Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ranking the Jerseys

A few months ago, my buddy Mark Followill (the TV Voice of the Mavericks, who is also a huge pro cycling fan) asked me a question: Is it more prestigious for a rider to win the overall at the Tour of California, or the white jersey for Best Young Rider at the Tour de France? A solid question--the TOC has turned into one of the biggest early season stage races on the UCI calendar--but my answer was the white jersey at the Tour, because, well, it's the Tour. To set yourself apart on the sport's biggest stage makes more of an impact on your career than winning a much lesser stage race.

His question got me thinking about the prestige factor of the various jerseys in the sport of pro cycling, so I've decided to rank them. For the purposes of this list, we're going to say the rider wins the jersey, not just wears the jersey--in other words, he wins the Tour's white jersey in Paris, not just wears it for a day in week one.

1. Maillot Jaune, Tour de France

This is the obvious number one. However, if I was given the choice of wearing the yellow jersey for just one day early in the race or winning the World Champion's or Giro's jersey, I would easily take winning those vs. wearing yellow. Yes, the career of many a racer has been made complete by just wearing yellow for a day in the Tour--it changes their lives, and they can dine out on that moment in the sun forever. But the true legends of the sport don't just wear yellow, they win yellow. Still, it is, without question, the most prestigious piece of cloth in cycling, and always will be.

2. Rainbow Jersey, World Champion

The best thing about winning the rainbow jersey is that you earn the right to wear it for the next 364 days. Every race you take part in, you will be recognized as the World Champion. The event itself is a one-day race, but it's the biggest one-day race on the calendar. And, when worn with traditional black shorts, it's the best look in the peloton.

3. Maglia Rosa, Tour of Italy

The pink jersey (insert joke here) is worn by the leader (or winner) of the Tour of Italy, the second most prestigious Grand Tour in the world. I rank the pink just behind the rainbow, because I believe most riders would rather be World Champion than win the Giro--because when you win the World's, you are the best of the best one-day racers, but when you win the Giro, you are the best of the second-best Grand Tour riders (behind the winner of the Tour). Still, the Maglia Rosa is a beautiful, tradition-rich, romantic garment. If you win it, you become a legend.

4. Red Jersey, Tour of Spain

For years, the leader of the Vuelta a Espana wore a yellow-ish, golden-ish jersey. A few years ago, race organizers decided to set themselves apart from the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, so they switched to red. There are three Grand Tours (three week stage races), and the Tour of Spain is definitely the third of the three. But it's still a major event, and the Roja is the fourth most prestigious jersey a racer can capture.

5. Polka Dot Jersey, Tour de France

It's the most obnoxious jersey in the sport, but also one of the most recognized and revered. The competition has become a bit bastardized over the years (many times the winner is not actually the best climber in the Tour, but instead the best at winning enough points along the way), but the winner instantly becomes one of the most popular faces in the sport. To be called "the best climber in the best race" has a nice ring to it. Winners include Tour idols such as Coppi, Bartali, Bahamontes, Gaul, Jimenez, Van Impe, Merckx, and Hinault.

6. Green Jersey, Tour de France

Ranks slightly behind the Tour's Polka Dots. The Maillot Vert goes to the leader/winner of the Points Classification, or the best sprinter in the race. Legends like Van Looy, Merckx, Hinault Maertens, Kelly, Zabel and Boonen have all won this jersey. Because the most romantic aspect of the Tour de France are the climbs, the prestige of the Polka Dots ranks just ahead of the prestige of the Green. But it's close.

7. Yellow Jersey, Tour of Switzerland

Looking very much like the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, the yellow of the Tour de Suisse is, nevertheless, very prestigious. While not a Grand Tour, the TDS is recognized as the fourth most important stage race on the calendar.

8. Yellow Jersey, Paris-Nice

I might have placed this jersey above the Tour of Switzerland jersey had the Paris-Nice organizers kept the traditional white jersey look for their race leader. In 2008, they went to an all-yellow jersey, much to the chagrin of those velo-nuts who loved the white jersey look. Both the Tour of Switzerland and Paris-Nice (which is a week-long stage race) began in 1933, and both have been won by many big names in the sport. They are almost equal in terms of prestige.

9. Belgian National Champion Jersey

Practically every country holds a one-day national championship race, but no country's champion is more respected than the Belgian's. If you are the crowned best of Belgium, then you are a true badass. Plus, the color scheme (black, yellow, red) is very cool, and stands out in the group. It's a race so difficult to win that Merckx only won it once. Like the World Champion's jersey, you get to wear a national champion jersey in every race for the next year, adding to the prestige.

10. Italian National Champion Jersey

The wearer of the green, white and red tricolor is worshiped in cycling-crazed Italy, and respected throughout the peloton.

11. French National Champion Jersey

One of the "Big Three" national championship jerseys, the French winner's garment also comes with a storied history. Bobet, Poulidor, Hinault and Fignon are just a few of the legends who won this race.

12. (tie) Yellow Jersey, Criterium du Dauphine
Yellow Jersey, Tour de Romandie

Yes, more yellow. These races both started in 1947, and both have been won by some very big names. They are each on a level below the big stage races listed above, but they rank above the bevy of "other" stage races around the world.

14. White Jersey, Tour de France

Awarded to best rider under the age of 26 at the Tour, this jersey has a high prestige factor because it announces you as a future star in the world's biggest race. Several winners of the white jersey have gone on to win the yellow jersey, including Fignon, LeMond, Pantani and Ullrich. It also means you get to stand on the final podium in Paris, one of the highest honors in the sport.

15. (tie) Blue Jersey (Mountain Classification), Tour of Italy
Red Jersey (Sprint Classification), Tour of Italy

Great trophies for any climber or sprinter to have, but not nearly in the same league as the Polka Dot and the Green from the Tour de France.

Honorable Mention:

The Cycling Jersey Czar has spoken.