Cycling is one of those sports where looking good is almost as important as how you perform. I have spent an unusual amount of time pouring over old images and books in search of accurate jerseys to illustrate when creating my range of cycling posters. Throughout the last decade, many great cycling jerseys have been designed, but it's those that combined great design whilst being adorned by the most prolific figures and teams that have gone down in history.
Find below, in chronological order, my top 10 jerseys of all time.
Going back all the way to the 1950s, the Bianchi jersey is truly iconic and certainly one of the most beautiful. It's during the 50's that brands really started to have an influence on the aesthetic qualities of cycling. When we think of the golden age of cycling, some of the most iconic moments are images of Fausto Coppi ascending mountain passes in a Bianchi jersey. Coppi wore the Bianchi jersey to numerous victories, and, thanks to his great cycling skills and this classical jersey, he earned the title 'champion of champions'. For a long time, the Bianchi jersey didn't change much, after all, why fix something that isn't broken! This jersey's design simply features the famous Celeste blue background, a white stripe across the chest with the word 'Bianchi' written in black and a team sponsor, in 1952 that was Pirelli. Bianchi is a classic jersey that most cyclists and cycling fans would be happy to wear today.
1962. Saint-Raphael Helyett Hutchinson.
The almighty St. Raphaël team was legendary in the 1950s and the 1960s. Their beautiful jersey left a legacy that still casts a long sartorial shadow today. This amazing red and blue short-sleeve jersey was won by several legendary cyclists, including Raphaël Géminiani and Roger Walkowiak. The team's riders went ahead and won the Tour of Lombardy, the Tour of Flanders, the World Hour Record, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and the World Championship road race. But, it was Jacques Anquetil's Tour wins in 1962, 1963, and 1964 while wearing the team's jersey that made the Saint Raphaël jersey popular. The teams influence lives on through the cycling brand Rapha who got the inspiration for their brand name!
1966 Ford France Hutchinson.
The fact that this jersey shouts Ford loudly always makes me think this was an American team but this team was very much a french outfit. The team had many successes but the 1966 Tour de France springs to mind as an interesting one. Lucien Aimar was a domestique of 5-time Tour winner Jacques Anquetil. Aimar got into a breakaway on stage 17 and ended up in the yellow jersey. Anquetil then began helping Aimar win the Tour, purely to deny it to his sworn enemy Poulidor. For me, this jersey contains just the right amount of cool colours and branding. It's true of all jerseys of this era but the limitations of weaving text into wool jerseys keeps the look beautifully pure.
1969 & 1970. Faema.
Faema, known for their superb espresso machines, initially sponsored many teams in different sports but in the late 60s committed around ⅓ of their marketing budget purely into the cycling team which made them financially a very strong outfit. The jersey had a simple red and white design, and while it may have had different variations over time, it fundamentally remained the same – bold and recognizable. In the late 60s the Faema team, well known for having a good setup, enticed an up and coming star, Eddy Merckx, aka The Cannibal, to the team as their new team leader. Merckx had had a few years at Peugeot-Michelin, but as he wasn’t french he wasn’t going to be allowed leader status so switched to the Italian team who didn’t mind have a leader from another country as long as he won the races. He wore the Faema jersey to several victories, including the Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and much more. It's, however, his legendary 1969 Tour de France win that catapulted the jersey onto the international stage.
1971 – 1974. Molteni.
When it came to keeping things simple but chic, Molteni did so with their cycling jerseys. The Molteni team was made popular after being won by key riders, including Gianni Motta, Marino Basso, and Franco Balmamion but ultimately it was when Eddy Merckx moved on from Faema that Molteni really started to clock up the wins and recognition. Originally, the jersey was brown and dark blue, but later the colours changed to orange and black. This jersey is a classic, and one of the most recognisable, ultimately I think this is because it harks back to when things were much simpler but also Molteni is remembered as an example of the Italian taste and style.
1975 & 1977. Peugeot-Michelin.
Since early 1900, Peugeot had constantly sponsored a cycling team in one way or another. Peugeot-Michelin jerseys became famous after being won by key riders like Robert Millar, Sean Yates, and Bernard Thévenet. Earlier team kits often opted for brash, bold colours, however, Peugeot stood out with their black and white design. In addition, while other kits opted to have the company's logos embroidered on the jersey, Peugeot used a technique called flocking. The process involved using a special hot adhesive, and applying it to the white part of the jersey in the shape of the company's logo, and thereafter, depositing several small black fibre particles onto the gluey area. This clear design and bold pattern has stood the test of time and still stands out amongst the sea of jersey colours.
