Tour de France tech: Yellow jerseys that aren’t the maillot jaune

We all know the Tour de France's GC leader wears the yellow jersey. The problem is, too many other riders are also sporting yellow in this year's Tour de France.

Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

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At the moment, Primož Roglič holds the yellow leader’s jersey at the Tour de France. You’d be forgiven for not noticing, since Jumbo-Visma’s jerseys are also yellow. And while the helicopters swirl about overhead, everyone would give you a pass if you mistook Sergio Higuita’s Colombian national champion’s jersey for the maillot jaune, since it’s also yellow.

Aren’t there rules about this sort of thing? Of course there are. But like most rules in cycling, its application is, well, uneven at best. You may be shocked to learn there are conflicting rules on the books. And, throughout history, there have been multiple yellow team kits that have created headaches for fans following the race.


ONCE: A study in pink

Tour De France, Stage 8, L’Alpe D’Huez, 2003  (Photo by Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

If you’ve followed cycling a while, you would certainly recognize an ONCE jersey from a mile away. It, too, is bright yellow, but of course when ONCE riders went to the Tour, they switched out their hi-viz duds for pink jerseys instead. The switch was, of course, to eliminate any confusion between the race leader in the yellow jersey and every other rider in the peloton.

“I think that back in the day of ONCE rocking their pink or black kits,” says Castelli brand manager Steve Smith, “or Mercatone Uno showing up in Pink kits, it was because ASO forced them to do it, and there weren’t any specific UCI rules covering this.”

So, there is a precedent for teams having to change colors for the Tour de France. That of course begs the question as to why Jumbo-Visma was not required to do so. Perhaps it’s a matter of inertia: Jumbo’s colors have long been yellow, but in previous years when the team was known as Lotto-Jumbo, the rider’s sleeves and shoulders were black. In years before that, the shoulders and sleeves were white. From all angles, that was largely enough to distinguish between the race leader’s yellow jersey and Lotto team riders.

Sergio Higuita

As it turns out, however,  the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has rules against a team changing its colors within the season. The UCI also has a rule against team colors being too similar to leader jerseys, among others.

So we start to see the loophole that allows Jumbo-Visma to compete in yellow jerseys at the Tour de France. The rules against color changes was implemented in 2010 by the UCI. It states:

1.3.035  Each team may have only a single design for clothing – colors and layout – which may not be altered for the duration of the calendar year.

In other words, the race organizers no longer have the power to require a team to change its kit, because the UCI rule supersedes such a demand. But that’s not the end of the story. Like all the most confusing rules, there are provisions born from it. More specifically, they are:

1.3.036 Provisions for permanent change during the season

Any permanent change to clothing must be duly justified and submitted for approval to the UCI at least 30 days before the expected date of coming into effect. The UCI will provide the team with an answer no later than 15 days prior to the expected date of coming into effect.

Provisions for a temporary change during the season

Each Road team may use different clothing for one full event each year. The clothing must be submitted for approval to the UCI, at least 60 days before the start date of the event in question. The application may be rejected for reasons considered valid. The UCI will provide the team with an answer no later than 30 days prior to the start date of the event in question.

The UCI appears to have complete control over a team’s kit and any relevant changes. Since the UCI can approve or deny such changes, and such changes must be submitted by teams within a specific time frame before a race, well, you can see how a team might be able to navigate its way to the Tour de France wearing yellow jerseys.

But the UCI, being a governing body, has just one more rule for teams:

1.3.027  Jerseys shall be sufficiently distinct from world champions’, UCI cup and classification leaders’ and national jerseys to avoid confusion.

That last one seems to be working wonders, doesn’t it? By the logic of these rules, Jumbo-Visma is simultaneously breaking the rules and likely adhering to them, depending on the UCI’s involvement with the team’s kit approval.

Why the rule change?

According to Castelli’s Smith, the change was, unsurprisingly, a reaction to a team’s color change. “Subsequent to Cervelo Test Team swapping out to white kit for the Tour back in 2009,” says Smith, “the UCI clarified the rules. Prior to that event, you couldn’t change your kit except for a permanent kit change for the rest of the year in the event of a new sponsor, so Cervelo used the excuse of black kit being too hot during the Tour which the UCI accepted but made the entire team keep the white kit for the rest of the year.”

Putting aside whether the claims of kit being too hot is valid or not, the team was allowed to change colors for the Tour, which likely raised the hackles of other teams that may have wanted to do the same. The Tour, after all, is the biggest stage in cycling; to be able to change colors and designs in time for the Tour would allow teams to have more flexibility in terms of marketing and branding.

Helmets, to further complicate things…

So we’ve got Jumbo-Visma riders in yellow jerseys; the GC leader also wears the yellow jersey; Sergio Higuita is yellowing up the place with his national champ’s jersey. That’s gotta be it, right?


In recent years, teams leading the teams classification have taken to riding in yellow helmets and sometimes even yellow gloves. Such flourishes don’t necessarily buck the UCI rules, but it does lead to even more confusion for viewers watching much of the race on television, from overhead shots provided by a helicopter. Will the UCI clarify such changes even more? Or will teams continue to push the limits of yellow at the Tour?

“My prediction is that with the confusion this year in spotting the yellow jersey,” says Smith, “and the UCI being a puppet of ASO, next year we’ll see Jumbo-Visma in different kit at the Tour.”

It stands to reason that other allowances for yellow flourishes will follow, too, should the UCI choose to make any clarifications at all.

EF Cycling’s Giro digs

 (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Team EF Cycling may also run into a color road block when the Giro d’Italia rolls around. While the team got a pass last year and was able to race in its pink team colors, this year will be different. While Rapha hasn’t officially announced anything or released any details, founder and CEO Simon Mottram told VeloNews in a Tech Podcast episode that Team EF Cycling will be racing in some special kit for the Giro to avoid any color confusion with the race leader.

The UCI rules remain the same for the Giro, of course, even though it’s a different race organizer. Perhaps EF’s kit change for the Giro will be the start of a new era of clarification regarding kit. In the mean time, let’s all have fun trying to pick the race leader out of the pack of yellow jerseys at the Tour. It’s a great way to make the transfer stages zip on by.

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