Unlocking the colour code

There are many traditions in our noble sport. It’s one of the things that appeals so much, for it’s precisely these time-honoured rituals that make things matter, by reminding all concerned they’re part of something bigger. Something that began long before, and will endure long after; a pleasant change to most of the disposable bubblegum sport we’re served up these days.


One of the greatest traditions, albeit one of the most confusing for the uninitiated, is surely the code of the jerseys paraded by the pro peloton each season. Sure, we all know about the malliot jaune. But it’s taken me the best part of three years to unravel the rest. And I’m sure I still don’t understand them all; even if Mario Cipollini is now long retired.

Firstly there are the standard team jerseys, as worn by most of the riders. This in itself isn’t especially complicated, however like all modern sporting teams seeking to extract every last merchandising dollar from their fans, it is apparently mandatory for the jersey to change at least once a year. Depending on sponsors, of course, it may change twice or even three times a season. GreenEDGE were the champions of this in 2012. Just when you thought you had their kit sorted, they changed it.

Next there are the national champion versions of the team jerseys. These can be very different to the standard team jerseys, in both style and colour, often making life rather difficult for fans and commentators alike. Think riders like Cancellara, Boonen, Boasson Hagen and our very own dual-national champ, Turbo Durbo.

Australian Time Trial Champion team kit.

For two lucky riders each year, of course, there is the coveted “Rainbow” version of the team jersey, denoting the reigning World Champion in both the Road Race and Time Trial. BMC’s Philipe Gilbert holds this honour in 2013 for the Road Race, while it’s Omega Pharma Quickstep Thingymaboby’s Tony Martin for the Time Trial.

Reigning World Champ kit.

Still with me? Good, because there’s more.

Whilst there’s only one World Champion per discipline per year, once a World Champion, always a World Champion. This means past winners like Messers Hushovd, Evans and Cavendish, can spend the rest of their riding days resplendent in their slightly-less-standard-than-the-rest-of-the-team’s-standard jerseys. For they have earned the privilege of permanently sporting the rainbow rings, typically on their sleeves and/or shorts.

Standard team kit. Belgium National Champ kit. Past World Champ kit.

Beyond this there are national team riders’ jerseys as worn at the World’s each year. Even these are different, as each rider is able to sport their trade team sponsor logos. So while Gossy, Cadel and Richie Porte might represent the same country, their kits are slightly different.

There are also best young rider jerseys, usually white presumably to indicate their purity as (so far) unscarred members of a relentless peloton. There are green, red, pink, red polka dot, blue polka dot and ochre jerseys. In fact, if you can find it on the colour wheel, you’ll probably find it on a cycling jersey somewhere in the world.

They all mean something. And that in itself means a lot.

Maglia Rosa. Giro.
Best young rider jersey TDF.
Norwegian National Champ team kit.
No, Spartacus does not work for the Red Cross. More seasons than not he’s the Swiss national champ.

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