The History Of The Jerseys In The Tour de France

The Tour de France – the world’s most prestigious and most important cycling competition – attracts both fans and competitors alike from all over the world every year. It is famous for its gorgeous views, its perilous mountains, its nail-biting competition, and for requiring the peak of a man’s endurance and strength.

It is no small feat.

But power and resilience aren’t the only things one thinks of when considering the Tour de France.

In fact, one of the very first things that come to mind is the famous yellow jersey – or the maillot jaune – awarded to the rider with the fastest time at the end of each stage, and, ultimately, the overall winner of the race.

But what is the history behind this? And, what about the other jerseys? What do they all mean?

Tour de France jerseys

Yellow Jersey: Overall Classification Leader

The yellow jersey is undeniably the most famous out of the entire Tour de France. It is given to the overall winner of the race, and as such, is the most coveted. Riders battle it out every day to be given the honour of having been the fastest overall and thus wearing it the next day, and it stirs up the most interest from spectators as well as participants.

But why yellow?

Well, the history of the jersey is very interesting. It dates to the origins of the Tour de France, which was first devised by a group of journalists writing for France’s second most popular cycling newspaper, L’Auto. The newspaper was struggling to get the leg-up against its competitor, and in 1903 decided to create an extended bicycle race to drum up some publicity and sell more newspapers. This was the birth of the Tour de France, and it worked.

The newspaper sold double the amount of copies during the race as they usually would. But more importantly, the papers that they used to print L’Auto and all other promotional advertising on… was yellow! As such, the yellow jersey pays homage to the newspaper that started it all and is a way to keep the memory of L’Auto alive.

Memorable moment: the yellow jersey wasn’t actually introduced to the race until 1919, when critics demanded that there be greater distinction between the frontrunner of the race and all other competitors. But it was in 1956 when an unknown rider, Roger Walkowiak, stole the show and won the Tour de France in place of fan-favourite Jacques Anquetil that one of the most interesting fights for the jersey occurred. Whilst at the time Walkowiak’s win wasn’t deemed worthy of celebration as he wasn’t a very well know rider, it still remains one of the most memorable moments involving the yellow jersey. In fact, Walkowiak’s win was only the second time that a rider had won the Tour de France without winning any of the individual day’s stages.

Tour de France jerseys

Green Jersey: Points Classification

It is the green jersey – or maillot vert – which is the second most rivalled for in the Tour de France.

Since its introduction into the race in 1953, it has become synonymous with the points classification and is awarded to the rider with the most points for finishing the fastest in the intermediate sprints and other timed trials. Devised to give riders who excel in short bursts of the race something to root for, it is largely considered a sprinter’s jersey owed to the fact that the most points for this classification can be gained when cycling fastest in the moments of flat terrain.

Every sprinter’s dream.

Yet whilst it is still considered one of the most important jerseys to win in the Tour de France, its origins are not as rich in history as with the yellow. The famous green jersey was given its colour thanks to a sponsor of the 1953 race, La Belle Jardinière, a lawnmower company in France.

Who would’ve thought?

Yet, the jersey still remains one of the most contended for, and its reach is so extensive that Vuelta a España, a race taking place each year in Spain, also uses the green jersey for the winner of the points classification since 2009.

Memorable moment: whilst there are many memorable moments featuring the green jersey – such as the brief moment it was changed to red in 1968 due to a new sponsor – it is the 2001 Tour de France which featured one of the greatest victories of the coveted shirt. Germany’s Erik Zabel, who had been competing for winning the points classification with Australian Stuart O’Grady, stole the show; not only winning three stages of the race but also securing his victory with the green jersey for the sixth consecutive year.

Tour de France jerseys

Polka Dot: Mountain’s Classification

The Mountains Classification and polka dot jersey is awarded to the rider with the most points for reaching the summit of the designated mountains the fastest. It requires strength, speed, resilience, and fortitude, and thus the winner of the polka dot jersey is dubbed the ‘King of the Mountains’.

Each Tour de France mountain is given a category based on its difficulty, ranked 1-4, as well as a fifth category named Hors Catégorie, a classification awarded to mountains which are deemed beyond category. These are the most difficult to climb, and often prove as a means of separating the winners from the losers.

Despite the Mountains Classification first coming into existence in 1933, the polka dot jersey was not introduced into the race until 1975. Similar to the green jersey, the polka dot jersey was also given its colour thanks to a sponsor, this time a chocolate manufacturer. Chocolat Poulain, one of the oldest chocolate manufacturers in France, had a famous bar of chocolate that featured white packaging with red spots and thus was the inspiration behind the jersey.

Memorable moment: in 2013, on the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France, Federico Bahamontes, nicknamed the Eagle of Toledo, was named the best climber who had ever taken part in the race. He won the King of the Mountains classification six times and was also the first competitor to win a career triple – winning the Mountains Classification in all three Grand Tours. Bahamontes was given an award for his accomplishments by then French president Francois Hollande, and coincidentally, was also celebrating his 85th birthday on the same anniversary date.

Tour de France jerseys

White Jersey: Best Young Rider

First introduced in 1975, the white jersey is awarded to the fastest overall rider aged 25 or under. It is, in effect, the yellow jersey of the young riders, and often is sought out more than the yellow jersey by new and young competitors hoping to establish themselves in the competition.

The white jersey can be viewed as a precursor to the yellow; with winners of the white jersey cementing themselves in the cycling canon as someone to watch, with many going on to win the Overall Classification once they have aged out of the Young Rider Classification.

The history of the white jersey actually originated in 1968, but was originally awarded to the rider of the ‘combined classification’. This was made up of wins from the general classification, the points classification, and the mountains classification. But in 1975 the meaning behind the jersey changed and it soon became synonymous with young, up-and-coming riders. Who knew that the Tour de France jerseys could change meaning? This was proven in the first instance, with Francesco Moser, the first to wear the white jersey under its new status, who also went on to win 273 road victories thereinafter.

Memorable Moment: in 2019, 22 year old Egan Bernal won the prestigious white jersey, being the youngest Tour de France champion to do so in over a century. In addition he also won the Overall Classification, taking home the yellow jersey as well. Bernal as such became the first Columbian and South American rider to ever win the Tour de France – to which he said was an accomplishment not just for himself but his whole country.

Tour de France jerseys

Ultimately, the Tour de France jerseys are both symbolic in their history as well as achievements to be won.

They represent the riders who have come before, and are a way for current competitors to elevate themselves and ensure that they too are placed among the greats. The winning of an overall classification and the donning of a jersey cements riders in the hall of fame of cycling, and for a rider to have won the same classification as Eddy Merckx, Fausto Coppi, or Bernard Hinault, is no small accomplishment.

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