National champion jerseys

With the 2012 season under way all the top teams have unveiled their colours. Amongst these team colours are the national champions jerseys. Just as the world champion wears a jersey with the “rainbow bands”, national champions get their special jerseys.

The winner of the annual national championships gets to wear a jersey that represents their country for the year. It’s usually a variation of the national flag or colours. For example you’ll see the French champion in a big blue, white and red tricolore jersey. But in recent years the design has started to change, moving away from a flag turned into a jersey into a more normal team jersey with just hint of national colour. Here’s a more detailed look at the how and why.

Go back in time and the national champion was obvious, visible from afar. An Italian would be obvious in their green white and red kit, as if their jersey was cut from the national flag. The US champion had the stars and stripes and so on. This can still be the case.

Champion of España... or Epargne?

But in recent years it’s got harder to spot the champion of a nation. For example see the jersey of Alejandro Valverde in 2009, instead of the normal yellow and red Spanish flag, the Caisse d’Epargne team gave him a red and black version in corporate colours that featured the Spanish colours in a much more discreet way, a move away from the more obvious jersey worn the previous year by Joaquim Rodriguez. In 2009 and 2010 Pozzato was the Italian champion and he went through a range of jerseys (here, here and here) including a black version but eventually was forced to standardise the jersey by the Italians.

Other teams have done similar things and it can be hard to spot these riders because if they wear special jerseys, they are not always as distinctive as they once were. There are different reasons for this. First, if a company is paying millions to have a team riding in its name the presence of an alternative jersey can distract from the corporate colours. We might think the distinctive colours of a national champion are a big draw and publicise the team and by extension the sponsor. But those who work in corporate branding go to great lengths to codify a company’s image with a “style guides”  that can run to hundreds of pages, specifying the exact Pantone colour references, the fonts and lettering to be used in communications, branding and all derivative products and images. To suddenly see a brand’s colour change because of a bike race can prove too much for some involved. Don’t forget these are the people who pay for the team.

Like many I’m a fan of the sport’s history and myths. The images of champions from the past are memorable in part thanks to simple but bold jerseys, whether Fausto Coppi or more recently the Swiss flag on Fabian Cancellara.

This age is not over. We still see many national champions in obvious jerseys, Philippe Gilbert is wearing the Belgian flag and Sylvain Chavanel the French flag. But some are less obvious. Movistar, the continuation of the Caisse d’Epargne team, features the colours but within the normal colours of the team jersey, here is Giovanni Visconti of Italy:

Recognisably Italian... just

Visconti’s jersey is recognisable and I think we’ll be able to pick him up from both a helicopter and a moto camera angle thanks to the bands on the chest and the shoulders. Perhaps the hardest national champions to spot are the Radioshack-Nissan ones, as pictured above. Obviously Frank Schleck’s national title is camouflaged amongst the team jersey because the squad has a Luxembourg flavour. But the others on the squad like US champion Matthew Busche and Fabian Cancellara have a more discreet kit.

Is this just branding and national pride?
The rules are written down, at least in part. As is custom on this blog, here’s the relevant rule:

1.3.069 The specificities concerning the design of the national champion jersey are described in the brochure available on the UCI website. These specificities are applicable for all the disciplines.
Before production, the national champion jersey design (colours, flag, drawing) reproduced by the titled rider must be approved by the concerned national federation and must respect the latter’s dispositions.
Each national federation must have its national champion jersey design registered by the UCI, for each discipline, at least 21 days before the national championships of the discipline in question.
The wearer of a national champion’s jersey shall be entitled to match the colour of his shorts to that of the jersey.

So we have both UCI and national federations setting the rules. The brochure mentioned in the rule above goes on to specify the surface area available for sponsors, for example a rectangle 10 centimetres high on the front and back to put the sponsor logo. But the full design, whether you go for the full flag or use a team jersey with a small flag featured is down to the national federation to set the colours.

Finally, note a rider who has won a national title in the past has the right to wear the colours on their collar and sleeves afterwards.

Some national champions are more visible than others, there’s some inconsistency across designs. I like the retro-look of some national champions, the jerseys are often similar in design to those worn 50  years ago. But pro cycling is driven by commercial pressures and if anything I’m surprised more teams and sponsors haven’t tried to impose their brand ahead of the national colours but this seems to be a matter for each nation, there is no standard format.

