La Vie Claire: the story behind professional cycling’s greatest jersey

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La Vie Claire leaders Bernard Hinault and Steve Bauer on the birth and beauty of their Mondrian-inspired maillot

Photographs: Offside/L'Equipe
16/7/1986 Tour de France 1986.
Stage 13 - PAU to LUCHON.
Greg LeMond climbs with Andy Hampsten.
Photo: Offside / L'Equipe.

At the 1986 Tour de France, La Vie Claire delivered one of the greatest team performances in one of the race’s greatest editions.

 

With its cluster of stars, including winner Greg LeMond, runner-up Bernard Hinault, Andy Hampsten, Steve Bauer, Jean-François Bernard and Niki Rüttimann, the French squad won six stages, every jersey except the points and had four riders in the top ten.

 

It was one of the most intriguing battles in Tour history too, as the new world American and the veteran champion fought for victory – despite Hinault’s promise a year earlier to help his younger team-mate.

 

When we talked to the entire 1986 La Vie Claire Tour team to rake over events for a feature in issue 64 of Rouleur, there were still differing opinions galore.

 

LeMond: “Hinault tried everything he could to win the race.”
Hinault: “He thought it was war. But it wasn’t war for me. I wasn’t just going to give him the yellow jersey like that. He needed to seek it out a bit.”

 

lemond (greg) hinault (bernard)

 

However, one thing upon which every rider agreed is that La Vie Claire had a beautiful jersey – possibly the greatest in professional cycling history.

 

“I’ve always loved that jersey,” Bernard Hinault says. “It’s exceptional.”

 

“In 1983, we got a stylist in from a company called Mic Mac. Originally, it was all black, like we have with a lot of teams today,” he said. It was apparently modelled on rugby union’s pre-eminent side, New Zealand.

 

“But we said it was impossible, the summer [heat] and the black jersey won’t work. So, she came back with this Mondrian idea. And we loved it.”

 

In fact, according to team manager Paul Koechli in the book Slaying the Badger, a young student at the meeting had the brainwave of a design based on Piet Mondrian’s Composition in red, yellow and blue: “It was genius. The stylist was not pleased – she was looking daggers at the student.”

 

The design was fresh, fashionable, futuristic yet functional, the Dutch artist’s grids ideal for fitting sponsors’ logos. Long since the Vie Claire jersey left the sport in 1989, its former riders still get mileage from their maillots.

 

 

bauer (steve)

 

“I have a few La Vie Claire jerseys hanging around. My partner was rooting through some boxes and pulled out this La Vie Claire wool sweater in 100% perfect condition,” Steve Bauer, pictured above, says.

 

“I wore it to a kids’ training camp at the [Milton] velodrome. I said to a friend ‘do you think anyone here will recognise this jersey?’ I thought they wouldn’t have a frickin’ clue. Sure enough, this 11-year-old boy did, he said ‘nice sweater, coach Steve!’”

 

Philippe Leleu, Vie Claire domestique who now works for a poultry products company, had a similar reaction.

 

“I did an annual vintage ride with Bernard Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk in Dinan. I wore my old La Vie Claire jersey and loads of people loved it. It’s a jersey that endures.”

 

The Vie Claire kit inspires modern twists too, such as our collaboration with Sako7, available in the Rouleur shop.

 

22nd July 1995 - Tour de France 1995 - Stage 22 (ORLEANS to PARIS) - Greg Lemond and Steve Bauer walk to the start of the stage in Orleans - Photo: offside / L'Equipe.
Cool kids: Greg Lemond and Steve Bauer walk to the start of the final stage of the 1985 Tour de France in Orleans – Photo: Offside / L’Equipe.