The Coveted Yellow Jersey

It’s mid-July, the slowest time of the year for sports. Hockey and basketball ended in June. Football season is months away. Baseball is just getting started and unless you are a big golf or tennis fan there isn’t much else going on. That is unless you follow the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest race, which takes up three glorious weeks of the month.

I’ve always been curious about the Tour de France’s branding. Why is yellow the main color for this particular race? It just always felt odd. Maybe it’s a European thing. Maybe it’s because yellow can be associated with cowardice—an odd distinction to give an athlete. I can’t really pin down why, but either way, it makes me wonder.

As it turns out the reason for the yellow has a lot to do with branding. Back in the early years of the race, spectators and journalist had a hard time picking out the race leader as the peleton zipped past them. To solve this, in 1919 they handed out a yellow jersey to the race leader and never looked back. The yellow was chosen not only because it’s a bright color and can be seen at a distance but because of the tour’s main sponsor at the time, L’Auto, a cycling magazine that was printed on yellow paper.

There are several other jerseys handed out for other classifications throughout the race. A green jersey for the highest number of sprinting points that was originally sponsored by a lawn-mowing service. The King of the Mountains—the title given to the best climber in a cycling road race—wears a white jersey with red polka-dots which was brought to you by Poulain Chocolate. The company used to wrap their chocolate bars in the same red dotted pattern.

So remember, designers: Your paper choice of today may influence the next epic sporting event in ways you never thought possible. Talk to your rep!