One of the more common complaints about the peloton these days is that the teams are too hard to tell apart. Everyone, it is said, is wearing dark, black kits that make extricating just who is who altogether impossible. In order to see how fair this was, I collated the jerseys of every team that has been part of the ProTour/WorldTour into one handy table. Of course, there are some issues to raise – teams frequently change their jerseys during the year, usually to accommodate a new sponsor – Colombia had three different jersey’s in 2008 for instance, then changed their kit design for the Tour de France in 2009 (meaning 5 different designs in 18 months) whilst Garmin changed their secondary sponsor from Barracuda to Sharp in 2012. I’ve simply used whichever jersey I thought best illustrated the season, rather than the one they team started with at the beginning of the year – thus FDJ have a blue kit for 2013 when they only began using it at the Tour, and Belkin is Belkin rather than Blanco. And yes, I am aware Discovery Channel and Radioshack (The Bruyneel/Armstrong edition) are technically different teams, but then so technically are Radioshack-Leopard and Trek Factory, Liberty Serguros and Astana. 2007 Astana and 2008 Astana are also effectively different structures, but splitting them all up would be too confusing. They were essentially just the same team redressed, so I kept them as the same thing.
What it illustrates is that teams are actually pretty consistent in their image, usually keeping one standard colour scheme and running with that with only minor deviations. Only what is now Lotto-Belisol have tried to fit in every colour from the palate it seems. However, the problem is that these steady changes aggregate into very similar looks.
This graph shows the number of jerseys each year that are predominately one colour along the spectrum (by my judgment anyway). As you can see, blue is and generally has always been the most popular colour, especially back in 2005 when 10 of the 23 teams around used it. The thing to not however is that by 2013-14, the numbers are all congregating to similar amounts: there are 3 teams who wear all black kit, three who wear green and only 5 who wear blue, of which one, Movistar, is dark enough to get confused with the black. Even seemingly disparate kits like Giant-Shimano and OPQS can now seem quite similar once they start blurring past in the sprint.
It’s long been mooted that teams should think up some method of making it easier for fans to spot which riders are who, and perhaps this would be a better idea then trying to get TV revenue as if it is the be all and end all of their problems. Possible solutions have included riders having personalised helmets a la F1…
…but that doesn’t really work either, as the majority are based on past glories and so riders would have to have won something. The majority of the personalised lids are also TT helmets, which again defeats the point as you can generally work out who an individual rider is, especially when they’re on TV, as the graphic will tell you. More recently, teams have tried putting the rider’s names on the jerseys…
…but these are often only visible in photos, not when the race blazes past at high speed. For instance, Leopard-Trek putting the names on the riders collars made them basically impossible to see, and rather pointless, as if you’re looking there, you’re looking at their face as well. Sky’s idea, borrowed by Blanco/Belkin and to a degree by OPQS albeit with Twitter names, of putting the name on the flanks worked well, as you could actually read it, although they have now relegated it to the sleeve.
One suggestion has been to try and give each rider a number for the whole season, so that they could be known as, say ‘Joe Bloggs #17’ all year and that the number could become synonymous. Frankly, this seems a recipie for disaster – who would get number one, for instance? The winner of the ProTour or the winner of the Tour de France? How would this be sorted? And given riders are now having up to 20 year careers, how many numbers would we need? It would allow one problem to be solved though, which is that the problem of pinning numbers on could be solved with some printing:
An easier way to solve the problem would be to stop teams from banning national champions bands on the jersey, and to stop them making such naff national champions jerseys when they do get them. They whine about ‘corporate branding’ and ‘team identities’ being affected, but to be honest a splash of colour in the jersey makes us fans more likely to be inquisitive than put off. Here are some examples of some pretty naff national champions jerseys that are essentially trying to minimise any difference to the actual team colours.
One team there coming in for a lot of stick: Radioshack/Trek have a habit of marginalising the national champions aspect of their kit, whether it be a tiny slither of a band on the stomach or even worse, only a sleeve on a couple of the 2014 jerseys, which is odd as they have allowed Devolder and Jungels a full colour jersey each.
Ultimately, it seems teams increasing reliance on a single sponsor or benefactor that is keen to promote a brand identity to make up for a comparative lack of history in the team has meant a move to darker, cleaner kits that are minimalist and removed of the graphics that used to jazz up jerseys like Domina Vacanze and Milram. As a result, everyone’s jerseys are becoming single colour billboards instead of multi coloured kits they used to entertain us with. Coupled with a desire to promote this branding by relegating any different features such as national champions bands off the jersey and only begrudginly including any reference to a current national champion on the jersey, teams are in danger of looking like, sterile, fun averse corporate identities that all look the same. Hopefully in 2015, they’ll cast off their serious, scientific faces and follow Lotto-Belisol’s lead by going a bit retro and coming up with some lighter, more colorful togs.