On National Jerseys

Fabio Aru’s Italian champion jersey lasted one day. After finishing 2017 in the Italian flag he was unveiled on the 1 January in a jersey that had the smallest hint of Italian design. This caused some outrage and mockery on social media; and serious enquiries too. The result was that the jersey has been changed. With this in mind why do teams seem to offer such different versions of these jerseys and what, if any, are the rules surrounding their design?

Fabio Aru’s jersey displayed the Italian tricolore around the belly, or at least it displayed the green, white and red we associate with the Italian flag. That flag is made up of vertical bands while Aru’s jersey had horizontal bands which was closer to the Iranian flag than anything else, rather ironic given the UAE is at war in Yemen by proxy with Iran.

Aru’s now sporting a new jersey. Perhaps the timing has played a part because if this was unveiled after the national championships in June and he started riding the Tour de France everyone’s attention would be on the race and the jersey would quickly become established. At least this is what happens when a Movistar wins and gets a jersey which appears to have as little yellow and red as possible. Whatever the reason the team backed down, a reminder this is still the Lampre team of recent times. The presence of a big blue chip sponsor in Emirates, a large airline, can take us away from what is still a family business managed by the Saronni family rather than the professional marketing department of a global brand. This helps explain why the team dropped their Twitter account that still has 75,000 followers to launch a new one that a year later has only a tenth; and when the team landed Emirates didn’t change the name. Similarly Dan Martin joined thinking he’d be leader for the Tour de France only to read this may not be happening as team management make noises about backing Fabio Aru for the Tour too.

Ultimately who pays the piper calls the tune and the sponsors get kit designed in their image. Essentially the kit is a form of uniform and at presumably at UAE Emirates, a team backed by a nation, they want their identity and not that of a another country. All big brands have “style guides” setting out the font used, the exact Pantone colours of the logo and much more, often the rules can run to many pages but the idea is simple, to ensure the same, consistent branding. Imagine if Fabio Aru wins a summit finish, this is valuable publicity and the sponsors want their logos on display, not some alternative blend with the Italian flag. It holds true for all jerseys, BMC Racing have gone from the strong red and black look to something resembling a harlequin’s pyjamas thanks to sponsorship from Tag Heueur, a watchmaker, and new for 2018, Sophos, a software company.

There are rules… but they’re not what you might think. As the screengrab above shows the UCI’s rules refer to where the sponsor logos go, the prominence of the national flag is not mentioned. They also say the national federation has to approve but that’s it, effectively the local federation get a veto but how often would a federation say no to their flagship World Tour team? Also the pro teams can point to precedents and other teams such as Movistar’s discreet versions or Astana’s jersey for Nibali.

One solution here could be to have some common UCI rules. Teams have to live with the rules on the design of the world champion’s jersey and also rules for continental confederations which is why Aru got a “lite” jersey and European champion Alexander Kristoff gets a full white outfit. Applying similar common standards to national teams could make sense but the whole point of the UCI is that it is a union of federations and so each federation will want their own design. Besides it’s not so simple to have a common standard given different flags with their bands, stripes, crosses and motifs.

Not all pro teams see a disinctive jersey as a problem. FDJ seem particularly proud of it and see how the jerseys of Arnaud Démare and Ramon Sinkeldam are basically flags with sleeves. Team manager Marc Madiot makes a point out of keeping the jersey free from the big sponsor logos. But this is in part because FDJ has been a very French team and so the maillot tricolore has been a target for the team, both as a race and as a marketing tool for their French audience as opposed to something won by a lone rider in a more esoteric national championships.

All this confuses many onlookers. Is a national championship a prestigious win or a burden for the team. The answer is it’s what we want it to be, or rather it’s up to the teams to signal what they make of it. But there seems to be a trend for teams to downplay the national flag as corporate branding seems ever more important.

But how much should we celebrate the national jerseys? After all one of the peloton’s charms is its internationalism, here is a sport where you can root for a team without having to pick a country. But the national champion’s jersey doesn’t seem boastful or representative, it’s an attempt to promote one nation ahead of the others. If anything it’s the opposite, only one rider per country wear it. So it doesn’t seem to be a refuge for patriotic scoundrels, just a symbolic icon.

