The leader of the mountain classification in the Tour de France wears the polka dot jersey since 1975. The first to wear it was the 'Little one of Mere', Lucien van Impe. Lucien's house must have been filled with these somewhat clownish jerseys because he won the mountain classification in the Tour de France no less than seven times. This story may sound familiar to you, but do you know where this polka dot jersey originally came from?
Van Impe during the Tour de France
FÉLIX LÉVITAN HONOURS HENRI LEMOINE WITH HIS POLKA DOTS
The request for a special mountain jersey came from the then sponsor of the mountain classification, Chocolat Poulain. The sponsor wanted to bring the classification more to the attention of the public. The idea to finally use the red dots came from sports journalist and Tour boss Félix Lévitan. With this striking design, Félix wanted to honour the French rider Henri Lemoine. Henri Lemoine (1909-1991) was a modest cyclist with the nickname 'P'tit pois'. He was very successful in the track segment of staying power and in the slipstream of a pacer he even became three times world champion in this discipline. Henri wanted to be clearly visible and recognisable during his stay, and therefore almost always wore a striking white jersey with red balls - does that ring any bells?
Henri 'P'tit pois' Lemoine with his pacer Leon Vanderstoyft
Although staying behind the bike is totally different from cycling in the mountains, Lévitan still chose the red polka dot jersey of Lemoine as the jersey for the mountain classification. A very striking, cheerful jersey and also a nice tribute to a French rider.
BUT… HOW IS IT FROM ENGLAND?
What Félix Lévitan probably did not know is that Henri Lemoine copied this striking polka dot design from the jackets of horse racing. In the hustle and bustle of the racecourse, spectators (especially those who like to gamble) want to be able to see which horse and jockey will cross the finish line first. For this reason, very distinctive and recognisable shirts have traditionally been worn during horse races.
Pictured is jockey R. James in the famous red polka dot design.
However, these jockeys used to have no say in what design they wanted to wear. From 1970 onwards the owners were only allowed to register and use their own designs, as long as the design was new. There were also all kinds of rules attached to it, such as only the use of geometric shapes and the use of the 18 standard colours. These rules were all enforced so that the horses and their jockeys would be easily recognisable from a great distance and in any lighting. A jacket with dots was also called 'Little Spots'.... yes, that's almost the French nickname 'P'tit pois'.
Different designs in horse racing
Do you like the red polka dot jersey as much as we do? Then you are in luck! The polka dot jersey of Lucien van Impe is available in our online shop, along with many other retro cycling shirts, jerseys and jackets.