations for marrying elite performance with serious style. Of the four, Soar Running and Pas Normal Studios serve up a sleek, modern aesthetic, while Iffley Road and Café du Cycliste offer something a little more timeless.

Iffley Road, in particular, wears its love of heritage on its sleeve. The brand takes its name from the Oxford running track where Sir Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile in 1954, and this exclusive collection is inspired by the colours of traditional beach huts and deck chairs, timeless icons of the British seaside. Don’t be fooled by the old-school looks, though. As founders Ms Claire Kent and Mr Bill Byrne explain, Iffley Road is designed with the 21st-century runner in mind. “You have to feel the fabrics to really understand what our kit is all about,” they say.

This unswerving belief in high-quality fabrics is echoed by Mr Tim Soar, the creative director of Soar Running, and the designer of our second capsule. “I’m obsessive about each garment, and I think this shows in the end results,” he says. The collection, which includes super-lightweight vests and long-sleeve tees in a range of exclusive colours, promises to carry the avid runner through summer and beyond.

The Copenhagen-based cycling brand Pas Normal Studios has also designed a capsule intended for year-round use. Its featherweight Mechanism cycling jersey is perfect for hot-weather training or racing, while the coordinating gilet provides added protection from the elements. The exclusive army-green colourway offers something of a point of difference from the brand’s main collection. “This capsule gave us the chance to go much further with our use of colour,” says co-owner and designer Mr Karl-Oskar Olsen.

Café du Cycliste offers something for everyone, its choice of three jersey weights – Fleurette, Micheline and Francine – designed to answer the needs of northern Europeans as well as cyclists on the French Riviera toiling their way through the mid-30s. The co-founder of the brand, Mr Rémi Clermont, is keen to point out that he belongs to the latter group. “Just like great wines, we are a reflection of our terroir,” he says. “Café du Cycliste is based between Monaco and Cannes, a cycling paradise and the training ground of the world’s best cyclists. You can’t make champagne in Berlin, or bordeaux in London.”

“Just like great wines, we are a reflection of our terroir”

The term “terroir” – the elusive, ineffable quality of a certain place, as expressed through the product of that place – may be more usually associated with wine than with cycling, but Mr Clement’s comments hold true nonetheless. The south of France is the sport’s spiritual home, its prestigious mountain passes a mecca for fans. Where better than here to put these new collections to the test?

And so to the Bagnères-de-Luchon region of southern France and the vertiginous climbs and switchback hairpins of Col de Peyresourde, a Pyrenean mountain pass loved by the organisers of the Tour de France – and hated in equal measure by the riders. One of the Tour’s oldest ascents, it first featured in 1910 and pops up again on this year’s route at the end of Stage 12. A nine-mile climb with an average gradient of 6.6 per cent and a maximum of 12 per cent, the Col de Peyresourde is a tough cookie to crack. If the kit passes muster here, it’ll surely pass muster anywhere.

Joining us in France are Messrs Christopher Pratt (main picture, right) and Marcus Chapman (main picture, left), two keen cyclists for whom this road holds a special significance. In 2012, their lives were thrown violently off course when Mr Nelson Pratt – the older brother and the best friend of the two men, respectively – committed suicide at the age of 33. His death came as a shock. Here was a man who appeared to have it all. A supremely talented professional snowboarder and British Olympic team coach, he was described by his friends as one of the nicest guys you were ever likely to meet. There were no warning signs, no cries for help. Whatever misery he was suffering, he kept it inside.

“Public awareness of the issue has increased dramatically in the past few years, but the support services still have a long way to go”

This, tragically, is all too often the case with men. In the UK, home of the stiff upper lip, the statistics paint a worrying picture. Here, it is not drugs, knife crime or traffic accidents, but suicide that is the leading cause of death for men under the age of 45. In 2014, 4,623 men took their own lives, a figure that accounted for 76 per cent of the total number of suicides. This means that men are roughly three times more likely to kill themselves than women. But perhaps the most shocking thing about this is that when you think about it, it’s not shocking at all.

Boys are taught from a young age that being a man means keeping it together, taking things on the chin, not being a “cry baby”. Ideals of resilience and stoicism are hard-wired into the British male psyche. We hold up as national heroes men such as Captain Lawrence Oates, an explorer on an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole who chose to walk to his death rather than slow down the rest of his group, uttering as he disappeared into the raging blizzard those famous last words, “I am just going outside and may be some time.” Why, when we equate weakness with failure, when we treat stubbornness as a virtue, should it surprise us that we are so incapable of asking for help?

Back home, shocked by the loss of their friend and brother, and determined to do something, Mr Chapman and Mr Christopher Pratt decided to organise the first Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley, a cycling event held in honour of Mr Nelson Pratt, who loved cycling, and hosted near the Pratt family farm in Hampshire. Since its initial outing in 2013, the annual event has raised more than £200,000 for CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably), a charity dedicated to preventing male suicide by providing support to men at times of crisis. The fifth annual Tour is due to take place on 16 September, and Mr Chapman hopes to bring the total raised to more than £250,000.

“It gets people in the saddle, and it gets them talking”

“It attracts about a thousand cyclists, 70 per cent of them men,” says Mr Chapman, a fitness coach at LEAR Fitness in Harrogate. “It gets people in the saddle, and it gets them talking.” Improving awareness, though, is just the first step towards solving the problem. Much of the money raised for CALM goes towards frontline services, which Mr Chapman believes are far from adequate. “Public awareness of the issue has increased dramatically in the past few years, but the support services still have a long way to go,” he says. “It’s one thing encouraging men to talk, but somebody needs to be there to listen. It can take weeks to get professional help at the moment, and that’s just not good enough for people who are in a desperate situation.”

Away from the rolling hills of the Test Valley in Hampshire and on the Col de Peyresourde, Messrs Chapman and Pratt have more positive memories on their mind. “Chris and I rode this route last summer on what would have been Nelly’s 37th birthday,” says Mr Chapman, who had originally planned to work as a fitness coach with Mr Nelson Pratt. “He loved the outdoors,” says his brother. “He would have loved it here.”

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