If I were World Road Race Champion, I would wear black shorts. That probably has more to do with me being on the wiser side of 30 and understanding better that the decisions I make now never really go away. White shorts would not be something I’d be proud of looking back through photos of my career, and they would not go away. On the other hand, if I were World TT Champion, it would be the full white skinsuit. It may take me till being the wiser side of 35 before seeing the light on that one. I have a reason, though: it is made as a one-piece, multiple-panelled, technical aero suit, which means it does not allow for such a pure aesthetic design. Anyway, that’s my excuse. This isn’t about time trialing, though – this is about the road.
We have many jerseys in the world of professional cycling – le maillot jaune, maglia rosa, maillot amarillo, maillot a pois, maillot vert, maillot tricolore, and, of course the red, white and blue of the British National Champion. The list goes on, but the jersey every single one of us dreams of is The Rainbow. It is all the colours of all the jerseys in one and it is the jersey that supersedes every other. It outranks all others and is thus the most coveted.
There is a strange phenomenon, though, as it only has its true effect when it is worn by an already great champion; when an outsider or a young rider wins it, there seems to be a dimming of its aura. This is nothing against the rider – after all, the list of young riders who have won it is nothing if not illustrious. Maurizio Fondriest, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Freire, to name three of the recent past, all went on to become greats of the sport, but the years they raced as World Champions were years where it felt as if The Rainbow had taken a year off.
This is what makes the rainbow jersey so special, and almost mythical: it does not make the wearer great, it simply radiates light on the accumulated success and respect of the person whom it adorns. It can only have its true power and bright aura when worn by, as the French so beautifully say, Un Grand. I would like to see Davide Rebellin win it – he would allow it to shine at its brightest, because he is the epitome of class and form and, for me, what a world champion is supposed to be. Each fan of pro cycling has their favourite to wear the rainbow jersey, and each of us has our reasons for why they should win it and have the honour of wearing it. By thinking about it we understand more about why we love this sport and what we love it for. It’s another part of what makes it all so special.
David Millar is a professional cyclist for Garmin-Sharp.