As you can see in our collection gallery, we at Greg LeMond Fans, have a thing for jerseys. Team jerseys, leader jerseys, Time trial (TT) jerseys, you name it. You see, most of the time, cycling jerseys are just an excuse to display sponsor logos. It leads to the vast majority of cycling jerseys looking really, really bad, up to the point of being ugly and looking like a clown if you’re wearing one (I mean… Lampre-Merida, anyone ?!?).
Sometimes, however, a design team achieves a work of art. There are a few legendary artists that worked in advertising and sometimes cycling jerseys can be seen as masterpieces. Greg LeMond was lucky enough to wear 3 of the most iconic cycling team jerseys : Renault, La Vie Claire and Z. Today we will focus on the Renault jersey.
Renault has been building cars since the start of the 20th century. Their logo has evolved a lot decade after decade. In 1972, “the diamond shaped firm” chose a sober logo consisting of black & white lines against a yellow backdrop.
In the same decade, Renault decided to invest in sport as “Renault Sport”. At first they focused on their core material : cars. Rally, then Formula 1 (where they brought the Turbo engine). All the cars carried the same color pattern : yellow, black & white (as seen here : http://www.f1fanatic.co.uk/2009/10/14/renault-could-go-retro-with-new-livery/ ) . In 1978, trying to get closer to the heart of the European customers, Renault searched for the best poster boy they could find in a more popular sport. Bernard Hinault was perfect for this role : he was young, French, tough, seen as a new Eddy Merckx. He would not disappoint.
By 1979, the Renault jersey had already been adopted as a most popular one, its only rival being the chess board design of another French automobile brand : Peugeot. Peugeot had a strong history with cycling, sponsoring teams since 1901 and building high-end bikes. In recent years they had launched the career of a young Merckx and come full cycle when French Peugeot rider Bernard Thévenet had defeated the Cannibal (now riding for an Italian team) in the Tour de France in 1975. Sponsoring was for Renault a way to beat Peugeot on their own turf. Hinault would make sure no Stephen Roche or Phil Anderson could beat him. And when Peugeot made the move of hiring young Renault “protégé” Jean-René Bernaudeau in 1981, it only drove the Badger to being meaner than ever… He won the Tour de France by a 15 minutes margin that year.
From the start, in 1978, the general design of the Renault jersey was made clear. It took the oblique black & white stripes and yellow backdrop of the Renault logo. Soon the Renault riders would be seen as the peloton “bees”.
The Hinault years :
From 1978 to 1980, there were a few variants of the design. The sleeves went from yellow to white, the chest logos changed in size and place : Renault, of course, Gitane (bikes), Campagnolo (components) came and went. The Coq Sportif logo also appeared at different spots.
The LeMond years :
In 1981, the Renault jersey encountered its first revolution. The font used for the Renault logo changed and evolved in capital letters. Elf (oil) also appeared. Then “Cycles Gitane” was now added as the trademark of the team. The jersey also saw a black line appear on its sides. It was showing “Renault-Elf” on one side and “Cycles Gitane” on the other. The same thing was done with shorts. The 1981 & 1982 Renault jersey always carried a Coq Sportif logo on the chest. Greg LeMond won his first ever pro race in that jersey : the 1981 Tour de l’Oise. He also made a few appearances in the US, in Nevada or winning the Coors Classic against the Russian team, all by himself.
In 1983… the team made a deal with Castelli for their jerseys. However, there are pictures of Renault riders wearing Coq Sportif jerseys as far as the 1983 Dauphiné Libéré. If you look closely you will see that the Renault jerseys at the Dauphiné are in fact Coq Sportif jerseys on which Castelli logos were stitched in or where the Coq logos have been hidden with a magic marker. Why ? This is also the time of lycra. Teams were hesitating between wool and synthetic fabric. Lycra had won the battle of shorts since 1981. Castelli manufactured lycra jerseys for the Renault team early on. But not all riders liked it. It was light & smooth but it wasn’t too good with water or sweat (it is also difficult for autographs – You can see on my jersey that Hinault & LeMond signed really well while Fignon struggled to get his signature right. Madiot & Gayant didn’t even care for the sig when they saw what it was… class acts).
