La Vuelta 19 will be the 10th edition of La Roja: a jersey that, little by little, has earned a place in international cycling. The red (La Roja), that designates the leader of the general classification of La Vuelta, is a reference in today’s cycling, as are the maillot jaune in the Tour de France and the maglia rosa in the Giro d’Italia. Mark Cavendish was the first to wear La Roja. He was also the first British rider in the red jersey; a year before Chris Froome, who holds the record for leading La Vuelta for the longest time since 2010… at the moment.
La Vuelta’s very first red jersey was awarded at night, at the end of a 13 km time-trial through the streets of Seville. The team HTC-Columbia won with a time of 14’06”. The first rider to cross the finish-line was Mark Cavendish, who mathematically obtained the leadership in the individual general classification. “It is an honour for me to be the first to wear La Roja”, declared the Isle of Man sprinter “but this jersey belongs to the entire team. I am just 10% of the victory”.
On the 28th of August 2010, on a hot Andalusian summer’s night, the cycling community was probably still unaware that La Vuelta was about to write a new page in its history. With a red jersey designed by Custo Dalmao that mimicked the skin of a cheetah (“the fastest animal on earth”) Mark Cavendish went to bed, the fastest cyclist on earth on the roads at that moment.
Red was the new colour chosen to designate the race leader. It succeeded the orange one of the first two editions – won by Belgian rider Gustaaf Deloor (in 1935 and 1936) – the white one of 1941, and the orange one again in 1942, a first foray into the red in 1945, a white one with a red stripe (from 1946 to 1950), a yellow one that made an appearance in 1955 and lasted until 1998 (except for the orange one in 1977 – the year that Maertens won 13 stage victories as well as the general classification) and, finally, the golden jersey worn by the La Vuelta leader from 1999 to 2009.
A decade ago, Javier Guillén – who took the reins of the race as its General Director in 2009 – decided to link La Vuelta to the “most successful colour in Spanish sports”. It was the golden era of the Spanish national soccer team (the Roja), world champions in 2010 and European champions in 2008 and 2012. Besides, red is, along with yellow, one of the two colours that make up the Spanish flag.
“It is my first stage in my first Vuelta and I’m wearing La Roja. This doesn’t take my focus away from my main goal, though: to win several stages”, explained Mark Cavendish, disappointed at having lost in the sprint in Marbella to the FDJ’s Belorussian, Yauheni Hutarovitch. He did not win while wearing the red jersey, but he did wear green in Burgos and in Salamanca (his second and third stage victories, respectively). We would have to wait until stage 6 of La Vuelta 12 to see a rider raise his arms as he crossed the finish-line, while wearing the red jersey: it was Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodríguez, in Jaca.
Philippe Gilbert, another important name in contemporary cycling, followed on from Mark Cavendish by wearing La Roja in 2010. It was in Málaga, specifically in the Gibralfaro Viewpoint… a climb to which he was perfectly suited, at that time. He overhauled Serafín Martínez 500 m from the finish-line. “Every time I’ve come to La Vuelta it has been with the objective of winning a stage and preparing for the World Championships”, reminisced the rider who would go on to wear the Valkenburg rainbow jersey in 2012, following two stage victories in Barcelona and La Lastrilla. “It has been an honour to be able to wear La Roja for five days”. “The leader still wore yellow when I started watching La Vuelta. It coincided with the back to school period and I’d watch the race on TV after school, before training”, said the Belgian rider.
At Xorret de Catí, Gilbert ceded the red jersey to Igor Antón – who became the first “martyr” of that new tunic. He had to abandon the race following a fall 6 km from the finish-line in stage 14, with a finale in Peña Cabarga. He was having one of the best moments in his career. Vincenzo Nibali took the leadership from him, becoming – despite a second stint in the lead by Purito – the first rider to win La Vuelta wearing the red jersey in Madrid. A new chapter of La Vuelta history.
Just days away from the start of this decade’s final edition, there are 35 riders in La Roja’s list of winners:
• Chris Froome, 27 days (20 + 7 stripped from Juan José Cobo)
• Vincenzo Nibali, 20 days
• Alberto Contador and Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodríguez, 17 days
• Nairo Quintana, 14 days
• Simon Yates, 11 days
• Fabio Aru, 7 days
• Esteban Chaves and Tom Dumoulin, 6 days
• Philippe Gilbert, Igor Antón, Chris Horner and Alejandro Valverde, 5 days
• Sylvain Chavanel, Bradley Wiggins, Darwin Atapuma, Michal Kwiatkowski and Rudy Molard, 4 days.
• Jonathan Castroviejo and Michael Matthews, 3 days
• Mark Cavendish, Rohan Dennis and Jesús Herrada, 2 days
• Jakob Fuglsang, Daniele Bennati, Pablo Lastras, Bauke Mollema, Janez Brajkovic, Nicolas Roche, Dani Moreno, Peter Velits, Peter Kennaugh, Rubén Fernández, David de la Cruz and Yves Lampaert, 1 day.
Among them are 14 nationalities. Spain is at the top of the list, followed by the UK, which has seen five British riders in the lead of the Spanish tour (two of them, eventual overall winners: Chris Froome and Simon Yates). Spain has a total of 53 days wearing the red jersey; the UK 45, Italy 28, Columbia 24, France 8, Netherlands seven, Belgium six, USA and Australia five, Poland four; and Denmark, Slovenia, Ireland and Slovakia one.
Up until now, seven riders have made history by wearing the leader jerseys of the three iconic Grand Tours: Vincenzo Nibali, Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Fabio Aru, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Rohan Dennis.
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