1972 — 1977. Brooklyn Chewing Gum.
While other team jerseys' designs included blocks of colour or stripes with a single sponsor's name, Brooklyn was introducing a definite, identifiable element of design to their jersey. Alongside this their printing techniques used in this jersey were still years away. The stripes were created by stitching acrylic/wool mix panels together. The sponsor's name, on the other hand, was embroidered onto the white surface, and later, separately stitched to the front of the jersey. The white, red, and blue colour scheme certainly made it stand out. Its the kind of jersey you see around a lot but The Brooklyn Chewing Gum team wasn’t a prolific as some of the others in the Grand Tours, however, they were catapulted to fame by the four wins of Paris-Roubaix (1972, 1974, 1975, and 1977) – Roger De Vlaeminck. Also if you haven’t watched it I can recommend the documentary film A Sunday in Hell features the team during the 1976 Paris–Roubaix.
1979 & 1982. Renault–Gitane.
The Renault–Gitane team, which rocked this dazzling jersey, had several major victories during the team's lifespan from 1978-1985. However, this jersey became famous after being worn by cycling legend Bernard Hinault who had multiple Grand Tour wins, including Tour de France and Vuelta a España in 1978. Later the Renault team was kept in the limelight by Greg LeMond who won World Road Race Championship in 1983 and Laurent Fignon who took the 1984 Tour de France. The dominance of the team began to wane in 1985, with Fignon suffering from a persistent knee injury and rising star Greg LeMond leaving the team for La Vie Claire. The yellow and black stripes of the Renault is certainly less classic than some of my earlier favorites but for its colour scheme and epic winning form make it a worth top 10 jersey.
The Skil-Sem was a continuation of the Semi-France Loire team. They had a run of form in the 80s and then came back in the 2000’s but for me the 1984 jersey will always be associated with the Irish powerhouse, Sean Kelly, and is one the most iconic jerseys. Even though the team only lasted a couple of years, Kelly made this jersey famous when he took home 33 victories, including Paris–Nice and Paris–Roubaix. The same year saw the team take the Vuelta a España with Eric Caritoux - his one and only Grand Tour win. Not a hugely well-known team in the grand scheme of things but I just love the design and they get bonus points for having a power tool front and centre!
1985 – 1986. La Vie Claire.
La Vie Claire wanted to brighten up the peloton with their jerseys. Although they kept it simple, the design, which was inspired by an artistic master –Piet Mondrian, made it stand out. At first, they wanted to go with the basic colour schemes (black and white), but it was later changed to include red, yellow, blue, grey, and black. At the time, fabric printing techniques were still in their infancy. This prompted the design to be created by sewing different coloured panels together, and layer flocking on the logos, except for the Santini logo that was actually embroidered. The Mondrian pattern remains an all-time classic. The jersey was cemented in the cycling world by Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond during the Tour de France in 1985 and 1986 respectively. It's simple, beautiful, retro, and exudes class.
The Mapei team was a powerful force to reckon with in the '90s, in the peloton. The team consisted of some of the best riders at the heights of their careers. The Mapei jersey was made popular after it was won by Johan Museeuw who garnered several victories, including the 1996 World Road Race championships. Other key riders who represented this jersey included Andrea Tafi, Franco Ballerini, Pavel Tonkov, Fabian Cancellara, Paolo Bettini, Frank Vandenbroucke, etc. Mapei kits featured some of the most colourful kits around. The Mapei team was not only the biggest team that cycling had ever seen but also the most ambitious. When the popularity of cycling sport began to grow, Sportful began to sell team-issue garments to the public, which may be common now but was an innovative move back then. On a personal note I recently tiled a bathroom and used Mapei products purely as I liked the look and they reminded me of this jersey. Brand placement working well 20 years on!
Historically cycling jerseys remained pretty much the same for several years of cycling's history, however, with technological improvements in garment design and changes to the sport, simpler bolder designs have been replaced by a remarkable array of logos, patterns, and colours. This change is clear to see through the 60s and 70s on our Tour de France Jersey History poster.