The Yellow Jersey is one of sport’s most iconic emblems, and is globally recognisable.
The Yellow Jersey is a symbol of cycling's Tour de France, and the maillot jaune, as the yellow jersey is referred to in French, is worn by the cyclist leading the individual time classification at the start of the stage, and hence is winning the race. The ultimate aim is to wear the yellow jersey after the final stage has been completed.
The Tour de France is one of cycling's Grand Tours; and is a race that has been completed on over 100 occasions, with the first tour having been raced in 1909.
It was though not until the 1919 race that the yellow jersey was first officially introduced, although there is some evidence to suggest that there was a yellow jersey before the war. The idea of the yellow jersey was to make it easy for spectators to identify the race leader.
Today, there is great prestige in wearing the yellow, and for modern cycling teams there is also a great deal of importance. The wearer of the jersey receives a great deal of media attention, something the ensures that the team’s sponsor will get a great deal more exposure than normal.
On stage one, it is normal for the previous year’s race winner to wear the yellow jersey at the start of the stage, but in recent years, it has been more common for the defending champion not to return to the race. This has meant that the first yellow jersey of the race is presented at the end of the first stage.
In the modern day race, there is a presentation ceremony undertaken to award jerseys to those leading each classification. Since 1987, the French bank LCL (previously known as Credit Lyonnais) has sponsored the yellow jersey, and along with the jersey, wearers are presented with a toy lion after each stage.
The man who has been presented with the most yellow jerseys is the legendary cyclist, Eddy Merckx, with 96 jerseys, followed by another legend of cycling, Bernard Hinault with 75.
The man who is presented with the yellow jersey after the final stage in Paris is the of course the race winner, and a lot richer. Prize money in the order of 450,000 euros goes to the winner (2013 figures), and whilst this is likely to be shared amongst the team for enabling the cyclist to win, it is still a considerable sum.
During the race there are no specific benefits from wearing the yellow jersey, although custom normally dictates that other riders do not attack if the race leader has a mechanical failure. This, though, is also a custom that extends to other race favourites.
The other Grand Tours also make use of a coloured jersey to indicate the race leader; with the Vuelta (the Tour of Spain) making use of a red jersey, and the Giro (the Tour of Italy) using a pink one.
In recent years, the Yellow Jersey has often been linked with scandal, and many winners have been linked with cheating, most notably with the likes of Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Michael Rasmussen.
Despite the scandals, the wearing of the yellow jersey, even for just one day, remains the pinnacle of many professional cyclists’ careers.