World Champions – Fashion, History and the ‘Curse’…or ‘Should the World Champion wear black shorts?’

Being World Champion is good for many reasons. Obviously, you are World Champion, and for a year, you get to wear the cherished rainbow jersey, and after that, you get to emblazon your jersey with rainbow piping to ensure everyone recognises both you and your achievement. You’ll get lots of daft commercial endorsements as well – Boonen got Nivea for Men, Northwave shoes, Mattresses and a weird looking ham, whilst the less lucky Cavendish had to make do with Head and Shoulders shampoo. You can also be assured that your contract is going to be swelling in relation to the size of its pay packet, so you should be comfortable for a while in that respect.

But by far the best bit, and of the most interest to fans, is what you decide to do with the rainbow jersey. But surely, you ask, it’s just a white jersey with five equal sized bands of blue, red, black, yellow and green? Oh no. The rider’s can play to their hearts content with this colour combination, and create their own unique fashion take on the jersey. No longer is the rainbow jersey just a jersey, but an extension of the character of its wearer, hence the flamboyant will ensure that no inch of their bike escapes a white bleaching followed by a liberal but tasteful dousing in rainbow stripes. Helmets, bikes, glasses, wheels, even tyres – none are safe. And it is for this reason that we now have the most quarreled over question (with only mild exaggeration) in the pantheons of cycling – should a World Champion have to wear black shorts?

To help stem the *ahem* excitement whilst we wait for Gilbert to unveil his wonderful white tunic to the world, here’s a brief history of the winners of the worlds since 1999, how their seasons went, whether or not they were affected by the dreaded ‘Curse of the Rainbow jersey’ and most importantly, what their kit looked like. Enjoy!

1999 Verona – Oscar Freire (Spain)

1999 was they year an unknown Spaniard who had only turned professional the year before with Vitalicio Seguros, and had only taken one win in his career at Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, suddenly won the World Championships from a small group including Jan Ullrich and Frank Vandenbrouke. He immediately joined the Mapei team for 2000, and the team set him on a not particullarly blinged up Colnago and dissapointingly, Freire road only in standard Mapei get up but with the rainbow jersey on.

Wins: 9, including two stages of the Vuelta a Espana and two stages of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Placings: Took the bronze at the World Championships, and 3rd in Milan-San Remo.

Did he change teams? Changing teams, as you will see, seems to be a perennial feature of being World Champion. Freire moved from Vitalicio Seguros to Mapei-QuickStep.

Did he experience the Curse? 2000 is arguably one of Freire’s best seasons precisely because he actually rode most of the way through rather then being injured, and taking a good helping of victories, so the answer is no.

How did the rest of their career go? See 2001.

2000 Plouay – Romans Vainsteins (Latvia)

Fear not: everyone said precisely the same thing, ‘who the hell is Romans Vainsteins when the Latvian passed current World Champion Freire and even more obscure Polish rider Zbigniew Spruch to win the Millenium edition of the race. The Latvian’s strongest season had been 1999, when he’d won 7 races, but his 2001 was much weaker, so much so that there are barely any pictures of him in the rainbow jersey, unless that is it’s one with Erik Zabel beating him. Vainsteins chose a weird sponsor heavy jersey, and committed the cardinal error of separating the stripes on his flank with a sponsor’s logo. Criminal.

Wins: 2, A stage of Tirreno-Adriatico and one of Vuelta a Catalunya

Placings: Vainsteins didn’t actually have a bad year, apart from the fact it’s never good to have good placings when you’re world champ, as you stick out like a sore thumb and everyone concentrates on you. Vainsteins got 2nd in HEW Cyclassics, 3rd in Milan San-Remo, 6th in Paris Tours, 3rd in Paris-Brussels and Paris Roubaix and even took third in the World Cup.

Did he change teams? Vainsteins moved from Vini Calderola – Sidermec to Domo Farm Frites.

Did he experience the Curse? Not really – he had a pretty good season, just lacking the volume of wins that would have made him a great World Champion. It was the following years that were ‘cursed’…

How did the rest of their career go? Vainsteins won one more race in the three years that remained of his career

2001 Lisbon – Oscar Freire (Spain)

Yes, Oscar was back after winning a sprint with Paolo Bettini in his home country, to take his second world title. Still with Mapei-QuickStep, this time he was afforded a white bike with World champ decals, and the infamous Mapei blocks were even allowed to sit on a white background for his shorts to match better.

Wins: 3, including a stage of the Tour de France.