Teams design their jerseys and this includes those for any reigning national champions. Sponsors often want a uniform look to match their brand guidelines and national designs can get in the way. The UCI has next to no rules here, instead it’s up to each federation to approve the design and so is local and variable which can be confusing.

50 thoughts on “On National Jerseys”

  1. Do I understand it well that the national federation of the country where the team is based has the last word? Since today I have been thinking it has to be approved by the champion’s national federation.

  2. Hard to believe G. Saronni would have raced in such an insult to the national champion, but back then the sponsors were most often Italian rather than the corrupt regimes and dodgy plutocrats so prevalent today. But nobody to blame here except the sport itself for allowing this sad situation to develop. I wonder if/when things will change for the better?

    • You’re aware that setting Italia against “corrupt regimes and dodgy plutocrats” is a bit of a joke itself. Corruption and plutocracy were invented long ago in Italy while some Bedouin in fisherman houses still fished for pearls in the gulf. Can’t see much differnce between the Sheik of Bunga or those of Bahrain.

  3. Its certainly difficult to understand how the Italian national road champion, of a country well known for its strong nationalist feelings, would appear in public in such a non descript garment. This constant abuse of national jersey’s is to be much regretted.

    There was a time not so long ago, when any non champion wearing anything approaching a national jersey, would be frowned upon. It now appears that pro riders themselves don’t feel the need to honour their own victory.

  4. It comes down to who signs the checks.

    We can wish that was not the case. I wish that national pride would start with the my country spending more for youth cycling development like the UK, and not about how prominent the national jersey.

  5. As a slight aside, am I right in thinking that when Dan Martin left Garmin (as it was then) for Quickstep, he was finally able to put the tricolour legacy bands (ie the stripes on the the sleeve and collar denoting his previous win of the Irish national champs) on his jersey? It only struck me when he left that no Slipstream ex-nat champs had the bands unlike other teams. Was this a deliberate policy by the team and are any other World Tour teams who follow suit?

    • I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I have never ever noticed that former national champions, too, can wear sleeve stripes!
      But apparently it wasn’t always so – and if I understood correctly it was only in Martin’s last season with Team Cannondale−Garmin (as the name was that year) that he could have worn the nat champ piping. UCI rule issued in January 2015:

      Article 1.3.068 –
      Concerning the use of National Champion piping on competition clothing
      Just as the rainbow piping represents the title of World Champion, piping in the colours of a country’s national flag represents the title of National Champion.
      In order for the general public to understand these symbols, it is essential that the use of such piping is subject to strict guidelines and protection and is uniformly applied by the teams.
      From 1 January, a new provision will allow a former national champion “to wear on […] the cuffs […] of the shorts, piping in national colours in accordance with the National Federation’s technical specifications”

      My interpretation is that this piping is not mandatory (unlike the WC and OC stripes) and teams can therefore have different policies.
      It’s one more thing to look forward to – being able to spot the piping and seeing which former national champions in which teams have them and which do not:-)

        • Goes to show how ignorant and clueless I have been on this issue (and quite probably that is not the end of the list)!
          It must then be the case that prior to 1 January 2015 there was no UCI guideline and the only thing that changed from 31 December 2014 was that now there was “a strict guideline and protection” for such piping…

          • I must express my amazement at this sleeve stripe sized blank in my memory! I only had to do a picture search on Jussi Veikkanen and among the many photos of him in his national champion jersey there was no shortage of pic of him in his FDJ jersey with the blue cross on white of the Finnish flag – and of course I could remember seeing and noticing them at the time!

            The more interesting question now is that which teams had a policy of not giving the ex nat champs in their roster the chance to wear the piping they were entitled to.

  6. Good to see Sinkeldam gets to ride the rest of his year as a national champion in a true championship jersey. I very much like the Giant-Sunweb team but their Dutch national champions’ jersey was a joke (not unlike the UAE, Movistar and Astana renditions).

  7. UAE’s actions in creating a genocide in Yemen makes them yet another team that I wish zero success for.
    A lot of sponsors have shady reputations – Sky, for example, are an obvious choice – but despotic regimes is where I draw the line and that includes Baharin-Merida and Israel Cycling Academy.

