by Holly Blades. Images ©Cor Vos
There’s a classic story about directeur sportif Jean de Gribaldy turning up at Sean Kelly’s parents’ farm to offer him a contract to join the Flandria team in the late 1970s. Kelly was finally tracked down driving a tractor, and after haggling a better wage, found himself living in Besançon – Gribaldy’s home town. Despite a two-year contract in Belgium with the Set team Kelly and Gribaldy worked together for ten years, never more successfully than as part of the Kas team between 1986 and 1988.
A Spanish-owned team, Kas began operating in 1958 under the sponsorship of the eponymous PepsiCo soft drink company. Their bright yellow jersey brought to mind the colour of the grapefruit, orange and lemon-flavoured drinks. In 1959 the team signed the Eagle of Toledo himself, Federico Bahamontes, who went on to win the Tour de France whilst riding for the team but that year, the Tour was contested by national teams and not trade teams, so Kas never got the yellow jersey to add to their already yellow jerseys.
Sean Kelly in full flight for Kas
Although 1961 saw the Spanish team consist of mainly French riders, Kas soon settled into what they would become best at for the next 20 years – dominating the Grand Tours, and particularly the Vuelta a España.
The Kas logo could be found, in 1964, on the equally recognizable red and gold jersey of the Spanish national champion Julio Jiménez. Jiménez would take the King of the Mountains at the Vuelta two years running for Kas, along with three stages of the Vuelta and four of the Tour de France. Hot on his heels was another Spanish national champion, Antonio Gómez del Moral, who rode for the team for six years, during which Kas were proud owners of the snazzy white and green leader’s jersey of the Volta a Catalunya and the win of the 1969 Vuelta a Andalucía. Gomez del Moral also bagged a stage of the Vuelta and the Giro for good measure.
It was a longstanding signing of Kas who brought their first big win though, in the form of Francisco Gabicagogueascoa Ibarra – better known, thankfully, as Francisco Gabica. Gabica won the individual time trial and the overall of the 1966 Vuelta a España to take the team’s first Grand Tour win, and first yellow jersey at a time when the Vuelta winner wore yellow. So much yellow. Incidentally, amarillo is Spanish for yellow so if Neil Sedaka and Tony Christie ask the way, just direct them towards 1960s professional cycling. Gabica finished in the top ten of seven Grand Tours, and aside from two years with Fagor rode for Kas his entire career.
1972 was when Kas really dominated the Spanish cycling scene as Kas-Kaskol, in a yellow and royal blue jersey with an almost Eastern European font. José Antonio González was in the Spanish national champion’s jersey, Domingo Perurena took the green points jersey of the Vuelta a España, José Manuel Fuente took both the mountains classification and the overall of the Vuelta. Fuente would win the Vuelta for a second time in 1974 before the health problems that would cause his untimely death at the age of 50 caused him to retire early. 1975 saw the Kas logo feature on the green winner’s jersey of the Tour de Romandie following Giro runner up Francisco Galdos’s win.
Sharing jersey space with accessory sponsor Campagnolo, a bolder Kas logo appeared on the Tour de France white jersey when Enrique Martínez Heredia won the young rider classification in 1976. Aside from a green Giro d’Italia mountains classification jersey in 1977, thanks to 24-year-old Spanish rider Faustino Fernández Ovies, the Kas logo wouldn’t be seen on a major podium for another 8 years, when the sponsor came back with a bang as part of the Skil-Sem-Kas-Miko (just rolls off the tongue, right?) Team and their instantly-recognizable red and white diagonally striped jersey.
Jean de Gribaldy
Under Jean de Gribaldy, the team were now registered in France and consisted of mainly French and Dutch riders, including French national champion Jean-Claude Leclercq, but amongst those continental riders was the aforementioned Irishman, and now infamous hard man of the sport, Sean Kelly.
Kelly managed to bag the blue points jersey of the Vuelta a España and the green points jersey of the Tour de France in his first season for Skil-Sem-Kas-Miko in 1985 as well as three stages of the former. In 1986, reverting back to the simpler name Kas and the original yellow and blue jersey, the team saw one of their most successful years yet as Leclercq retained his national champion’s jersey as well as winning the Dauphiné Libéré points jersey, and Kelly again took the Vuelta points jersey along with its reverse polka dot combination jersey. Add that to Patrice Esnault’s Tour de l’Avenir mountains classification win and Kas covered a rainbow of various greens (yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) and both versions of the red and white spotty jerseys.
In what was one of his most successful years, Sean Kelly would also win Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Tour of the Basque Country, Milan-Sanremo and Paris-Roubaix in those twelve months whilst riding in that yellow and blue jersey.
In early 1987, DS Jean de Gribaldy died in a car accident. It was an empty year for Kas, both in terms of loss, and of wins. The team continued, now Spanish-registered and concentrating on Spanish races to please their sponsor, but without the leadership of de Gribaldy, who Kelly has said “was a long way ahead of his time”, they floundered. 1988 would be the last year Kas sponsored a professional cycling team (as Kas - Canal 10) and the last year that now iconic jersey, so associated with King Kelly and the era of hard men, would be seen on the pro circuit.
Fortunately, two national champion’s jerseys on the backs of France’s Eric Caritoux and Spain’s Juan Carlos González Salvador started the season off right. All that was left was for Sean Kelly, the man who de Gribaldy had personally sought out in Ireland, to close the team in style with their final overall Grand Tour win at the 1988 Vuelta a España. It seems fitting that so iconic a jersey should end its days with the yellow GC, the green points, and the quartered prime colours of the combination jersey. Chapeau! – or should I say: ¡sombrero!?