Earlier today saw a small press release from Tour de France organisers ASO that French clothing company Le Coq Sportif is to provide the leaders jerseys in all ASO races from 2012 onwards, meaning the yellow jersey will no longer be provided by Nike.
I put the news of this deal out on Twitter as it’s interesting (to me at least) for several reasons:
- Sportswear giant Nike have had an on/off relationship with cycling, producing some clothing. It seems they are going off the sport right now.
- Le Coq Sportif is a traditional French name that has provided cycling jerseys in the past from the 1950s right up until the mid-1980s.
- We’re seeing a big global name retreat – we’ve also seen Adidas quit – whilst a smaller brand appears.
- Le Coq Sportif is also a fashionable and retro brand, distinct from the more functional take employed by Nike. We might well see the yellow jersey in 2012 with a more interesting designed.
- Lance Armstrong and Nike have been linked for years.
It’s this last point that saw several twitter correspondents ask if the deal is related to Lance Armstrong’s media downfall, whether Nike is trying to retreat from the sport because of the bad news linked to Armstrong. Well nobody knows but bear in mind that sponsoring the yellow jersey has very few associations with Armstrong. Like I say, Nike has dipped in and out of the sport. When Adidas left the sport, few asked if Jan Ullrich was to blame.
It’s curious that many people seem to be talking about this point rather than looking at the story of a French company rebranding itself, supporting the Tour de France and trying to use cycling in a positive way to look cool. In other words, ASO signing a sponsorship deal gets viewed through a lense that’s still focussed on a retired rider. It is proving very difficult to escape from Armstrong’s shadow.
Indeed the better story is probably much more to do with Le Coq Sportif’s arrival than the end of the Nike deal. The French business has been slowly building up to the announcement today, they have already launched a range of “World Champion” clothing inspired by cycling’s rainbow jersey. Plus the company has a big pedigree in the sport already, having sponsored teams and races in the past, including its first entry into the sport when it provided jerseys for 10 teams in the 1951 Tour de France. It’s also worth noting the business got bought up by Robert-Louis Dreyfuss in 2005, the Franco-Swiss entrepreneur who bought Adidas and helped it overtake Reebok in the 1990s.
A deal between a French race organiser and French clothing company attracts more scrutiny thanks to the deal it replaces, perhaps for obvious reasons but it’s as if many moves in the sport today struggle to escape You-Know-Who. But Le Coq Sportif was sponsoring cycling before Nike started. Here’s hoping the leaders jerseys look good in 2012.