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What’s behind Tour de la Provence’s throwback leader’s jersey

French race rolls out colors of iconic La Vie Claire kit for its GC leader.

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If the leader’s jersey at last week’s Tour de la Provence reminded you of the old La Vie Claire jersey, you’re right.

The characteristic red, yellow and blue cubes on the design is a throwback to the 1980s super-team, which donned the Mondrian-inspired kit in what remains one of cycling’s most iconic jerseys.

Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond won back-to-back editions of the Tour de France during the team’s short but glorious run from 1984-86 under the La Vie Claire banner. Toshiba took over the sponsorship in 1987 until the team’s collapse in 1991.

Team La Vie Claire wore jerseys inspired by Piet Mondrian in the 1980s. Photo: AFP

The link between the jersey’s revival and the Provence tour is via former La Vie Claire team owner Bernard Tapie, who also owns a major stake in the regional newspaper “La Provence” that backs the four-day stage race around Provence.

Tapie, one of France’s most famous (and infamous) business tycoons, created the Provence race in 2016 as part of his lifelong love affair with cycling. The 78-year-old Tapie, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, has lived a storied and often controversial business career.

In the 1970s and 1980s, he bought many struggling brands in France to later resell them for a profit. He also briefly owned Adidas, and was involved in a match-fixing scandal when he was president of the Olympique de Marseille soccer club in the early 1990s.

One of his most endearing ventures, at least for cycling fans, was his involvement with La Vie Claire, a then-struggling health food chain that today operates more than 350 supermarkets across France.

Race officials introduced the throwback jersey in 2019 as an homage to the La Vie Claire team and cycling backer Bernard Tapie.

With millions of Francs at his disposal, Tapie promised to spice up the tradition-prone peloton. He lured away Hinault following the French star’s split with team boss Cyrille Guimard despite winning four yellow jerseys under his watch, and then famously signed LeMond to cycling’s first millionaire contract. After Hinault won his fifth title in 1985, the pair famously clashed throughout the 1986 Tour, eventually won by LeMond despite Hinault’s incessant badgering.

Tapie lived up to his promise and helped usher in such innovations as heart-rate monitors and carbon-fiber bikes. Also an investor in Look, Tapie promoted cycling’s first clip-less pedals in the 1980s. The flamboyant Tapie, who had deep connections across French government and business, often made as many headlines as his riders.

In 2019, in part to honor both Tapie and his cycling legacy, the race introduced the look for its leader’s jersey. On Sunday, Iván Sosa (Ineos Grenadiers) wrapped up the overall, and donned the jersey on the final winner’s podium, fittingly securing the lead on Mont Ventoux.

Davide Ballerini rides in the iconic leader’s jersey after winning the opening stage at the Tour de la Provence in France.