General classification in the Tour de France

Yellow jersey
Tour de France 20130704 Aix-en-Provence 071.jpg
The 2013 yellow jersey, worn by Simon Gerrans
SportRoad bicycle racing
CompetitionTour de France
Given forOverall best time
Local nameMaillot jaune  (French)
First award1903
Editions104 (as of 2017)
First winner Maurice Garin (FRA)
Most wins

 Jacques Anquetil (FRA)
 Eddy Merckx (BEL)
 Bernard Hinault (FRA)
 Miguel Indurain (ESP)

5 wins
Most recent Chris Froome  (GBR)

The general classification is the most important classification, the one by which the winner of the Tour de France is determined. Since 1919, the leader of the general classification wears the yellow jersey (French: maillot jaune pronounced [majo ʒon]).


The winner of the first Tour de France wore a green armband, not a yellow jersey.[1] After the second Tour de France, the rules were changed, and the general classification was no longer calculated by time, but by points. This points system was kept until 1912, after which it changed back into the time classification. At that time, the leader still did not wear a yellow jersey.

There is doubt over when the yellow jersey began. The Belgian rider Philippe Thys, who won the Tour in 1913, 1914 and 1920, recalled in the Belgian magazine Champions et Vedettes when he was 67 that he was awarded a yellow jersey in 1913 when the organiser, Henri Desgrange, asked him to wear a coloured jersey. Thys declined, saying making himself more visible in yellow would encourage other riders to ride against him.[1][2]

He said:

"He then made his argument from another direction. Several stages later, it was my team manager at Peugeot, (Alphonse) Baugé, who urged me to give in. The yellow jersey would be an advertisement for the company and, that being the argument, I was obliged to concede. So a yellow jersey was bought in the first shop we came to. It was just the right size, although we had to cut a slightly larger hole for my head to go through." [2][3][4]

He spoke of the next year's race, when "I won the first stage and was beaten by a tyre by Bossus in the second. On the following stage, the maillot jaune passed to Georget after a crash."

The Tour historian Jacques Augendre called Thys "a valorous rider... well-known for his intelligence" and said his claim "seems free from all suspicion". But: "No newspaper mentions a yellow jersey before the war. Being at a loss for witnesses, we can't solve this enigma."[5]

According to the official history, the first yellow jersey was worn by the Frenchman Eugène Christophe in the stage from Grenoble to Geneva on July 18, 1919.[6] The colour was chosen either to reflect the yellow newsprint of the organising newspaper, L'Auto, or because yellow was an unpopular colour and therefore the only one available with which a manufacturer could create jerseys at late notice.[1]

The two possibilities have been promoted equally but the idea of matching the colour of Desgrange's newspaper seems more probable because Desgrange wrote: "This morning I gave the valiant Christophe a superb yellow jersey. You already know that our director decided that the man leading the race [de tête du classement général] should wear a jersey in the colours of L'Auto. The battle to wear this jersey is going to be passionate."[7]

Christophe disliked wearing it, anyway, and complained that spectators imitated canaries whenever he passed. It was a habit encouraged by his nickname of Cri-Cri (from "Christophe") which is French babytalk for a bird.[1] Christophe remembered riders and spectators teasing: "Ah, the yellow jersey! Isn't he beautiful, the canary? What are you doing, Madame Cri-Cri", adding, "And that lasted the whole course."[8]

There was no formal presentation when Christophe wore his first yellow jersey in Grenoble, from where the race left at 2am for the 325 km to Geneva. He was given it the night before and tried it on later in his hotel.[1]

In the next Tour de France in 1920, the yellow jersey was initially not awarded, but after the ninth stage, it was introduced again.[9]

Winner of the 1965 Tour's general classification Felice Gimondi wearing the yellow jersey with the initials of Henri Desgrange, the first organiser of the Tour de France

After Desgrange's death, his stylized initials were added to the yellow jersey,[6] originally on the chest. They moved in 1969 to the sleeve to make way for a logo advertising Virlux. A further advertisement for the clothing company Le Coq Sportif appeared at the bottom of the zip fastener at the neck, the first supplementary advertisement on the yellow jersey.

Desgrange's initials returned to the front of the jersey in 1972, some years on the left, others on the right. They were removed in 1984 to make way for a commercial logo but Nike added them again in 2003 as part of the Tour's centenary celebrations. One set of initials is now worn on the upper right chest of the jersey.[1]

In 2013, a nighttime finish on the Champs-Élysées for the final stage was done to commemorate the race's 100th edition. Race leader Chris Froome wore a special yellow jersey covered in small translucent sequins into Paris as well as on the podium to allow him to be more visible under the lights.

The original yellow jerseys were of conventional style. Riders had to pull them over their head on the rostrum. For many years the jersey was made in only limited sizes and many riders found it a struggle to pull one on, especially when tired or wet. The presentation jersey is now made with a full-length zip at the back and the rider pulls it on from the front, sliding his hands through the sleeves rather like a strait-jacket. He then receives three further jerseys each day, plus money (referred to as the "rent") for each day he leads the race.

There is no copyright on the yellow jersey and it has been imitated by many other races, although not always for the best rider overall: in the Tour of Benelux yellow is worn by the best young rider. In professional surf, the current male and female leaders of the World Surf League get to wear a yellow jersey on all the heats of a tour stop.

In American English it is sometimes referred to as the mellow johnny, a mispronunciation of its French name originally by Lance Armstrong, who wore it many times while riding in the 1999-2005 races. Armstrong also uses the name "Mellow Johnny" for his Texas-based bike shop. The Lance Armstrong Foundation donated the yellow jersey from Armstrong's fourth Tour de France win (2002) to the National Museum of American History.[10]