The rainbow jersey


Famous as the symbol of the world champion, cycling’s rainbow jersey was first introduced in 1927 when the inaugural world championships were organised in Germany. The winner was Italian Alfredo Binda.

No rainbow
For a start the colours aren’t those of a rainbow. In nature the spectrum of light does not include black in the middle. Instead the colours come from the Olympic rings which are supposed to represent the five continents.

Olympic rings

Look closely at the rings and you’ll see the top three rings are blue red and black and the lower pair are yellow and green. That’s the same order as the jersey.

The “rainbow” design and associating this with world championship success is now the trademark of the UCI. If a manufacturer wants to stamp a cycling product with the colours then they have to pay a royalty to cycling’s governing body. Note that if, say Tony Martin, wants to capitalise on his success with a range of products featuring the iridescent bands then the colours are not his but the UCI.

The rules
The UCI have got quite picky about the jersey. Note some of their rules:

1.3.063 The world champion jersey must be worn at every opportunity with public exposure, in particular during competitions, awards ceremonies, press conferences, television interviews, autograph sessions, photo sessions and other occasions.

1.3.065 Wearing the world champion’s jersey or the rainbow piping is prohibited as soon as the anti-doping commission, after the review described in article 204 of the anti-doping rules, asserts that the rider committed an anti-doping violation and until his definitive acquittal.

1.3.0067 The wearer of the world champion’s jersey shall be entitled to match the colour of his shorts to that of the jersey.

Superstitious types have said that the jersey brings bad fortune and people have talked of the “curse of the rainbow jersey” as riders have won only to do badly the following year.

Like many supernatural phenomena there is often a more plausible explanation. For me, just winning a tough late season race does not guarantee a win the following year. Indeed it can be self-selecting as success in this race means a rider can spend winter preoccupied by marketing work instead of logging miles, you can’t blame a rider for cashing in.

Plus bad luck is often the way of a cyclist. Nobody said Tom Boonen was cursed as he stood immobile by the roadside in the Arenberg Forest as the favourites for Paris-Roubaix rode away and if Thor Hushovd’s Milan-Sanremo wasn’t to plan, there was nothing freakish about getting caught the wrong side of split on the descent of the Passo Turchino.

It’s not really a rainbow, it’s the property of the UCI and hundreds of cyclists in Copenhagen right now are dreaming of it.

21 thoughts on “The rainbow jersey”

  1. Rule 1.3.0067: Wearing of the world champion’s jersey or products featuring its design on non-professional Saturday morning group rides and afterwards while drinking coffee and eating doughnuts afterwards shall be expressly prohibited*

    *An exception shall be granted if and only if the wearing of the world champion’s jersey in said circumstance is done ironically and or for a good laugh

  2. Interesting enough – North and South America are considered 1 continent:

    The current view of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is that the symbol “reinforces the idea” that the Olympic Movement is international and welcomes all countries of the world to join.[5] As can be read in the Olympic Charter, the Olympic symbol represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games. However, no continent is represented by any specific ring. Prior to 1951, the official handbook stated that each colour corresponded to a particular continent: blue for Europe, yellow for Asia, black for Africa, green for Oceania and red for America (North and South considered as a single continent); this was removed because there was no evidence that Coubertin had intended it.[6]
    Despite misconceptions, artists are free to remain creative.

  3. @ Sinai Good point.
    Perhaps inrng could do something on this. The 2012 TTT will be open to trade teams.
    How many riders? Given it is at the end of the season, will teams exclude top riders that are transferring to other trade teams? Will this lead to more riders delaying any announcement about their future?
    And in 2013, will the UCI TTT jersey be restricted solely to those riders that won the 2012 event, or can all riders in the trade team wear the jersey? I’m hoping the latter ’cause this would mean it is PRO to wear an unearned World Champ jersey… thus validating thousands of weekend riders around the world.
    If a rider was part of the winning TTT but moves to another trade team, can he (she) still wear the jersey?