Placings: A lean year for Freire – he took 5th in Milan-San Remo as he defended his title, was 5th in Amstel Gold and even came third overall in Tirrenno Adriatico.

Did he change teams? Freire remained at Mapei-QuickStep

Did he experience the Curse? He certainly had a very lean year, but the injury problems that would smight his career were yet to truely affect him.

How did the rest of their career go? See 2004.

2002 Zolder – Mario Cipollini (Italy)

Italy came to the pan flat Zolder circuit with a plan most unlike them – they would work for one man, Cipollini, the fastest sprinter in the world, and would toe the field around until leading him out for glory. Cipollini thus topped an impressive podium with Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel taking the lower steps, and the man who flamboyantly wore togas to team presentations and Muscle skin suits wheeled out just about every component he could for the 2003 season decked out in rainbows. His shorts were particularly impressive, with a thick rainbow band around the thigh, but it’s hard to find a part of the bike or kit that doesnt feature them in some manner.

Wins: 4, two stages of the Giro d’Italia and two of Tirreno-Adriatico.

Placings: 4th in Milan San-Remo was the best the Lion King could manage.

Did he change teams? Cipollini transferred from Saeco to Domina Vacenze

Did he experience the Curse? Cipollini was, being DQed from Ghent Whevelgem, which he had won 3 times, for throwing a bottle, then getting his team in effect univited from the Tour de France for a spat with the organiser. Compared with his self titled ;perfect year’ of 2002, 2003 was very lean indeed. He did however finally succeed in breaking Alfredo Binda’s Giro stage win record with his second Giro stage win, taking him one above Binda to 42.

How did the rest of their career go? Cipollini was determined to break Alfredo Binda’s Giro Stage win record of 41, and had finally done so – he never won a stage of the Giro again. The big wins dried up, and despite a comeback with Rock Racing in 2008 following a couple of years in retirement, Cipo retired again for good later in the year, although he raised the prospect of a return to lead out Andrea Guardini, something which looked more like a stunt to sell his own brand of bikes.

2003 Hamilton – Igor Astarloa (Spain)

Astarloa’s season was more interesitng for the transfer merry-go-round it produced rather then his results. Having won Fleche Wallone and the Worlds, where he beat a young Valverde and ageing Van Petegem to the prize, he had secured a big money move to the booming Cofidis team, which already boasted the time trial world champion David Millar on its books. Astarloa thus moved from Saeco to Cofidis, and both gave him a lovely, white shorted kit, although Cofidis went a bit heavy on the logos. It turned out that Cofidis were a bit heavy on the drugs as well, and as the Cofidis scandal emerged and Millar was stripped of his jersey, Astarloa was able to move on, to Lampre, who took a while to rustle up a special bike for him but went with rainbow trimmed shorts. Impressively, Astarloa had managed to have three title sponsors on his rainbow jersey in under 12 months.

Wins: 1. Never a big winner anyway, Astarloa failed miserably in 2004, managing only a stage in the Brixia tour.

Placings: 4th inTirreno Adriatico, 3rd in Hew Cyclassics, 6th in Milan-San Remo.

Did he change teams? As discussed, Astarloa moved from Saeco to Cofidis, then from Cofidis to Lampre in May.

Did he experience the Curse? One win and a season blighted by doping scandals forcing team changes suggest that yes, Astarloa did get the curse.

How did the rest of their career go? Astarloa took little in the way of results, and was eventually pinged for blood doping by the UCI.

2004 Verona – Oscar Freire (Spain)

Oscar ;The Cat’ Freire must have thought all his Christmases had come at once when the worlds returned to Verona, scene of his first triumph. He promptly won again, beating Zabel to another silver medal. Freire was now at Rabobank, and had had a annus mirabilis in 2003, with Milan San-Remo (again from the clutches of Zabel), 2nd in Tirreno and a stage in the Vuelta. Unfortunately, his defense of these was cut short by a saddle sore, bu at least he had a nice Colnago to go with his stripy helmet and blue Rabobank shorts.

Wins: 7. Most impressively, Freire took 3 stages and the overall of Tirreno Adriatico.

Placings: 5th in Milan San-Remo and Fleche Wallone.

Did he change teams? No.

Did he experience the Curse? Freire got a saddle sore which forced him out of the rest of the season, and meant he couldn’t aim for a 4th world title in his home country, with the world in the capital Madrid. Saddle sores are evil, so that’s a curse in my book!