43 thoughts on “National champion jerseys”

  1. I like Wiggo’s British jersey. Probably the stand out national jersey this year (Of those I’ve seen). Classic look and easily identified in a crowd.

  2. Shame for the National champs jerseys really I reckon. That Lux one is a disgrace, as is Movistar. I wonder if the riders get a say? If I was Italian Champion (which is quite unlikely) I’d be pretty upset about forsaking the noble history of the tricolore for that Movistar bit of rubbish. I suppose it is a comprimise though- I remember hearing of riders being told by their teams to deliberately not win their national championships so they didn’t get the jersey and ruin the teams corporate identity. At least this way they can still race for it, and not fake taking a wrong turn on the finish circuit.
    Also remember when in 1995 countries started changing their tricolores to have a fading look between the colours and the white, instead of the bold blocks of colour. Ghastly.

  3. Good story. This is another great example of cycling’s respect for tradition.

    I definitely prefer the ones like GB & Australia with the simple stripes across the chest rather than the full jersey flag ones. Interestingly Will Clarke’s win today was in the “national champ” jersey and this also reflects Australia’s national team at the worlds wearing, effectively, the national champ jersey unlike many of the others – actually, I can’t think of a team which matches their worlds kit to their national champion kit apart from Australia.

    From a marketing point of view, teams like High Road seemed to embrace & celebrate their internationalism with all their national champs (not to mention all the flags on the side of their bus)…..but then they couldn’t find a sponsor!

    For a time there is seemed like you could “cross discipline” your ex-champion collar and cuffs.. I seem to recall Brad McGee in FDJ jerseys on the road with his track world champ bands (perhaps O’Grady too?). This doesn’t seem to be allowed any more.

  4. It’s horrible to see how national jerseys are treated by some teams. I think national federations should have to power to demand teams to use the jerseys as they are originally designed. Cycling has a close connection with its own past, and for as far I know Belgian champions always are eager to wear our tricolore, not because they love our country so much and are so proud of being Belgian, but just because it’s a highly recognized jersey: in our black-yellow-red legendary men such as Rik Van Steenbergen, Rik Van Looy, Eddy Merckx, Roger De Vlaeminck and Eric Vanderaerden won great Classics. Everybody remembers Stijn Devolder winning the Tour of Flanders in black-yellow-red. Just put that picture through photoshop, make it look ancient, and there’s hardly any difference with the finish images of the seventies and eighties. That’s why Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert were so keen on winning our Nationals: they realized that wearing and winning in that special jersey would put them into the sport’s history. If Fabian Cancellara wins a Classic in 2012, would he like the picture just as much as the pictures of 2010, when he won Flanders and Roubaix in the same jersey Ferdi Kübler once wore? If Visconti wins Sanremo or Lombardy, I’m sure he’ll regret not crossing the line in the traditional green-white-red as Saronni of Bugno or Coppi. What Dane wouldn’t like to wear that Viking blood red jersey, like Riis did in the Tour of 1996? Conclusion: cycling has a history – both a bright and legendary as a dark one – and national jerseys are part of that history,just like races as Flanders and Roubaix and Lombardy. Cycling needs to update to the 21st century, but needs bridges with it’s past. Please let the national jerseys be one of those bridges.

  5. National champions should be able to show their achievement, their jersey, by reducing the national jersey to some accents there’s just some decoration left.

  6. I actually like it when the designers try to incorporate the national champion details into their trade kit. Although iconic, those traditional ones can look a bit boring. And in that light I actually like Visconti’s jersey. The chest rings are broad enough to be easily recognised and I like detail on the shoulder. This it in my opinion a good combination of trade kit and champions jersey. But on the other hand the Radioshack ones are faceless, unrecognisable and put together without any love , truly ugly. And as far as the German champion is concerned it does not comply with the rules of the German cycling federation ( ). Essentially saying: arm and collar rings are mandatory, base colour has to be white, especially shoulders and arms.

    And as far as I know the national federations can force a change of the design, iirc the Pozzato one had to be changed because it included the Kremlin/Moscow skyline in it’s design and they Italian federation was quite upset of combining their national champion jersey with a symbol for another country.

  7. I wonder if there’s anything strategic in here. Especially those Radioshack-Nissan ones. If you’re a dozen wheels behind a few of those guys, you don’t know at a glance whether one of them is FSchleck, Cancellara, etc. The national champions are often top riders overall. If they have an easier time blending in with their mates, isn’t that a competitive advantage for them?

