Before they grabbed our attention with two stage wins and a stint in the yellow jersey, Tour debutants Alpecin-Fenix turned heads with their rather wonderful purple and yellow kit switch-out for the opening stage of the 2021 Tour de France.
The new look was an homage to star rider Mathieu van der Poel’s grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, who raced his entire career in the purple and yellow of the Mercier team between 1960 and 1977. It was an iconic jersey from the sport’s golden age, so we’ve taken a look back at some of the other greatest jerseys in Tour de France history.
La Vie Claire
An instant classic. Early wool iterations of the Mondrian-inspired blocks of primary colour on the French team’s jersey were stitched together by hand and were the height of discomfort, but that didn’t matter. La Vie Claire rewrote the rulebook on jersey design and the team were equally forward thinking when it came to equipment, riding the first clipless Look pedals and carbon fibre frames. Those blocks hit their apogee during the scrappy intra-team rivalry between Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond in what is arguably the greatest Tour de France of all time, 1986. Modern day jersey designers take note: you don’t have to plaster sponsor names all over a kit to make those sponsors memorable.
Quite simply, Mercatone Uno was Marco Pantani and Marco Pantani was Mercatone Uno. The combination of Italian supermarket yellow and Bianchi bike celeste that saturated Il Pirata’s 1998 Giro-Tour double will go down in cycling history as one of the greatest outfits in cycling history. The subtle red accents and red Coca-Cola bottles were just the pinging pièce de resistance. After the green-yellow had pierced the Galibier gloom in ’98 when Pantani sealed his Tour, the team went all yellow, necessitating a switch-out for the Tour to avoid clashing with the race leader. They chose a strawberry ice-cream pink that was so summery you could practically taste E numbers, which was somewhat appropriate for a squad equally laden with artificial additives. Trust the Italians to come up with one of the brightest and boldest jerseys during one of the Tour’s darkest eras.
An absolute classic of the black and white era that looked just as good in colour. The Peugeot chequer-boards graced the Tour between 1963 and 1986, although the team went back much, much further than that. Clean, simple and recognisable; the autochrome outfit looked fantastic on the shoulders of Tom Simpson and Eddy Merckx (although he never raced the Tour in it) right through to two-time Tour winner Bernard Thévenet and the later anglophone cohort that included Robert Millar, Phil Anderson, Stephen Roche and Allan Peiper.
When Peugeot pulled the plug on sponsorship in 1986, in stepped Z Vêtements, a French children’s clothing brand. KAPOW! Goodbye old school black and white; welcome to the future, kids. Ripped straight out of a comic book, the bright and bold blue fade jersey with a yellow explosion divided opinion but succeeded in getting the team noticed, which is the whole point, after all. WHOOSH! Z won the Tour with Greg Lemond in 1990 and a generation of French kids whose mums watched the Tour grew up in Z clothes. Win win.
What makes a jersey great? Is it the design itself, or is it the exploits of the riders who zip themselves up inside it? The bright red and pastel blue of St Raphaël is certainly a good-looking jersey, but it was Jacques Anquetil that made it great. The first five-time winner of the Tour symbolised the cool, forward looking sport of cycling in the early 1960s, as Europe bounced back from the Second World War and the Tour bounced into the homes of an increasing number of television owners. St Raphaël, a brand of aperitif, was shortened to ‘Rapha’ in order to circumvent the Tour’s rules on commercial sponsorship (and massage the ego of larger-than-life team boss, Raphaël Geminiani). Forty years on, that name and its font would inspire one of the sport’s most successful modern clothing brands.
Everything at Renault in the 1980s had to be drawn with a ruler, probably, from the diamond logo to the boxy cars that the French manufacturer churned off the factory line to the jerseys that their sponsored cycling team had to wear. But boy, when it came to the cycling kit, it worked. The sharp yellow, black and white lines were pretty fresh for the era, when sublimation printing and lycra overtook complex stitching and wool. The team was home to the legendary sports director Cyrille Guimard and Renault earned four Tour wins with Bernard Hinault between 1978 and 1982 before Laurent Fignon took up his mantle in ’83 and won two more, with a young Greg Lemond in support the following season. That kit is so impeccably Eighties but it looks better than a lot on offer in today’s bunch. Surely that’s the mark of greatness.