How did the rest of their career go? Freire has supposedly retired now after claiming to be about to do so a couple of times, but he can look back on an illustrious carrer – 3 Milan-San Remos, the Tour green jersey as well as 4 stages of the race, as well as a Ghent Whevelghem and Paris Tours. Whilst his strike rate declined, the quality increased dramatically, even if injury would rule him out of significant chunks of the season. It was once claimed that this kept him fresh to win the big races, rather then being a blight on his career, but I’m guessing he thinks the opposite.

2005 Madrid – Tom Boonen (Belgium)

After a stellar year that saw him take the Roubaix-Flanders double, Boonen promptly won the worlds in the Bunch sprint, and Belgium was in love. Boonen tried both white and blue shorts before settling on the blue ones, taking Flanders in the jersey again. He then became the first and only rider in history to wear a hybrid World Champion-ProTour jersey at Paris Roubaix, as the UCI tried to insist their all white job was more prestigous then the fabled rainbow bands, much to the annoyance of Belgium. In the end, the compromise, which just saw the blue piping added on the sleeves and neck, was only used once anyway. Boonen was also notoriously bling, with rainbow glasses, shoes, and even a diamond encrusted helmet to commemorate his achievement. His Time bike was also a work of art, even if he didn’t use it in Roubaix, glittering with rainbows across its tubes.

Wins: 21, including the Tour of Flanders, 4 stages and the overall of the Tour of Qatar, 3 stages of Paris-Nice, E3, Schiedelprijs, a stage of the Tour de Suisse and winning in front of Buckingham Palace on the Mall in London in the Tour of Britain. Phew.

Placings: 2nd in Paris Roubaix after riders infront of him were DQed for ducking under a train crossing (something Boonen also did…) 4th in Milan San Remo and 3rd in Kurne-Brussels-Kurne.

Did he change teams? No.

Did he experience the Curse? A stellar year by most people’s standards, the only dissapointment was the Tour de France, where Boonen joined a select group who had worn they yellow jersey as World Champion – sounds good, except that Boonen couldn’t win a stage, and was clearly frustrated, yet had to come up on the podium after his conqueror to take the malliot jaune. The only blotch on a glittering year.

How did the rest of their career go? Boonen couldn’t win either Cobbled classic on 2007, but made up for it by taking the Tour’s green jersey, but then the decline that at one point seemed to point out that his career was over set in – whilst he won Paris Roubaix in 2008 and 2009, he tested postitive for cocaine three times, and was not welcome at the Tour de France. Gilbert emerged as the new King of Belgium when he beat Boonen, who was symbolically clad in the Belgian tricolore, in a sprint at Paris Tours in 2009, and Boonen looked finished when he could manage just two wins in 2011, albeit one being Ghent Whevelgem. However, 2012 was arguably his best year, as he scooped the unprecedented Classics quadruple of  E3, Ghent Whevelghem, Flanders and Roubaix as well as taking the Belgian championships again.

2006 Sazburg/2007 Stuttgart – Paolo Bettini (Italy)

Paolo Bettini proved that if you wait for something long enough, two will come at once as he won the worlds twice in a row to become his generations top one day rider. Sadly, he almost ended his career soon after his first win as his brother, Sauro, was killed in car crash. Bettini destroyed the field at the Tour of Lombardy just days later and arrived at the line in tears, dedicating the win to his sibling.  Bettini had lean years in the jersey – he was near the end of his career anyway- but made up for that in the style he have off in white shorts, with the accents of Gold he added to his helmet as Olympic champion from Athens giving an extra sheen to his performance.

Wins: 2007 – 3, the Worlds again, a Vuelta stage and a stage in the Tour of California. 2008 – 6, including two stages of the Vuelta.

Placings: 2007 – 7th Amstel Gold. 2008- 4th, San Sebastian Classic.

Did he change teams? No.

Did he experience the Curse? His brother’s death is often cited, as is his lean pickings in the two years he held the jersey, which featured various high grand tour stage placings.

How did the rest of their career go? Bettini aimed to go to the worlds one last time and become the first to win three in a row in 2008, and planned to retire anyway even if he won. He didn’t, but has palmares including three Monuments and various stage wins in grand tours as well as Olympic gold and two rainbow jerseys. Not bad.

2008 Varese – Alessandro Ballan (Italy)

Ballan’s season was ruined by a virus which took him out of his favoured terrain, the spring classics, which was equally hurtful as he was looking to take back his Flanders crown. When he did race however, he was resplendent despite his gangly, hunched style, and the Willier he was provided with was gorgeous. It’s just a shame that Italy’s third champion in 3 years was out of the picture most of the time.