  8. Say what you like about Sky and their marketing machine, but they certainly do appreciate the history and significance of the national (and World) jersey.

    Even in their first season when Wiggins was British TT champ he went with an all white kit and the national bands. No mixing the red, white and blue in with the Sky kit.

    What I like best is their treatment of Cav’s rainbow kit. The jersey is like the British national kit treatment, and to be honest they couldn’t stray too far anyway. But what I like best are the black shorts. None of this white shorts to match the jersey rubbish. Old skool traditional black shorts with the rainbow jersey. Cav tweeted he wanted it that way, as he knows his history.

  9. @Matt Carey – It probably helps that Sky is built around Team GB and likewise GreenEdge around Australia so probably no coincidence their kits big up the National Jersey. I wasn’t so keen on Sky emblazoned on the Team GB kit at the world champs though.

    • Indeed, but look at what they just did to the Norwegian jersey of EBH; they stuck it in the Commonwealth mould of white jersey with hoops destroying an iconic jersey!

  10. @Rab Austen Having Sky on the Team GB kit is an unfortunate side-effect of the massive sponsorship they have put into British Cycling over the past few years. I’m not a huge fan of the current British National kit anyway (too 90s for my taste). But given how much money Sky give I’m willing to forgive them splashing their name on the national kit.

  11. At this point, in the US, due to the ability to take vast artistic license, the CX National Champ jersey often looks different than the road National Champ jersey, crit jersey, TT, jersey, etc. In order for something to mean something, it has to mean something. The only way for it to mean something is for the National Federations to standardize and regulate the design. Thus I believe that the National Champions should wear jerseys that are merely branded versions of the one they are awarded on the podium.

    The corporate branding argument is most likely BS. It is all about exposure. National Champions tend to get more exposure; sponsor branding (with proper colors) typically can be easily worked into standard jerseys. I very much doubt the sponsors are complaining while their riders are wearing the Maglia Rosa or Maillot Jaune!

  12. I agree with the others who’ve complained about the Radio Shack jerseys. I remember seeing Busche’s jersey for the first time and being shocked at how hard it was to tell from a regular Radio Shack jersey. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Norwegian champion’s jersey, although my memories of Hushovd winning stages while wearing it have been superseded by his two awesome stage wins in the rainbow jersey last year. My favorite jersey in recent memory was Dan Martin’s Irish champion jersey with the Garmin argyle in green.

    A couple of posters have also mentioned the kit that riders wear when representing their country in international competition. I miss the old days when they didn’t change every year, and would love to see the U.S. national team go back to the jerseys with the stripes running up the middle of the back. It seems they abandoned that sometime in the 90s if I recall correctly.

  13. One more thing: the reverse of all this happened a few years ago when the Toyota-United team shamelessly designed team kit that resembled the U.S. national champion’s jersey. If I recall correctly, it caused a bit of a scandal with USA Cycling, but they got away with it.

  14. interesting read thanx –
    i know for a fact that many people are not comfortable with the nationals colours in for example Spain – due to historical reasons – could that be an issue – when design decision are made?

  15. I haven’t seen a US champ kit that looked good in years. The rapha cx one at least uses the correct color values but missed the mark on the stripes. Compton’s kit is atrocious. The navy blue never looks good.
    It’s a tough flag to translate for sure but I have seen better attempts than what is going on now.
    I’m with Touriste-Routier.
    Standardize the jersey for all disciplines and go from there.

  16. If Scotland gain independance would the Union Flag be altered and would therefore the blue of GB red/white/blue become red/white? Just a thought 🙂

  17. I always assumed Valverde’s jersey in 2008 was less about branding and more about allowing him to hide in the Peleton for the Tour de France.
    Rodriguez stuck out like dog’s balls at the Giro in his Red and Yellow Caisse d’pargne kit.

  18. At least riders are actually vying for National honours.

    In Australia a few years ago, in the downhill MTB scene, riders were actively trying NOT to win, as they (ie their sponsors) did not want to have them wearing the Australian champions jersey for the year.

    This was changed a year or so later, but I can’t give you the specifics.

  19. @Chromatic Dramatic Is that why National downhill champions now have a universal way of displaying the colours? The flag is displayed from the shoulder down one sleeve, leaving the rest of the jersey for sponsors. I think it looks horrid, but at least there is a consistent rule!

