The “Maillot Jaune”: History Of The Tour De France Yellow Jersey

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The 2022 Tour de France is fast approaching.

One of the oldest and most iconic multi-stage bike races in the world, the Tour de France has a history stretching back almost 120 years, with the first edition taking place in 1903.

However, it’s changed dramatically since then. This year’s edition covers a total distance of 3,328 kilometers, which is a little shorter than last year’s race – and much shorter than early 20th-century editions, which sometimes extended beyond 5000 kilometers.

The 2022 Tour kicks off on 1st July in Copenhagen, and finish with the final stage at Champs-Élysées, Paris on 24th July.

This final stage of the Tour de France is one of many iconic images associated with the famed race. Another is the hallowed Yellow Jersey – or “Maillot Jaune” to use the French term.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on this cycling icon, taking a look at these key areas:

  • What Is The Maillot Jaune?
  • The Origins Of The Tour De France Yellow Jersey
  • Who Has Worn The Maillot Jaune Over The Years?
  • The 2022 Tour De France Contenders

Ready to learn all about cycling’s most coveted prize?

Let’s get started!

The Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune): Title Image

What Is The Maillot Jaune?

The Maillot Jaune plays an important role throughout the Tour de France.

On each stage, the Yellow Jersey is worn by whoever was in the overall lead at the end of the previous day’s stage. This helps make the leading rider clear at all times.

This technique for identifying the leading rider is used in a number of multi-day bicycle races. For example, the Giro d’Italia uses a pink jersey – the Maglia Rosa.

In the Vuelta a España, the leading rider will wear a red jersey“La Roja”.

The colored jersey is most closely associated with the Tour de France, however. This is because it was the first race to use a colored jersey to highlight the leader.

It might sound strange, the idea of this top being passed around between the frontrunners of this iconic race – but it’s so steeped in tradition that it has become a central symbol of Le Tour.

But how exactly did that happen?

The Origins Of The Tour De France Yellow Jersey

In the early days of the Tour de France, there were a few teething problems.

One issue during the first few years was that journalists and spectators complained of being unable to identify the leader, who was marked only with a green armband.

After a four-year hiatus brought about by the First World War, the Tour de France returned in 1919. That year’s race would prove to contain a defining moment.

Two-thirds of the way through the route, the race’s director Henri Desgrange decided that he needed to introduce an obvious identifier of the race leader. This was where the idea for a colored jersey came from.

The color yellow was chosen in honor of the sports newspaper that sponsored the race, L’Auto-Vélo, which was printed on yellow paper. There, the Maillot Jaune was born.

Eugène Christophe was the first cyclist to wear the jersey in action, after Desgrange handed him the first incantation of the garment on 18th July, 1919.

Unsurprisingly, this early edition wasn’t quite as high-tech as the types of cycling gear we’re used to seeing today. It was made of wool, and Christophe is famous for complaining that it looked silly.

Whatever riders thought of it, the yellow jersey stuck. And when Desgrange died in 1940, his initials were added to the Maillot Jaune to commemorate his contribution to the great race.

Of course, the famous yellow jersey has changed a lot over the years. As cyclists and manufacturers have become more and more aware of how to make riders faster, more efficient, and more comfortable, clothing has changed.

Who Has Worn The Maillot Jaune Over The Years?

A long line of celebrated cyclists have followed in Christophe’s footsteps to don the famous Tour de France yellow jersey.

And some of the statistics are pretty dazzling, with certain riders having worn the jersey on more than 50 occasions, after winning various stages of Tour de France competitions.

In this section of the article, we’ll take you through some of the top performers when it comes to the Tour de France, identifying who has had the privilege of donning bright yellow on multiple occasions.

#1. Eddy Merckx

Legendary Belgian cyclist Eddy Merckx won 11 Grand Tour titles during his spectacular career, including 5 Tour de France victories.

During those races, he ended up pulling on the Yellow Jersey on a record 96 occasions between 1969 and 1975, a figure that will be tough to beat.

#2. Bernard Hinault

Next up is French cyclist Bernard Hinault, widely considered one of the greatest cyclists of all time.

With 75 days spent in the Yellow Jersey (picked up between 1978 and 1986), he’s not far behind Merckx. Lance Armstrong was previously just ahead of him with 83 days in yellow, but was stripped of his victories after confessing to doping throughout his career.

#3. Miguel Indurain

A dominant force in the Tour de France during the early 1990s, Miguel Induráin (nicknamed “Big Mig”) managed to secure 5 consecutive race wins from 1991 to 1995.

In this time, the Spanish cyclist spent 60 days in the Maillot Jaune and cemented his name in the history books.

#4. Chris Froome

Close behind Indurain is British cyclist Chris Froome, the only rider on this list who is still cycling professionally today. With 11 Grand Tour wins, including 4 Tour de France triumphs, he is one of the most dominant riders of the current era.

With 59 days spent in the Yellow Jersey, Froome has certainly made a name for himself within the Tour de France.

The 2022 Tour De France Contenders

With the season well under way, the Tour de France contenders have already had a good chance to showcase their skills.

When July rolls around and the race kicks off, who is going to be tussling for top spot? Let’s look at some of the favorites.

#1. Tadej Pogačar

23-year-old Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogačar has won the last two Tours and has as good a chance as any of getting a third title under his belt in 2022.

He’s also grabbed 7 wins this season and is reaching towards a level of dominance enjoyed previously by the likes of ‘The Cannibal’, Eddy Merckx.

Right now, he’s the overwhelming favorite to win the 2022 Tour de France.

#2. Primoz Roglic

Considered by many to be the only cyclist capable of seriously challenging Pogačar, fellow Slovenian Primož Roglič has also had a strong season and will be hoping to get on the podium.

That being said, the Paris-Nice winner, who represents Dutch outfit Jumbo-Visma, will have to bring his A-game in order to beat his compatriot.

#3. Jonas Vingegaard

Vingegaard is another Jumbo-Visna rider with high hopes for this year’s Tour de France.

When Roglič crashed out of contention at last year’s Tour, the Danish cyclist deputised admirably, and he’ll be hoping to show his credentials again at this year’s race.

#4. Adam Yates

British cyclist Adam Yates is race team Ineo Grenadiers‘ greatest hope for 2022. The 29-year-old was a strong second to Pogačar at the UAE Tour, and he’s been consistent over the past year or so.

Whether he’s able to step up the next level is yet to be seen.

#5. Daniel Martínez

Columbian rider Daniel Martínez will also be hoping for a strong performance at this year’s race.

He’s had a good season so far, winning the Colombian Time-Trial title and recording podiums at Volta ao Algarve and Paris-Nice.

Watch out for those five when you tune in to the 2022 Tour de France, and you’ll never be far from the action!

The Power Of The Yellow Jersey

This famous jersey may have been around for a while, but no one’s taking it for granted any time soon.

The Maillot Jaune remains an important visual aspect of the Tour de France, and in 2022, some of the best riders in the world will be battling it out for the chance to don the famous Jersey.

Enjoyed this article on the Tour de France yellow jersey? Learn more from the BikeTips experts below!

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Fred is a sports journalist with an extensive background as a cyclist. Fred is on a mission to explore the intersection of cycling, mental health, and mindfulness. His work dives deep into the transformative power of two-wheeled journeys, emphasizing their therapeutic effects on the mind and soul. With a unique focus on well-being, Fred's writing not only informs readers about the world of cycling but also inspires them to embark on a path of mental and emotional resilience through the sport.

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