    • Agreed, if fans banish Sky for it’s indiscretions then you have to banish Quickstep, Movistar, BMC (Phonak), Cofidis, AG2R, FdJ, Astana, Canondale, etc. You’d be left with 5-6 ProTour teams.

      Just give them huge monetary punishments and I’d give Brailsford an unpaid 2-3 year suspension.

      The UCI accepting Genocidal despots are nuts! Clearly there’s no due diligence or vesting of potential sponsors.

    • Sadly, it seems that organizations with “shady reputations” are about the only ones left willing to spend sponsorship loot on big-time pro cycling teams. The ice cream makers, kitchen suppliers, building supply companies, etc. that used to sponsor Italian teams are long gone. What company with any integrity would want their product connected with a team that can go from hero to zero via another in the constant drip, drip, drip of doping scandals? Yet another new UCI boss has a chance to clean things up…but will anything really change?

      • You are correct Larry. BUT, Look at all the big sports of today, and you will see similar trends. Soccer sponsorship makes Pro bike sponsorship appear benign.

        Much as we might not like it, the world has changed. Until the shadow and scourge of doping is truly removed from our sport – and recent events make the point yet again, I am afraid we are left with what we have.

        • Is it fair to say, if UAE, Baharin-Merida and Israel Cycling Academy did on an airplane what they have done to cycling, it would be considered a HIGHJACKING?

          • What are you on about? UAE, Bahrain-Merida and Israel Cycling Academy have barely made a dent in pro cycling.

            Your other comment to get rid of all doping-history teams is equally naive. If you got rid of all teams who’ve touched doping in the past you’d have 0 teams left.

    • Do Sky – the TV company – have a dodgy reputation? I’m fairly sure they don’t. What have they done wrong apart from charging money for football?

      • Painted with the Murdoch brush, sadly. Though it always intrigued me how Steve Coogan made some Alan Partridge with Sky Atlantic having thrown the News of the World under the bus so spectacularly.

  8. Actually, the teams – from WT and down – often forward designs for approval to the national federations. I can recall at least 3 or 4 occasions during the last 10 years where we had discussions with teams on designs we did not readily approve despite the rider or team being high profile. So basically this falls back on the national federation not the team if the design is ugly – as some really. But some colours are really difficult to connect to team colours 😉
    It is my impression that the teams take pride in having national champions riding. And during the team managers meeting it shall be noted that NCs must wear their jerseys – if not wearing a leader’s jersey.

    • And the designs are often pre-registered with the federations, so the first few sets of new kit can be printed immediately and sent out to the rider in time for their next race.

      Team TIBCO-SVB will be under the pump this week, they get less than four days from Shannon Malseed winning the Australian women’s road race on Sunday to her riding for the team in the WTDU on Thursday. I’m guessing they will have some sort of kit procured from Cycling Australia for this race and sort out the permanent version in time for her next race.

      • I remember reading somewhere that every rider will have some preparation done Incase they do win like at grand tours celebratory bikes and stuff

  9. Hoping someone can answer this for me…

    Seeing both MVP and now Kristoff in their respective European Champions jerseys is great. It’s such a nice kit and worthy of being displayed. In MVP’s case, he wears it instead of his Dutch national kit, as this makes sense (if he wins World’s he would don the rainbow stripes…). Now, the Americas have a PanAm championship and in every article written about the PanAm CX Championships, there’s mention of winning the “prestigious PanAm jersey”…but…neither Hyde nor Compton wear it, despite winning. They still wear the Stars & Stripes. Why? Is it just that they’re more proud of being distinctively American in races? I was under the impression that winning the PanAm’s (like winning the Euros) would override your National kit. I can’t imagine MVP being allowed to continue to wear the Euro stripes if he won Worlds (not that he would want to, but you follow my logic…).

    • It’s always your option to wear whichever one you want. Even if there’s a rule, it’s so hard to enforce. I bet Kristoff would wear Norwegian champ jersey instead of Euro champ if he had it.

      • I thought there was a hierarchy of jerseys, WC, continental champ, national champ. Then WC jersey trumped by any in race jersey, gc, points etc. That’s why a couple of years ago Sagan won the European champs, but we never saw the jersey as he was world champ!

        • Almost correct. If a cup/series has a leader’s jersey (Women’s WorldTour has this, ProTour used to have one, the WorldTour does not, various national race series do as well) then that comes after the world champion’s jersey and before continental or national jerseys.