  20. Great article, this has been a real bugbear of mine. With the red / white / blue I wondered how the Luxembourg national jersey would hold up. Aside from corporate/branding, pro teams are largely nationalistic, so why not show off the national jersey and make it obvious? Why minimise the design? Keep the corporate logo and differentiate the national jersey. Could it have anything to do with a national jersey being too identifiable in the peloton, as in a ‘marked’ rider?

  21. RSNT seems like it’s a whole other story as the general team kit resembles a national team kit (Luxembourg) and the other national kits on the team are minimized/lost in the wave of the Luxembourg national team kits.

  22. Priestie may be on to something. I remember the old story of the Italian national jersey sort of being used this way. I think Bartali was wearing the road version but Coppi had a gregario who had won it on the track. So Coppi asked his gregario to wear his jersey despite it being against the rules, just to wind up Gino. Since I’m in Sicily and have no access to the CycleItalia library this is from memory – if someone out there has their references handy they might correct/flesh out this story?

    • Fast Freddy Gonzales used the same bands around his sleeves when he rode for Davitamon Lotto to denote his former USA champ honour.
      Personally I like it better than the repeated flags ala George Hincapie.

      Also note that Philip Gilbert has this repeated flag style on to denote his former Belgian champ status on his new BMC team kit as opposed to a tricolour stripe ala Stijn Devolder.

  23. This used to be a problem in the MTB world (and probably still is). British riders in particular regularly refused to wear their champions jerseys because their teams and sponsors had persuaded them that the branding was more important than the kudos of being national champion.

    It got ugly with fines and threats bandied about and all kinds of shenanigans to avoid wearing the uncool jersey. Kinda sad really.

  24. Thanks Matt Carey – When I was involved with events this subject used to drive me crazy.

    Personally I didn’t give a damn if riders wore their “stripes” it was their loss. However it was a long tradition and the rules were there from the beginning of organised DH racing. It grew as a problem with the greedy creep of $ponsors, gravity riders are by-and-large rule ignorant when it suits them – a lot of them come across as prima-donnas in denial, surprised they don’t wear lace really (Oh! I forgot, you wouldn’t see the sponsors name on lace ;-).

    It seems that road sponsors are more creative than MTB ones. When I see DHrs I just see a blizzard of meaningless text, logos, colours and patterns on creased flappy (and unreadable) clothes but the sponsors still complain that they don’t have enough space. Road pros mainly get better coverage by having fewer sponsors with simpler designs (OK Italian teams don’t count) and ironically the skin tight clothes make the names/logos easier to read.

    Nevertheless I suppose it is sad that a fine tradition and recognition of talent is being diluted in the name of profit.

  25. I think the Italian teams logos are fairly easy to see with the exception of Gianni Savio’s Androni team which must drive their clothing folks (Santini) crazy. They no sooner started the season with a new kit but now added Venezuela to the jersey, which has been jokingly referred to as looking like a newspaper! They oughta just velcro the sponsor names on the jersey.

  26. The Radioshack and Movistar national champions jerseys are horrific. Liquigas are also following this trend.

    Every national champion jersey should either be a tricoloure (Gilbert/Chavanel/Terpstra etc. style) or rings against a plain white background (like Wiggins). Countries without three colours on the flag should do what J-Rod (2008) and Cancellara (2010) did.

    The Kazakh national jersey is ridiculous in a different way to the pathetic incorporated stripes jerseys – (far right hand side : s)

  27. Hands down, for years US national team jerseys and champions jerseys have probably been the fugliest in the amateur and pro pelotons. The 80’s versions were great. USA Cycling, please hire a proficient designer or just go back to the 80’s versions with some minor tweaks.

    I do know the FFC limits the design and amount of advertising on their national champions jerseys.

  28. I think Garmin-Cervélo took a really good stance on the national champion’s jersey with Murilo Fischer’s Brazilian Champion Jersey. They went all out with national colors and flag, but still kept the company’s branding, fonts and so on. Great design work. No compromises either way. Everyone is happy!

  29. I see Sky have also gone and dumbed down a national jersey. This time they have taken the Norwegian champ jersey of E.Boasson Hagen (which was big and bold when Thor wore it) and replaced it with a British style white jersey with national flag hoop.
    Such a shame as it was such a destinctive jersey, but I guess it’s all about sponsor exposure and being British (not Norwegian!)

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