AG2R’s new kit sends the brown shorts to a galaxy far, far away when it could have brought them home

Headline sponsor Decathlon’s rebranding is a missed opportunity to reinstate something that ought to be celebrated not banished, says Simon Smythe

Just as we were getting used to an AG2R without brown shorts for the first time in 15 years, a brand new jersey has been unveiled just weeks into the season with colours and a design that brings the team more in line with Decathlon’s new darker blue branding and redesigned logo. And black shorts. More in line perhaps, and easy on the eye for sure, but light years away from that time where year after year, the talismanic brown shorts appeared at the team presentation and the cycling world would marvel all over again at the bravery, the ability to tune out the brown haters and to show the world that you don’t have to be the same as everyone else. The sheer commitment.

Road cycling likes to think it’s cool, but mostly it’s about following whatever are the established conventions of the era like Lycra-clad sheep. Velominati’s The Rules, originally (I hope) compiled to satirise road cycling’s fondness for all doing the same thing, became actual gospel for thousands, possibly millions of roadies who didn’t get the joke. All those people riding in the rain believing they were 'badass' just because The Rules said so. AG2R’s brown shorts were gloriously outside The Rules, specifically Rule #14: Shorts Should Be Black. Look how cool Nico Roche looked in his brown shorts and brown-accented AG2R jersey in 2010.

Nico Roche at the 2010 Tour de France

But after Decathlon took over from Citroën as the title sponsor for the 2024 season, the team started the year in a fresh but unremarkable jersey in white with two shades of blue. And black shorts. And now, just weeks in, the ‘galaxy’ jersey has arrived, the shorts have stayed black and the brown era feels as though it has receded even further into the distance.

Decathlon-AG2R-La Mondiale at the Grand Prix de Denain

Perhaps it’s easy to see why under Decathlon title sponsorship the inclination might be to conform with black shorts rather than stand out with brown ones. Brand consultancy Wolff Olins worked with Decathlon on a two-year brand transformation exercise. One of the objectives was to more clearly align the French sports superstore chain’s 85 brands and to locate Decathlon as a global brand in its own right. There’s a new logo – Decathlon didn’t have a logo before – that’s supposed to evoke a mountain and a wave. And there are new slogans such as ‘All ages All levels All people All sports’. In an interview with It’s Nice That, Wolff Olins’s global executive creative director Emma Barratt said: “The brand appeals to all levels, entry through to experts, with a clear focus on the emotions of the participant… the sheer joy of movement, the fun behind play, the dedication to practice and improvement, the reward of progress.”

AG2R Citroen at the 2023 Tour de France

Apparently that means there’s no room for brown shorts. Brown shorts are too dangerous. They don’t appeal to all levels. Better to play safe with black shorts so that nobody stands out and exposes themselves to ridicule, which might put them off sport. Better to feel as though you belong to a tribe of black shorts wearers than to be individual in brown ones. Maybe sport is difficult enough for the beginner without having to wear shorts that might add an extra hurdle.

But it doesn’t quite add up: on the new Decathlon logo, Barratt says: “You’re meant to feel something when you see it. Like when you see the Apple logo, for example, you know that you’re buying into this rebellious tech club.”

If Decathlon want to be compared to Apple, they ought to see that Steve Jobs did indeed start as a rebel or a disruptor, and they’re right that Apple, despite being a global brand, is still regarded as cool years after Jobs died. And Apple has shown that the way to achieve lasting cool – and make billions of dollars – is not by being the same as everyone else. The brown shorts were more like Apple than the Decathlon brand consultants realised. Nobody knew they wanted Apple products until they saw them; nobody knew they wanted brown shorts in the pro peloton until they saw them. 

So fire the new ‘galaxy’ jersey back to infinity and beyond and let’s get back down to earth with brown shorts. Vive la différence!

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