Custom Jerseys and Bikes

Minutes after crossing the finish line a rider can stand on the podium with a leader’s jersey that’s got their sponsors on the front. How this is done was the subject of a few emails from curious readers during the year and it’s worth explaining this again.

Similarly here’s a look at the custom team bikes used by riders in the big races, how some teams come prepared and others prefer to keep the mechanics on standby.

How many yellow jerseys are there in the Tour de France?
Tour de France podium jersey
We might think one for every stage but that’s not true. When the rider stands on the podium they get a special podium version with a full zip at the back. They insert their arms and then five-time Tour de France champion Bernard Hinault uses his dainty fingers to zip up the jersey at the back in one quick move. So this is on for show. As soon as the rider steps down from the podium they go backstage to where race staff are waiting with a collection of yellow jerseys to be signed. The rider is given a big pen and they get to work signing several jerseys. So far these are all for show, the signed versions will go to VIPs invited for the day like the local mayor – after all his town hall has paid for the stage – as well as managers and preferred clients of LCL (ex Crédit Lyonnais), the French bank that sponsors the jersey. In addition to this the rider gets several jerseys for themselves, a lightweight mesh version, a thicker one and a long sleeve version too, these are meant for racing and come in the standard sizes, S-M-L etc. This can pose a problem for some riders are some teams have custom kit that is made to fit the rider and ensure it doesn’t flap in the wind or covers anatomical oddities, for example Hincapie clothing supply BMC Racing’s Alessandro Ballan with bespoke kit to suit his elongated arms.

As for how the jerseys are made, the photo above gives a clue. All are made in advance and a man in a van does the hard work to print the team sponsor logos on the jersey. Earlier in the year these graphics are agreed by teams and ASO so that everything is in place for the race, all that remains to be done is press the design on to a virgin jersey. The same is done for the other jerseys on the day and other races often do the same.

Custom bikes
No sooner than a rider gets a jersey then they seem to get a custom bike. Note this usually only holds true for the big races, take the lead in the Four Days of Dunkerque or the Vuelta a Burgos and your bike might get an extra coat of polish but no more.

The obvious and easiest change is bar tape. As the photo at the top shows mechanics can change the tape to match. It makes sense too because the extra attention means dirty bar tape has to go anyway so some matching rolls will help the bike look better. Look more closely at the image at the top and Hesjedal is on a custom painted frame, note the pink around the head tube.

Some teams will travel with custom frames but others won’t, just as some came with boxes of yellow helmets for the Tour last summer in case they led the team competition. It might feel wrong on superstitious grounds to come with a truck of yellow gear for the Tour but it’s professional and prudent to be ready in case good luck strikes.

Should their rider take the lead then the bike supplier starts offering overtime to some workers to paint the correct-sized frame in the evening and then someone will drive or courier the frame overnight to ensure the mechanics have time to build up the bike. There’s no accounting for taste and you might find a full polka-dot Colnago excessive, like the bike has got measles but I’ve just mentioned the name of Thomas Voeckler’s bike so the promotion has worked. And this is what the effort is about, it supports the rider but above all, it gets people talking and ensures extra photos of the special bike, even if it only special thanks to some yellow tape or pink paint.

The same of course holds true for everything else, from sunglasses to shoes. Again look at the picture of Hesjedal and you’ll spot pink shorts and a pink helmet.

The yellow jersey is the symbol of cycle racing and is yellow because the newspaper L’Auto which created the race in 1903 was printed on yellow paper just like La Gazzetta Dello Sport is printed on pink paper today and the maglia rosa of the Giro is pink. This is commercial branding from Day 1 of the race and it exists today, indeed marketing types must salute the genius of the Giro to have a pink jersey that promotes La Gazzetta whilst also selling space on the front to Balocco.

Given the media attention there are many jerseys produced sponsors and VIPs and riders often get custom bikes to cash in on the media attention and public gaze.

32 thoughts on “Custom Jerseys and Bikes”

  1. If memory serves, Mario Cipollini gets credit for some of this. I think he was one of the first to ride a yellow bike after taking the yellow jersey. I also seem to recall that the UCI used to have a thing about shorts being mostly black and Mario willingly paid fines for wearing bright red shorts as part of his Italian national champion’s kit at one point.

    The best ever sponsor logo printed on a leader’s jersey is when the then-new Slipstream team, prior to the Garmin sponsorship, won the opening TTT of the Giro in 2008. Christian Vande Velde wore a pink jersey the next day with a picture of a Chipotle burrito on it. I’m still bummed he didn’t keep the jersey very long just because I thought the burrito was so awesome.

    Unfortunately, there seems to be a trend in the last couple of years for bikes to use less and less paint, I guess to save weight (I’m not sure why anyone cares, given the UCI limits). Hesjedal’s winning bike isn’t pink, like they used to be, it just has some pink pinstripes. I hope this isn’t what the future holds. I miss the more flamboyant paint schemes we saw in years past.

