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Cycling History: the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France


The yellow jersey is the most famous jersey in the world of cycling. The leader of the general classification in the Tour de France wears this jersey.

Tour de France

The Tour de France was first organized in 1903. Cycling was very popular in France in those days. Many bicycle races were organized by newspapers. Those road races were one day races. The newspaper L'Auto decided to organize the first "multiple stage bicycle race": The Tour de France. In the course of time, it became the most prestigious bicycle race in the world.

Yellow Jersey

There was no yellow jersey in the first editions of the Tour de France. There is some doubt over when the yellow jersey was introduced. According to the official history the yellow jersey was introduced in 1919. The Belgian cyclist Philippe Thys (1889-1971) recalled that he was awarded the first yellow jersey in 1913. This was an experiment by Henri Desgrange, the race director of the Tour de France.

Why Yellow?

The bicycling race was organized to increase sales of the newspaper L'Auto. This newspaper was printed on yellow paper. The yellow jersey should be an advertisement for the newspaper.


In the early days the cyclist disliked to wear the yellow jersey. Making yourself more visible in yellow would encourage other riders to ride against you. Many people thought the yellow jersey was ugly. Cyclist and spectators called the rider in the yellow jersey 'a canary'. Within a few years, everything changed. The yellow jersey became the most beloved jersey in the world of cycling.


Who wears the Yellow Jersey?

The overall classification of the Tour de France is decided by totaling the time each rider takes on the daily stages. The rider with the lowest overall time at the end of a stage receives the yellow jersey. He'll also wear this jersey during the next stage. The cyclist to receive this jersey after the last stage is the overall winner.

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Most successful?

Who are the most successful cyclist in the history of the yellow jersey? Eddy Merckx (Belgium) wore the yellow jersey for 96 days. He won the general classification five times (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974). Bernard Hinault (France) wore 75 yellow jerseys. He also won the general classification five times (1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1985). Miguel Indurain (Spain) wore 60 yellow jerseys. He achieved five consecutive victories in the general classification between 1991 and 1995.

Lance Armstrong?

The American Lance Armstrong wore the yellow jersey for 83 stages. He won the race seven times. After a doping scandal he was stripped of all of these achievements.


Which country has been awarded the most yellow jerseys (1919-2020)? Riders from France had 725 yellow jerseys. Riders from Belgium had 434 yellow jerseys. This jersey has been awarded 212 times to a rider from Italy.

Most wearers?

What is the largest number of different riders wearing the yellow jersey in any year? In 1958 and 1987 there were eight different riders wearing this jersey.

Other jerseys in the Tour de France

The general classification is the oldest and main competition in the Tour. There are also other classifications in this bicycling race. The leader of the "points classification" wears the green jersey. This classification was added to draw the participation of the sprinters. The leader of the "mountains classification" wears the polka dot jersey. This competition was added for the climbers. The leader of the "young rider classification" wears the white jersey.

Other Grand Tour Leader Jerseys: Giro and Vuelta

The leader of the general classification of the Giro d'Italia (Tour of Italy) wears a pink jersey (maglia rosa). They chose the color pink because the Giro d'Italia was originally organized by the Gazetto dello Sport. This newspaper is printed on pink paper. The pink jersey was introduced in 1931.

What's the color of the jersey of the leader of the Vuelta Ciclista a Espana (Tour of Spain)? This has changed several times. The first jersey of the leader (in 1935) was orange. In some editions it was white. In many editions it was yellow or gold. It became a red jersey in 2010.

Other yellow jerseys

Many other pro cycling races were inspired by the Tour de France. They also have a yellow jersey for the leader in the general classification: Paris-Nice, Tour de Pologne, Criterium du Dauphiné, Tour de Romandie and the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco.

© 2021 Van Staveren

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