The Demise of the National Champions Jersey

Going through the new 2013 jerseys, as they have been slowly announced this week, feels a little like opening your Christmas presents a week early. It been interesting to note however that the national champions jerseys have been slow to materialise, if at all, and certainly there are very few, again if any, former national champions who have the bands of their country on their collars and sleeves as they are entitled to.

World champions, the current crop including Tom Boonen, Mark Cavendish, Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd and  Alessandro Ballan now that Oscar Freire has retired, along with Bert Grabsch, Fabian Cancellara and Michael Rogers in time trials, have usually been very happy to display their world champions piping on their sleeves, with Boonen having it on his shorts as well, and BMC seemingly obsessed with it given they have 4 of the 6 current or past road world champions on their squad. Olympic champions, after an initial argument with the OIC over the use of rings which is usually banned, have also been happy to show off their triumph – see Paolo Bettini’s gold encrusted helmet and Sidi’s or Samuel Sanchez’s gold kit. Vinokourov, the man who so upset the BBC by daring to win the Olympics this time around (‘This isn’t the winner the british people would have wanted is it?’ was the first queestion posed to him) tried the Olympic rings but settled in the end (well, for the two further races he rode) with a golden steed.

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Paolo Bettini had World, Olympic and National reminders on his person during his final race.

Yet look for evidence of national champions and you’ll struggle. Why is this?

It seems to be an increasingly common part of teams to integrate the national champions kit into the team kit, rather then allowing any kind of national pride. To exemplify this, I’ve made comparative images of national champions from a few countries to show just how the national prize is being relegated behind the team:

cancellara swiss

Swiss Maestro Fabian Cancellara has worn the Swiss champions jersey a couple of times, but it was almost impossible to register that he was when he wasn’t putting his hands up celebrating, which he only did once in a road race this year, due to RadioShack’s odd policy of replacing the light blue band of the Luxembourg flag they’ve ‘subtly’ put on the jersey with a band of the riders flag. Compare this to his all red SaxoBank jersey and you begin to see the problem with the jerseys.visconti italy

Giovanni Visconti made an odd move to Movistar the other year, and in doing so had the usually outlandish Italian national champions kit (see previous posts on Pozzato) reduced to a mere incorporation into the team jersey. It was dull, unimaginitive, and basically made everyone happy when Pellizotti won, which is impressive.spain jrod

Here’ Caisse d’Epargne, now Movistar, showed how their policy of national champions kits began. Behold, the glory of Joaquim Rodriguez when he was there, and yet still the kit was simply a different colour to usual, not a spanis redesign. They took things further when Valverde won in 2008, giving him just a bit of trim on the jersey that the casual observer would barely notice, with the excuse that it made their sponsors logo more visible.luxembourg schleck

Arguably the worst of the lot, the Luxembourg authorities have hopefully spent much of Frank Schleck’s Xipamide hearing trying to convinve him to make a better national champions jersey. It was so good back in 2006, but then with RadioShack Nissan Trek, suddenly everyone on the team appeared to be champion of the Duchy, apart from Schleck, who had again fallen foul of the odd policy of just chaging one thin band to a flag. Thus, he, as Luxembourg champion, actually has less Luxembourgian paraphernalia on his jersey then foreigners on the team. Madness.nprway jers

Even Scandanavia is not immune. We can’t even blame Sky, because Katusha gave Kristoff a similar kit to what Boassen Hagen is sporting here, except with white shorts, the year before. It’s odd, as Boassen Hagen has been TT champ before whilst on Sky and they gave him the proper Hushovd esque jersey. In fact, all Sky’s 2010 National champs jerseys were excellent – big, bold and simple. Now, like everyone else, ‘integration’ seems to be the point.usa jersey

The USA has had a roller coaster though, with some varied designs – Hincapie has the standard, good design (although oddly the USA still lists the following national champions for 2006-2009: George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Tyler Hamilton and Hincapie again. And there was me thinking the record book purging was unbiased…) Since then, they’ve had an odd Radioshack one that only really changed the shoulders, the appaling Radioshack Nissan effort, then returned to SaxoTinkoff for 2013. We won’t mention Liquigas’ appaling attempt either.

So why is this slow relegation of national honours happening? We’ve briefly touched on it – sponsorship. Caisse changed Valverde’s jersey for the 2008 Tour for better visibility, and its’ arguably that this is a fair reason. but surely a more impressive, stand out jersey gives even better publicity, no? Maybe then, Vaughters has the reason – when he was asked why none of his team had the national title bands on their sleeves, he replied it was for uniformity across the team. This is fair enough, but really, they aren’t that visible anyway, and taking them off to look a bit more uniform and socialist seems a bit over simplistic and dumbed down.

fra jersey

It’s a shame really, because the national champions should be recognised for their achievements. France, as seen above, are still very proud of their Tricolore, oft taking almost all sponsorship off it to display it, and Belgium and Holland have also ensured their jerseys are correctly done. Perhaps it is simply the fault of the increasing emphasis on Globalisation and ‘franchises’ that everyone seems so desperate to bring in, as well as an odd desire to simplify the sport for some reason, presumably because the people who want to do so don’t understand it themselves. That sounds pretentious, but cycling is essentially a simple sport, where 200 guys fight to cross a line first, but with a great deal of nuances and chaotic niches that fill it out with flavour and drama. National champions kits are part of that, and so lets hope that next year we see plenty of this at the front:

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