          Race jerseys only trump other championship/cup/series jerseys if the rider is the actual leader of the classification, not the second-placed rider wearing the jersey on loan because the real leader also leads another classification. If next week’s Tour Down Under starts with a stage won by Greipel with Sagan in 2nd and Ewan in 3rd (and the same standings in the points) Greipel would wear the GC leader’s jersey, Sagan would keep the rainbow jersey and the points jersey would be loaned to Ewan for the second day.

          On the issue of continental championship jerseys, they are optional. A rider could theoretically choose to prioritise their national championship jersey if they held both titles, though it doesn’t happen that often.

  10. It is sad to see a team paying so little respect to a jersey that has been worn by legends such as Binda, Bartali, Coppi, and Gimondi, and more recently, Nibali. It strikes me as strange that a team with a significant Italian influence would allow this. If Kristoff gets to wear angel white even sporting a diminished regime stamp, couldn’t they at least have printed the colors of il Tricolore in their correct vertical orientation? In its current configuration, it is impossible to tell whether Aru is in fact the reigning Iranian or Hungarian Champ.

    If I were Aru, I would put my foot down, and demand that the flag of my country should at least be represented correctly on my company uniform.

    • Take another look back through historical photos of Italian national champion (including Binda and Coppi); the national champion’s jersey has always featured horizontal stripes/colours.

      One could also ask why the British national champion wears horizontal red, white and blue stripes (is it the Dutch flag? The Luxembourg one?) rather than a Union Flag.

      In a race situation, I find the colour combinations alone are enough to aid recognition.

      • The British national jersey is an old design – take a look at the British Athletics vests back in the 1950s for instance, this one was Sir Roger Bannister’s –


        This simple but classic style remained unchanged until the early 1990s.

        The national cycling jersey, and many other sports, followed this same style.
        I like it, and I very much approve of its unchanged use.
        (In fact, Rapha have adopted a classic vintage look to much of their kit design with a lot of use of horizontal bands in particular).

      • Horizontal bands in the national sporting colours are the true traditional national championship jerseys. They are not supposed to be representations of national flags, anyone who brings up this ridiculous Italy/Hungary point is simply showing their ignorance of the sport’s history.

        Originally the extra bands were simply hand-sewn onto regular team kit!

        The full-body national championship kits are a fairly new innovation, and one that I hope quickly passes out of fashion. Full jerseys work well when it’s actually a design (e.g. New Zealand, Australia) but they just look pretentious when it’s a full-body tricolour.

  11. Apologies- is the euro champ jersey a new thing? I know Sagan didn’t wear it because he was world champion but I don’t remember seeing it in years gone by.

    Also .. never understood movistar’s approach. They’re massive in Spain so why not go all out with a fdj-style flagkit?

    • There are two issues at play here:

      1. Continental jerseys are optional. I’m sure if Kristoff (2017 winner) was also the national champion of Norway that he would prefer to ride with his national colours, as Jonathan Castroviejo did when he held both the Spanish and European ITT titles.

      2. Until 2015, the European Road Championships only went up to U23 riders and the champion should only have worn the jersey when riding in U23 races – though Kasia Niewiadoma was a bit sneaky and wore hers in elite races. Anna van der Breggen was the first rider to wear the European jersey in a road race after winning the women’s elite race.

      On the Spanish jersey thing, Movistar have opted to keep the Spanish flag quite small as a way of avoiding getting involved in Basque/Catalan political issues.

  12. The European road race championships only got introduced to elites in 2016 and Sagan won last year and so only did a couple of races in it so hasn’t had a proper appearance yet.

    • What do you mean? Specialized make some of the best bikes in the works, even though I don’t like their style. Anyway the top bikes don’t really have any major performance differences. I do prefer colnagos anyway

  13. So can anyone explain the difference between Nibali’s and Aru’s champion’s jerseys when with Astana? Same team, same national federation, but I recall Nibali wore just the bands across the belly of the Astana blue kit, and Aru had the full tricolore from head to toe.

  14. Why do many of the national champion jerseys flip the stripes sideways? I just did a quick search and saw that many of the Italian and French national champs had their vertical strips horizontal for the actual jersey. Why do they do this?

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