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What Was Hayden Wilde Wearing Under His Helmet at The Collins Cup?

Announcers picked up on a strange new piece of headwear from Specialized, but what is the mysterious head sock, and what does it do?

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If you tuned into the Collins Cup livestream last month, you know there was a lot going on.

With 12 head-to-head matches and Sam Long and Lionel Sanders beating up on some poor kid from France, there was plenty to capture the attention.

So, you could almost be forgiven for missing Hayden Wilde zipping into T1 after a 2K swim in the canal looking like he was about to steal someone’s bike.

“Did you notice the funny sock-like piece of cloth on Hayden Wilde’s head?” called out eagle-eyed race summarizer Belinda Grainger. “It became a bit of a trend in the Tour de France earlier this year, and it’s meant to be more aero. But he’s not winning any style points right now.”

Hayden Wilde wears an aero head sleeve for triathlon
(Photo: Professional Triathletes Organization)

That funny, sock-like piece of cloth was in fact the inner sleeve of the S-Works TT 5 helmet that, according to Specialized, “helps maintain an optimal position on the head while riding and mitigate rotational forces during impact.”

Wilde had shoved the head sock down his wetsuit for the swim. And with good reason. According to the brand, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl star Remco Evenepoel tested it in the wind tunnel and it knocked a mammoth 26 seconds off his 40K time trial.

Of course, grand claims are always being made about wind tunnel performances. But given that the Belgian won Stage 10 of the Vuelta last week, clocking 33 minutes 18 seconds over 30.9km, a full 48 seconds faster than second place Primož Roglič (and one of the fastest Grand Tour time trials ever) – it seems as if there might be some substance to that.

It didn’t bring Wilde the same success in the Collins Cup, as he came second in a tough match-up with Kristian Blummenfelt. But then playing second fiddle to the reigning Olympic and Ironman champion is no disgrace, particularly as the Kiwi had been racing draft-legal sprint distance at the Commonwealth Games and picked up a bug leading in.

Back to the real star of the piece – the S-Works TT 5, and if the balaclava makes the cyclist look as if he’s just about to step into a racing car, then the time trial lid that goes on top turns him into an exile from the Death Star.

(Photo: Specialized)

It drops low beyond the ears, and in the time trial position neatly cups the shoulders. Or as Specialized says: “reduces the eddy of air that creates drag.” At least it does when it’s Evenepoel bustling along at 60km/hour – it might look a little different on us lesser mortals.

As well as some special padding (MIPS Air Node) there’s also the obligatory visor that comes equipped with a Class 1 optics shield for zero distortion. When you’re traveling at warp speed I guess you don’t need anything to either flash into your eyes or distort what you can see with them, and the shield’s hydrophobic coating and high-grade (EN166) anti-fog coating helps clear that moisture away.

With the head sock and no vents, the aero gains might need to be traded for heating up a bit, especially given triathlon’s penchant for the hotter climes.

It was notable that two other Specialized-sponsored triathletes, the Internationals Flora Duffy and Paula Findlay, opted not to wear the S-Works TT 5 at the Collins Cup – the old adage of not trying anything new on race day probably coming into play. But given everything about the 80K TT in a three-way contest with a 20-meter draft rule was new to Wilde anyway, he probably thought, What the heck.

Jacob Tipper, an aerodynamics specialist, the Brownlee-Skipper team manager at the recent Pho3nix Sub 7 experiment, and contributor to fellow Brit Dan Bigham’s recent hour world record on the track questioned whether the TT 5 would bring the expected gains for Wilde.

“We know aero helmets are quite personal and depend on an athlete’s position,” he said. “While some helmets can be universally pretty fast, it’s clear this helmet was designed and shaped around Remco and his time trial position. I’m curious as to how effective it will be in less aerodynamic positions. Dan Bigham has been quoted saying he would wear a p*** outfit if it made him faster! While this helmet doesn’t quite have that phallic nature, it’s probably the closest thing the sport has got to an un-aesthetically pleasing aero gain.”

Not that Tipper’s comments are likely to put cash-rich speed-seekers off. Sources on the ground in Slovakia also say Hayden was coy about the helmet and it only made an appearance on race day, but given the cat’s definitely out of the head sock now, expect to see it barreling along at a triathlon race close to you soon.

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