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A history of cycling in 15 jerseys

Nick Soldinger
22 Aug 2018

Has the cycling team jersey mirrored the ups and downs of the sport itself? We look back at the last few decades to investigate

In a sport where looking good is, for many, as important as how well you perform, jersey design is integral to cycling’s appeal. With the exception of the introduction of acrylic in the 1950s, however, the humble cycling jersey remained pretty much unchanged for the first 100 years of the sport’s history.

But by the 1970s, with changes to the sport and technological improvements in garment design, something revolutionary definitely started to happen.

The simpler designs of the past were replaced by a dazzling array of patterns and colours. In the book, The Art of The Jersey by Andy Storey, that journey is celebrated in depth and with glorious, nerdy affection.

Here are some of the highlights

1970 - SCIC Cucine Componibili 

Manufacturer: Santini  
Associated bike: Colnago  
Key Rider: Giuseppe Saronni

This cool monochrome bit of kit gives a good idea of where cycling jerseys were at the start of the process. This wool garment may be a traditionally knitted job, but check out the sponsor.

Whereas bike manufacturers’ names had typically decorated jerseys, the consumer boom saw a diverse range of new sponsors enter the sport.

SCIC were actually an Italian kitchen company whose marketing strategy for 1970 was to align themselves with some of the greatest cyclists of the age, such as two-time Giro winner Giuseppe Saronni, and 1968 World Champ Vittorio Adorni.

1972 - Molteni Arcore

Manufacturer:  Santini  
Associated bike: Eddy Merckx  
Key rider: Eddy Merckx

One of the most iconic jerseys of all time worn by probably the best rider ever – Eddy Merckx . Although Belgium’s greatest-ever sportsman (sit down Van Damme, don’t be silly!) rode for other teams, most notably Peugeot, Faema and Fiat, this is the jersey that he’s best remembered wearing.

The team also boasted Gianni Motta and Marino Basso, who contributed over 80 victories between them. But it was Merckx who provided the majority of the team’s 600 wins.

And who were headline sponsor Molteni? A sausage manufacturer based in northern Italy.

1977 - Brooklyn Chewing Gum  

Manufacturer: Santini  
Associated bike: Gios  
Key rider: Roger De Vlaeminck

This is a remarkable jersey given that the printing techniques used today were still years away. The stripes in the unique design of this jersey were created by stitching wool/acrylic mix panels together, while the sponsor’s name was embroidered onto that white panel which was then separately stitched to the front of the jersey.

This particular jersey was worn by Roger De Vlaeminck, who rode 14 Paris-Roubaix races  – winning it four times – without suffering a single puncture, thanks in part to his exceptional handling skills over the course’s torturous cobbles.

He also won the 1977 Tour of Flanders in this jersey.

1983 - Renault-Elf-Cycles Gitane 

Manufacturer: Castelli  
Associated bike: Cycles Gitane  
Key riders: Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond

The innovative design of this jersey was achieved thanks to its maker Castelli’s pioneering work with a dye-sublimation process that finally allowed graphics and logos to be printed directly onto the fabric.

Also check out the Castelli scorpion logo top right which isn’t in the company’s usual iconic red and white colourway, but black.

This means it was printed as part of the production process. The Renault-Elf team that sported this number kicked an awful lot of butt during its seven-year lifespan from 1978 to 1985, largely due to indomitable team leader Bernard Hinault.

1984 - Peugeot-Michelin-Shell  

Manufacturer: Santini  
Associated bike: Cycles Peugeot  
Key riders: Robert Millar, Sean Yates

Peugeot had continuously sponsored a cycling team in one form or another since 1901, and while earlier team kits would have had the company’s logo embroidered on, this uses a technique called flocking.

The process involved applying a special hot adhesive to the white surface of the jersey in the shape of the logo and then spreading tiny black fibre particles over the gluey area.

The result is a smooth, neat finish – although repeated washing did tend to result in the logo lifting off. As well as the sponsors’ logos, the chessboard pattern beneath was also created this way. 

1985 - La Vie Claire 

Manufacturer: Santini  
Associated bike: Look Cycle  
Key riders: Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond

One of the most famous jerseys to ever appear in the pro peloton, this was inspired by the work of Dutch modernist painter Piet Mondrian.

According to Bernard Hinault who wore it, the team wanted to brighten up the peloton, having first selected a chic all-black strip that they later binned because it proved unsuitable for the extreme heat of summer races like the Tour de France.

