How much do you know about the Tour de France’s holy grail? 81 fascinating facts and figures about the legendary yellow jersey.
- By Bruce Hildenbrand
1. The yellow jersey knows pain: When Miguel Indurain destroyed the field in the first time trial at the 1992 Tour, taking the lead by more than three minutes, he was suffering from a horrific toothache. On the rest day before the first mountain stage, he was secretly smuggled away from the race to a dentist more than 160 km away, where the rotten tooth was extracted. Indurain went on to win the second of his five consecutive victories.
2. According to the rules, the previous year’s winner of the Tour de France is allowed to wear the yellow jersey at the start of the event, but—whether out of superstition or respect for the other riders—very few winners, and none in the past 25 years, have flaunted the golden tunic on the first day.
3. In 1958, the yellow jersey changed hands a record 11 times.
4. In 1929, 1958 and 1987, a record eight different riders wore the yellow jersey.
5. Fittingly, more French riders—93—have worn the jersey than those of any other nationality. Belgium has had 58 different riders in yellow, followed by Italy, with 27. French riders have made the final claim on yellow the most: 36. Belgium is next with 18, and Spain is third with 12.
6. In 1952, “Il Campionissimo” Fausto Coppi won the race for the second time, triumphing on Alpe d’Huez the first time it was included in the Tour.
7. Englishman Chris Boardman won the yellow jersey in the prologue in 1994, 1997 and 1998 (in which he crashed out of the race while wearing yellow).
8. Italian Gino Bartali first won the Tour in 1938—and didn’t claim yellow for good again until 10 years later, when he was 34 and won seven stages in the process.
9. In 2005 Dave Zabriskie lost the yellow jersey when he crashed in the team time trial. Lance Armstrong, who inherited the jersey, refused to start in yellow the next day out of respect for his former teammate, but race officials halted the stage until Armstrong donned the maillot jaune.
10. In the 1971 Tour, Luis Ocaña appeared to be on his way to besting his archrival, Eddy Merckx. On a horribly rainy day in the Pyrenees, Ocaña crashed heavily while descending the Col de Mente and had to abandon. Merckx refused to wear the yellow jersey the following day—and the race carried on.
11. Yellow Rosebud: The official starter for the Tour in 1950 was Orson Welles.
12. In 1951, the first Dutchman to wear the yellow jersey, Wim van Est, crashed on the descent of the Col d’Aubisque, went over a rock wall, and ended up more than 60 metres down the side of a cliff. Rescuers looped tubular tyres together, lowered them to van Est and pulled him up.
13. Swiss rider Hugo Koblet, who won the Tour in 1951, was nicknamed “The Pedaler of Charm” and kept a comb, wet sponge and cologne in the pockets of his yellow jerseys so he could look and smell good at the end of stages.
14. In 2004, Frenchman Thomas Voeckler was essentially granted possession of the yellow jersey when Lance Armstrong’s U.S. Postal Service team declined to chase Voeckler’s breakaway, which ultimately gained nine minutes over the peloton. He turned luck into guts by stubbornly holding the coveted shirt through the Pyrenees, emerging with a scant three-second margin over eventual winner Armstrong.