  2. I remember seeing Cadel Evans posing for the usual publicity shots with a flute of champagne on a yellow BMC bike on the final stage of last year’s TdF, but swapping to a ‘normal’ black and red BMC long before they reached hurly-burly on the Champs-Elysées.

    I wondered if perhaps he didn’t trust the hastily assembled yellow bike?

  3. If you look carefully at the top photo you’ll notice that the Giro’s leaders jerseys are somewhat different from other races. All the category leaders jerseys (provided by Santini) feature a white panel where the team sponsor logos are printed. If you see a rider wearing a leaders jersey without this white panel, it most likely was not provided by the race, but by the team’s clothing supplier.

  4. The man who prints the jerseys at the Giro actually has the title of Giro Tailor.

    Like his father before him, Claudio Castellano is the official tailor for the race, and works in this profession for the other 11months of the year.

    Once, the sponsors logos were sewn onto the leaders’ jerseys hence the need for somone with those skills to do the job.

    Unlike the TdF where there is a special truck where alll of the jerseys are kept along with the machine that does the transfers, Claudio carries around a large sports bag with the transfers and different sized leaders jerseys inside.

    Old school. But that’s the Giro!

  5. When I saw the title I was hoping this post was about pro team’s custom kits (versus what the clothing sponsor sells to the public) and custom geometries and materials in the bike frames/components. Still interesting nonetheless.

  6. Brad Wiggens has an interesting section on the leaders jerseys in his new book. Very insightful and explains his problems with the Le Coq Sportif skinsuits (they have seams that rub on his arms)

    • I’ve not read Wiggins’ latest book, but there was a lot of talk around the Olympics of seams on skinsuits being aligned on the GB (and presumably Sky also) team skinsuits to reduce drag so it might have had as much to do with that as the actual fit. I recall someone at Team Sky saying that wearing the TdF supplied skinsuit instead of his team issue version could cost something of the order of 15 seconds over a 50km test (I forget the exact figure but it was significant).

      But hey, it’s all change next year; Sky will all we wearing tweed skinsuits with merino jerseys and hair sheep mitts….

  7. I always found it odd that the leaders jerseys of the Giro seem to be such low tech – I mean, I’d hate to be doing a hot and hilly day without the ability to unzip my jersey more than 15cm.

    • For the race issued jerseys… since they can’t sublimate over a zipper, the zipper needs to stop short of the white chest panel used for sublimating the team /sponsor logo’s.

      • Perhaps. However, the race issued long sleeve jerseys and skin suits have full zippers. Whether these race issued garments actually get used is another matter.

  8. Taste considerations deserve more consideration here… The yellow jersey is the yellow JERSEY. It means the jersey, not the shorts, not the bike, not the gloves, not the shoes, not the bar-tape: just the jersey. To paint the whole apparel yellow (or pink) adds little advertising value, as it doesn’t make the rider or anything about him more visible, and it does take away a lot of aesthetic value. (Yellow shorts, yuck, polka-dot shorts, aargh). On the other hand the yellow jersey is the YELLOW jersey. It means not the “yellow + the team’s colour” jersey. This does decrease the advertising value of the jersey, because it makes it less recognizable, and also the aesthetic value, because the jersey becomes, I think, less elegant and iconic than it would be if it was all yellow, with black “captioning”. And one reads that the explanation is that “earlier in the year these graphics are agreed by teams and ASO”, it makes me want to remind ASO that it is the TdF organizer, the guarantor of the race’s style and character, and that races are the only thing permanent in this sport, so they don’t need to listen to team sponsors.
    To think that in the 80s Lévitan would fine a rider if his shoes were not black…

    • I sympathize, but without reinstituting the black shorts/white socks rules (and add in a white helmet rule too since color regulation pre-dates helmet requirements), a yellow jersey doesn’t always looks good with team kit. What’s the big harm in a little coordination?

  9. Good catch on Cadel’s bike , more to do with comfort than worry about the bike build IMHO ! Saddles take a few hours to adjust to the derriere in most cases . That is why i always prefer the carbon San Marco over leather .
    Even at the smaller races , there are several workers behind the podium trying to prepare the ” Podium Shirts ” in the time that the Candidates are ” washing up ” in preparation for the presentation . In previous years the winner had time to scoot back to the team Pullman but with the ” Chaperone’s scrutiny ” now required , the back area of the podium becomes a hive of activity .

    Those of you that want change in the current malaise of Cycle Racing should head over to :

    Also lend your help to the following petitions :


  10. “Again look at the picture of Hesjedal and you’ll spot pink shorts and a pink helmet.”

    Ryder should be more careful when dressing for the day. 😐

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