The design of the jersey did not change much between 1981 & 1983, except for the sleeves : in 1981-82 they were all white while in 1983 (when Castelli eventually switched back to wool) they carried yellow & black stripes. On the wool jersey, al insciptions (logos or names) were made out of pieces of silk glued on the jersey. This technique was also used throughout the 80’s to make sure the Tour de France teams could print a different sponsor name overnight on the leader’s jerseys. It explains why so many of them were damaged since then.
Greg LeMond has worn the Renault jersey from 1981 to 1983 until he won the world champion title. He’s never worn the Renault jersey after that. In 1982, Greg missed the spring / summer season after a bad crash in Liège-Bastogne-Liège (where he broke his collarbone). In the fall he won the silver medal at the worlds (wearing the US jersey & Renault headband), then the Tour de l’Avenir with a 1O’ margin.
In 1983 Greg was seen in the spring classics, helping Hinault to win la Flèche Wallonne. He fell sick and had to quit the only Vuelta he ever raced, winning the Dauphiné in June. In early September, Greg LeMond won the world championship. A few days later, he raced his last ever race in a Renault outfit for a technicality : his world champion TT skinsuit wasn’t ready or the Grand Prix des Nations (which he achieved at 2nd place).
The Fignon years :
In 1984, the “Cycles Gitane” logo was definitely dropped, leaving “Renault Elf” alone. Castelli quit the team, replaced by an obscure manufacturer named “Sodicam”. The design of the Renault jersey remained the same until Renault sport dropped both Formula One and cycling, in 1985. But such was the impact of the jersey that “Système U”, replacing Renault as main sponsor of the team, kept the yellow/black/white identity until 1989.
The TT jerseys : Assos
In 1979, the Renault team took advantage of the Renault factory to use its wind tunnel & personnel. It lead to many innovations by Gitane it terms of aerodynamics and Armel André, formerly employee of Renault, started working on bike positioning and ergonomics. At the same time, the team started working with Swiss company Assos for their time trial jerseys. Assos came with the idea of a complete skinsuit rather than having a jersey/shorts kit. Hinault made his first appearance in such a cloth wearing a red and black skinsuit. Soon Assos started developing a proper skinsuit for the Renault team. The logos used for these jerseys were always a bit different than the regular ones. A picture of Hinault climbing in the Superbagnères ITT during the 1979 Tour de France still srves today as one of Assos’s logos (http://www.gitaneusa.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1863&highlight=assos) . Between 1981 & 1983 le Coq Sportif then Castelli developed their own version of the Renault TT skinsuit. In 1984, however, while Sodicam was manufacturing the wool jerseys for the team, Assos was brought back on board for the synthetic clothing : shorts and TT skinsuit. This lead to a brand new design for the Renault jersey, as Assos changed the Renault Elf logos and included little white circles in the black stripe of the sleeves. Ironically, when Assos re-issued a Renault jersey replica a few years ago, they chose the 1984 TT skinsuit design. They did not issue the shorts to go with it.
Rain jersey :
One of the most adventurous jerseys ever. Castelli offered a jersey made for bad weather in 1983. Its upper side is black, made of a waterproof fabric. Greg was seen wearing that jersey in the 1983 Vuelta. Hinault won both the Vuelta and the Flèche Wallonne wearing this jersey. Another version of this was seen in 1984 with a different fabric. Again the glued silk pieces technique was used. Note that the pockets are also waterproof. They include a strap.
Two kinds of caps were made for the Renault team. The straight line design remained the same from 1978 to 1983, with only the Renault & Gitane logos evolving. In 1984 & 85, the oblique lines design was chosen, Campagnolo appearing as a sponsor. From 1982 to 1984, Hinault then Fignon did wear the Renault headband, proving that the colors were so well known they did not need the Renault logo to associate it with the brand.
People don’t forget the link of Renault with Greg. Greg LeMond went riding on a few cobblestone sectors near Roubaix in 2014. It was Saturday the day before the pro race, but many cycling fans were already camping on the side of the road. At one point, a group of Belgians who were having a few drinks saw 3 riders riding the cobs like madmen. They indeed recognized Greg an asked him to stop for a few snapshots, which he did. He then asked them : “How did you guys recognized me ?”. Their answer was this : “At first, we didn’t, but then we saw that guy riding with you in the Renault kit and somehow we made the connection.”
Also take a look at my study of the Renault TT skinsuit here : http://www.gitaneusa.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2762
By Nicolas – @NL_LeMondFans