  4. Just to add to what CAT4Fodder wrote, the colours of the Olympic Rings were selected by de Coubertin because at the time of the Rings’ creation in 1912, at least one of the five colors could be found in the national flag of every recognized country of the time. That remains true today as well.

  5. A Google search reveals that it is universally accepted that there are (gasp!) seven continents. North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceana (Australia and New Zealand) and Antarctica. Quick – two more colors. Seriously, I love the current Worl Championship jersey, it’s history and what it represents.

  6. @ave: In case you didn’t know, North America and South America are separate continents. Just like Europe and Asia, they are separate continents while they are still connected via land. So there!!

  7. Rules 1.3.065 and 1.3.0067 as you quote them refer to “the rider” and “the wearer” respectively, but both also refer to “his”…so these rules aren’t applicable to the female professionals?

  8. … and at the end of the rainbow, there is a pot of gold.
    Well, at least the Irish believe this.
    And rumors have it there’s a pot just like that somewhere around Richmond, Virginia.

    This adds up so perfectly it must be true.

  9. You’ll have to fight the facts.: the “rainbow” stripes’ colors. It really depends where you live, I guess. I’m sure North Americans want nothing to do with the Souths.
    But for the UCI they are the same continent, aren’t they?

    Regarding the rainbow strips on the jersey sleeves: I remember O’Grady was sporting the rainbow stripes on his sleeves while racing in the pro peleton on the road, but he was never a road world champion.

    Of course, now he doesn’t wear them.
    Was there a rule change, or someone just told him, you can’t do that?

  10. @ave – yes, you used to be able to wear rainbow collar/cuffs if you had been a [I believe, senior] World Champion in a UCI sanctioned event. Now I think it has to be relevant to the discipline that you are competing in (road, track, cross, unicycling, etc)

  11. The man with the most UCI points at the end of the year should be the world champion. An honor this prestigious and important should not be left up to a one day race.

  12. @Jonathan Vaughters’ Sideburns: couldn’t agree with you more on that one. Every other winner of a major world championship on wheels (F1, MotoGP, World Superbike, etc.) is crowned by the total points they collected through that year’s events. Makes perfect sense to me.

    I just wish the leader’s rainbow jersey of the World Cup events was still able to be seen in the peloton.

  13. “CAT4Fodder September 22, 2011 at 8:56 pm, Interesting enough – North and South America are considered 1 continent:”

    Its seems that de Coubertin said: ” five parts of the world” not five continents. The theory of plate tectonics was still being developed around the time the rings were designed so the term continent would not have had the same meaning.

    Besides, if you ignore Antarctica because no competitors hail from there and Europe because it is only a peninsula of Asia the rings do represent the five populated continents – namely (and in order of colonisation) Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America.

  14. If the goal is protection of the symbol of excellence the rainbow stripes represent then I would be behind the UCI trademarking them and restricting their use. If the goal is merely revenue gathering then I would not.

    Does a cheap frame adorned legitimately in the rainbow stripes enhance that symbol’s prestige when it breaks in two, killing the rider? Are the UCI going to check the road-worthiness of every piece of equipment that carries the licensed stripes? Will there be ongoing quality control? Obviously the answer is no.

    If you want to control and restrict their use, why not restrict it to manufactures who have produced winning equipment in respective categories? Your factory built a machine used to win the road race? Great. The stripes are yours. Want to paint your TT bikes that way too? Sorry, you’ll have to win that event before we let you. Maybe put the year you last won inside the middle black stripe so consumers can see how recent your success was. UCI approved font in #FFFFFF white, naturally.

    And while I’m (sort of) on the subject, how does a top rider negotiate multi-million dollar contracts and develop relationships with corporate partners and then say to them “by the way fellas, if I have a good race that one day in September, everything we’ve discussed for the next twelve months is off — I can’t fit you all on the jersey!”. How many riders have done the math and decided to throttle back in the World Championships, knowing winning would cost them real money? If not riders in the past, then how many in the future? Doesn’t such a disincentive to win also hurt the prestige of the symbol of excellence the governing body aims to protect? Surely flexibility and common sense serves the sport better than dogmatic dotted-lines and millimetric regulations.

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