Wins: 2, a stage and the overall of the Tour of Poland.


Did he change teams? No.

Did he experience the Curse? Ballan contracted Cytomegalovirus, meaning he missed the Giro and the Spring Classics and wasn’t on form for the Tour.

How did the rest of their career go? Ballan became the first of the world champion exodus to BMC, and took strong placings in 2012, taking the podium at the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix. He is however still embroiled in a doping scandal stemming from his time at Lampre, and has been on and off suspension every so often.

2009 Menderiso – Cadel Evans (Australia)

Evans took a career changing win when he attacked the Cancellara-shattered group in Menderiso to take the win just down the road from his home. This certainly perked up his Silence-Lotto team, who had been annoyed at him after a poor showing at the Tour de France. They had however recruited some mountain help, only to find Evans had bought himself out of his contract to join BMC, leaving Lotto in limbo and with no chance to capitalise on the rainbow jersey. Evans as expected went for a black shorts look, but made up for this by honouring the jersey in spectacular fashion, taking the pink and yellow jerseys as well as the epic white road stage of the Giro.

Wins: 2 – Fleche Wallone and a Giro Stage

Placings: 5th in the Giro, 4th in Liege Bastonge Liege, 6th at the Tour Down Under.

Did he change teams? Evans moved from Silence Lotto to BMC.

Did he experience the Curse? Evans faltered due to BMC’s none ProTeam status, which meant he had to ride the Giro to impress the Tour organisers. The day he took yellow at the Tour, he also crashed and fractured his elbow – the tired, broken Evans was unable to challenge as he would the next year.

How did the rest of their career go? Evans returned to the Tour de France to win in 2011a s the oldest post War winner, completeing his career nicely, and then defended his title with an admirable 7th place.

2010 Geelong – Thor Hushovd (Norway)

After the best World’s race that I can certainly remember, Hushovd was forced into a move from Cervelo test team to Garmin Cervelo following the collapse of the former. This was a good thing, as the first bike Cervelo provided him with had the world champions colours in the wrong order, which drew some annoyed comments. Hushovd wore black shorts for the cobbled classics, which were the point he decided he would leave Garmin as well, after team orders prevented him trying to fufill his dream of winning Roubaix in the rainbow jersey. He quickly realised his error though, and reverted to white shorts for the Tour de France, where he held the yellow jersey for a week and took two stage wins, one over the Col d’ Aubisque, earning the race the name the Thor de France for a while.

Wins: 5 (including Tour de France TTT) including 2 Tour de France stages and stage of the Tour de Suisse.

Placings: 8th in Paris Roubaix.

Did he change teams? Hushovd moved from Cervelo Test Team to Garmin-Cervelo.

Did he experience the Curse? The curse seems to have been delayed one year given his excellent 2011 Tour…

How did the rest of their career go? Hushovd’s 2012 was miserable, missing out on the cobbled classics before having to abandon the Giro and miss the Tour and indeed the rest of the year due to a virus.

2011 Copenhagen – Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)

Cavendish took advantage of the GB freight train to win in Copenhagen, before joining his winning comrades at Team Sky. His HTC jersey looked rushed, with the bands not even going all the way around the jersey, but the Sky effort was much better. Unfortunately, Sky seem very keen on black, and so Cavendish opted only to change his jersey, even making his helmet even less colourful then the standard one, and not even going for rainbow gloves. When his bike was unveiled, it took a while to realise it had any rainbow details at all, until they were spotted in the Dogma logo and on the wishbone. Cavendish had his usual success though, even if he did crash more then usual, and was able to be on the Tour de France winning team.

Wins: 15, inclduing 3 Tour de France stages, 3 Giro d’Italia stages, 3 Tour of Britain Stages and Kuurne Brussels Kuurne.

Placings:  –

Did he change teams? Cavendish transferred from HTC-High Road to Team Sky.

Did he experience the Curse? Cavendish failed to achieve any of his season’s goals – Milan San-Remo, where he was dropped on the first climb, the Green Jersey, where a rampant Peter Sagan and the Sky effort behind Bradley Wiggins put paid to that ambition, and Olympic Gold, which was taken away when the British plan proved to be poorly thought out for the course.

How did the rest of their career go? We don’t know yet, but if he does got to OPQS, expect more Green jerseys…

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