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Full Kit Ranker, the winner: the story of La Vie Claire's classic jersey, voted the greatest of all time

The much-celebrated La Vie Claire jersey nearly didn't happen - here's the history behind the classic maillot you crowned the greatest of all time...

Our Full Kit Ranker competition concluded on Bank Holiday Monday, with the Classic La Vie Claire and Peugeot-Shell-Michelin jerseys going head-to-head in the Grand Final. In the end it was La Vie Claire who triumphed with 68% of the vote, making it the greatest cycling jersey of all time according to road.cc readers! 

24 of the best summer cycling jerseys

We whittled down from 16 classics selected for our shortlist in round 1, and judging by the comments section there was plenty we missed off too; perhaps enough for another competition altogether. The classic orange and navy Molteni jersey made legendary by Eddy Merckx in the 70's, the Bianchi-Pirelli beauty donned by Fausto Coppi, 90's gold from Mapei... all were toppled by the Piet Mondrian-inspired maillot that saw riders such as Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond stand out in the peloton between 1984-1988. 

Piet Mondrian Composition 2

The distinctive jersey might never have seen the light of day if modern fabric printing techniques were available, and if it wasn't for an art student who suggested using Piet Modrian's 'Composition en rouge, jaune et bleau' painting from 1930 (above) as inspiration for the design. 

As noted in Richard Moore's book 'Slaying the Badger', La Vie Claire's owner Bernard Tapie arranged for an unveiling of a jersey design for the team in 1983... and manager Paul Köchli plus a number of his riders were dismayed that it was completely black, which would have been way too hot with the fabric technology of the time: "We went to their office for the unveiling of the jersey - it was behind a curtain", Köchli told Moore.

"But when the curtain drew back, we were shocked: it was like a Superman outfit, but in black! I can't really describe it, but it was wrong, wrong!" 

bernard hinault tt - via flickr creative commons

Five-time Tour de France winner Bernard Hinault said that the design was inspired by the New Zealand All Blacks rugby shirts to give an air of invincibility; and amidst the awkwardness in the room, an art student who happened to be at the unveiling sketched the Mondrian idea there and then, which the team instantly loved... this reportedly didn't go down well with the stylist. Not only was it timeless and attractive (how many items of clothing from the 80's don't look in the least bit dated?) but the separated panels were also perfect for carrying numerous Tapei-owned sponsors, including La Vie Claire, Radar and Wonder. Other notable sponsors included Toshiba and the bike brand Look. 

greg lemond la vie claire jersey - via flickr creative commons

Italian cycling apparel specialists Santini manufactured the jersey, and in its various guises it was worn in plenty of successful seasons for La Vie Claire; most notably Bernard Hinault's final Tour de France general classification win in 1985, and Greg Lemond's first Tour victory in 1986. By 1988 La Vie Claire had withdrew sponsorship completely and Toshiba were the main sponsor, and in 1990 the jersey was completely redesigned - the team eventually folded under the name Toshiba in 1991. 

Where to buy it

la vie claire jersey details - via Prendas

While you can occasionally find an original replica from the 80's pop up on eBay, UK-based classic jersey specialists Prendas Ciclismo have exclusive UK distribution rights with Santini for a licensed, modern retro version of the La Vie Claire jersey. Looking identical to the original but made with modern breathable fabrics, you can get it for £66.99 with a free La Vie Claire bottle thrown in; there's also a whole La Vie Claire retro collection featuring bib shorts, caps, phone cases and socks. 

Thanks to everyone who voted in the Full Kit Ranker polls from Round 1 to the Grand Final, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

After cobbling together a few hundred quid during his student days off the back of a hard winter selling hats (long story), Jack bought his first road bike at the age of 20 and has been hooked ever since. He was Staff Writer at 220 Triathlon magazine for two years before joining road.cc in 2017, and reports on all things tech as well as editing the road.cc live blog. He is also the news editor of our electric-powered sister site eBikeTips. Jack's preferred events are time trials, sportives, triathlons and pogo sticking (the latter being another long story), and on Sunday afternoons he can often be found on an M5 service station indulging in his favourite post-race meal of 20 chicken nuggets, a sausage roll, caramel shortbread and a large strawberry milkshake. 

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