With fabric printing techniques still in their infancy, this was constructed by sewing the different coloured panels together and then flocking on the logos – although the Santini logo is actually embroidered. 

1993 - Motorola  

Manufacturer: Giordana  
Associated bike: Merckx Cycles  
Key riders: Lance Armstrong, Axel Merckx, Sean Yates


By the early ’90s, wool had been entirely replaced by polyester in the peloton, while new innovations were transforming the sport in other ways.

In-race communication via radio is now the norm, but it was the Motorola team, wearing this classic jersey, who pioneered its use thanks to the technical expertise of their main sponsor. 

1993 - WordPerfect-Suntour-Colnago

Manufacturer: Decca  
Associated bike: Colnago  
Key riders: Eric Vanderaerden

As the digital revolution gathered pace, interesting new sponsors started to turn up on jerseys, too.

Where once sausage company logos had graced cycling kit, it was now the turn of tech firms like Corel, whose WordPerfect software came supplied on floppy discs. (See jersey for visual reminder!)

1996 - Mapei-GB-Colnago 

Manufacturer: Sportful  
Associated bike: Colnago  
Key riders: Johan Museeuw, Franco Ballerini, Andrea Tafi

The Mapei team was a powerful presence in the peloton in the ’90s with a roster of incredible riders at the height of their powers, they notched up over 650 victories.

This is a 1996 jersey, despite the two mentions of 1995 on the UCI logo and Italian flag – both references to the fact that Mapei was both the topped-ranked team in Italy and the world the previous year.

With the popularity of the sport starting to boom, too, Sportful took the unusual step of producing team-issue garments for public sale – now common but an innovative move at the time.

1999 - US Postal Service-Trek  

Manufacturer: Pearl Izumi  
Associated bike: Trek  
Key riders: Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie

With no European team willing to take a punt on him after his battle with cancer, Lance Armstrong returned to the peloton in 1999 wearing this jersey as part of the US Postal Service team.

Most people are probably more familiar with later versions of this jersey, which was made by Nike from 2000 onwards.

After Armstrong ‘miraculously’ won the 1999 Tour de France in these colours, Nike’s bosses, smelling dollars, barged original makers Pearl Izumi out of the picture.

Armstrong and the famous Nike swoosh would be inseparable right up until 2012, when the terrible truth about his doping was finally revealed.

2003 - Coast-Bianchi

Manufacturer: Etxeondo  
Associated bike: Bianchi  
Key riders: Jan Ullrich, Alex Zulle

Author Andy Storey – who owns all the jerseys featured – describes this as one of ‘the most beautiful in my collection’, explaining that ‘the team started the season in a mainly blue jersey but this celeste version was created for the 2003 Giro d’Italia’.

Race-specific jerseys would have been unimaginable a generation earlier.

2008 - Columbia-HighRoad-Giant 

Manufacturer: MOA Nalini  
Associated bike: Giant  
Key riders: Mark Cavendish, Edvald Boasson Hagen

This beauty was actually born out of necessity when sponsorship headaches caused a team name-change mid-season. MOA Nalini’s quickly dreamt-up design stylishly incorporated the Columbia Sportswear logo and branding palette.

Mark Cavendish won four stages of the Tour de France in the new look, ensuring Columbia maximum publicity.  

2014 - Giant-Shimano 

Manufacturer: Etxeondo  
Associated bike: Giant  
Key riders: Marcel Kittel, John Degenkolb

This summer climber’s jersey is the perfect storm of style, high-tech know-how and manufacturing innovation.

Made from extremely elastic and aerodynamic polyester material, it has highly breathable open-mesh fabric panels which help keep the rider’s body temperatures down while still allowing him to slip through the air.

2015 - Team Wiggins  

Manufacturer: Rapha  
Associated bike: Pinarello  
Key riders: Sir Bradley Wiggins, Tom Pidcock

This team-issue garment worn by Sir Bradley and his teammates became something of an instant icon when it was unveiled last year.

Made from a mid-weight fabric that keeps out the cold while wicking away moisture, it is technically one of the most advanced cycling jerseys on the planet and yet, look at it.

This splendid thing is just crammed with nods to the past.

The Art of The Jersey: A celebration of the Cycling Racing Jersey by Andy Storey is published by Mitchell Beazley, £15.99. See octopusbooks.co.uk for details.

This article, from Bikes Etc, was originally published to Cyclist.co.uk in May 2016