What is a yellow jersey and why is it important?

One of the most important events in the cycling calendar is here. The 2021 Tour de France has arrived to bring relief to fans and participants alike after a torrid year in which COVID-19 severely affected major sports tournaments around the globe.

The 2020 Tour de France had also been postponed to the latter part of the year. As a result, everyone concerned had to wait more than two months to see who emerged as the overall leader of the race and win the famous yellow jersey.

But why is the yellow jersey so important?


The Tour de France was first held in1903 as part of an experiment to increase the viewership of the newspaper, L’Auto-Velo. At the end of the 5,560-kilometer race, the overall winner of the race was handed a green armband. However, the reporters covering the event at that time complained that they couldn’t see the winner, Maurice Garin of France, wearing the green armband.

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After a four-year break due to World War I, the race returned and the then Tour de France director, Henri Desgrange, came up with the idea of the yellow jersey to clearly demarcate the race leader. He proposed that the leader with the fastest timing after each stage would wear the yellow jersey and the overall fastest would get the jersey at the end of the race. The yellow represented the color of the newspaper, L’Auto-Velo.

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On 18 July, 1919, around two o’clock in the early morning, Desgrange handed over the yellow jersey to the then leader of the stage, Eugène Christophe, making him the first rider to wear the jersey. However, unlike today, the jersey was made of wool and Christophe complained that it made him look silly. He insisted that it made him look like a canary.

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The jersey is still in use and is handed to the overall race leader in the general classification. But after the death of Desgrange in 1940, his initials, HD, was added to the jersey near the waistline. Only four cyclists so far have won the yellow jersey five times: Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault of France, Eddy Merckx of Belgium and Miguel Indurain of Spain.

In 2020 Tour de France, UAE Team Emirates’ rider, Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia, won the yellow jersey.

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