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To wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France is a highlight in any cyclist’s career—even if it’s just for a day. The yellow jersey is awarded at the end of each stage to the rider with the lowest overall time (see “General Classification” in Chapter 1 to see how this is calculated). Why is it a yellow jersey? Well, the organizing newspaper, L’Auto, was originally printed on yellow newsprint, so when organizer Henri Desgrange decided to give the leader a distinctively colored jersey he decided on yellow. That choice also fit in with his goal of making the race leader more visible to the roadside spectators.
The very first yellow jersey, knitted from wool, was awarded to Eugene Christophe in 1919, following that Tour’s stage 10 from Nice to Grenoble. Counting the years before the race leader wore yellow, close to 300 riders have led the Tour de France. The highest number of yellow jersey holders in a single Tour is eight. That happened in 1956, when Roger Walkowiak took the final lead at the end of the final mountain stage, four days from the finish, and 1987, when Stephen Roche took the final yellow jersey in a time trial, twenty-four hours before the end. The only times that the winner of the opening stage has defended the yellow jersey for the remainder of the Tour came before World War II: Ottavio Bottecchia in 1924, Nicolas Frantz in 1928, and Romain Maes in 1935.
Today, to give the race maximum interest, the organizers plan the course with the goal that the final winner doesn’t emerge until near the end of the final week—though that plan often goes awry. It’s possible to win the Tour without winning a single stage. That has happened seven times, including Greg LeMond’s third overall victory in 1990 and Chris Froome’s fourth win in 2017.
The yellow jersey sponsor, LCL bank, was founded in the city of Lyon—whose symbol is a lion, which also became associated with Cr dit Lyonnais, LCL’s original name. As a result, a toy yellow lion is presented to the yellow jersey holder every day, while a larger stuffed lion is presented to the final winner in Paris.
In honor of the Tour’s founding race director Henri Desgrange, the initials “HD” are featured on the front of every yellow jersey.
In his seven participations at the Tour de France, Eddy Merckx wore the yellow jersey a record 111 times. After him in the record books come four other multiple winners: Bernard Hinault (seventy-nine), Miguel Indurain (sixty), Chris Froome (fifty-nine), and Jacques Anquetil (fifty-two).
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