Holly Blades - Threads of History: La Vie Claire


The La Vie Claire kit is iconic. If you're reading this, a cycling website, you probably need no introduction to the block colours and geometric shapes of the Bernard Hinault-led team of the mid to late 1980's. Based on the De Stijl (“The Style”) designs of Piet Mondrian, the Benetton designed jersey is one of the most recognisable designs in the history of the peloton.

In the 1920's, Mondrian started using blocks of colour and white, divided by thick straight black lines as an attempt to free himself from naturalistic appearances. In his opinion, only something that looked completely unnatural could be true art and not, simply, an interpretation of the natural world. Fortunately those blocks and straight lines were perfect for displaying logos and in 1983 some bright spark hired by a new French team put the two ideas together.

The classic La Vie Claire kit was first seen on the roads in 1984 where the eponymous sponsor, a French health food company, were joined by French household goods producer Terraillon. The team was created as a vehicle for Bernard Hinault following his acrimonious split from Renault-Elf-Gitane and new kid on the block, Laurent Fignon. Overseen by French businessman and politician Bernard Tapie, with Hinault's former domestique Maurice Le Guilloux, LVC featured French national champion Marc Gomez alongside the inimitable Badger. In that first season they would take eight one-day and criterium wins (mainly Hinault) and seven stages of multi-day races. With interest in the team growing, in 1985 Radar and Wonder were the new Tapie-owned sponsors added to the primary coloured squares.

Also newcomers to the team for the 1985 season were Greg LeMond (who would go on to wear the amazing combined jersey at the Tour) and former Canadian national champion Steve Bauer. Nothing bad could happen with Hinault and LeMond on the same team, could it? Well, LeMond sacrificed his own lead and helped Hinault take his 5th Tour win, and Hinault promised to help LeMond achieve his first Tour win the following year by way of thanks, so it all looked tickety-boo.

The jersey remained pretty much the same throughout the 1986 season, and appeared on the top podium step of Etoile de Besseges; The Tour de Suisse, on the back of new recruit Andy Hampsten; and, oh yes, the 1986 Tour de France. The totally uneventful 1986 Tour de France, where the La Vie Claire team bus was no doubt all sweetness and light and songs around a campfire.

Except of course it wasn't. Hinault would go on to attack LeMond at every opportunity on the road, claiming it was all part of the plan to psyche out LeMond's rivals, except it meant that the team fractured along national lines, the English and American riders chasing Hinault down and the continental riders supporting the Frenchman, rather than team leader LeMond. Perhaps they thought it was worth it, as that year LeMond won the yellow jersey, Hinault the polka dot, and Hampsten the white young rider's jersey. I guess you're going to gain points if you're constantly attacking or chasing down.

But the damage was done. The next year, 1987, La Vie Claire dropped out as main sponsor and Toshiba took over, leaving the team Toshiba-Look-La Vie Claire – a bit of a mouthful. Hinault retired, his relationship with LeMond and team DS (and former domestique) Maurice Le Guilloux damaged, and LeMond got shot. Ouch. Originally life-threatening injuries and a long period of recuperation meant the American missed the entire 1987 and 1988 seasons and never wore the famous Mondrian-inspired jersey again, returning to the roads for a different team.

With the loss of LeMond, Hinault and their headline sponsor La Vie Claire, Team Toshiba continued with a mainly French roster and the same striking jersey for several more years. LOOK bicycle manufacturer were added as a sponsor, their logo emblazoned down the side of the jersey and interestingly, 1988 became the first year that the blue of Mondrian's original Tablet 1 would be seen in the colours of the jersey, as the right sleeve became cobalt with the Toshiba logo.

After a quiet 1988 season, 1989 was the swan song of the classic LVC jersey, the team had fewer grand names aside from former French champion Marc Madiot and it would be the final year that white, grey, yellow, blue, black and red would be seen on the roads of professional bike racing.

But it's okay, because it was replaced with the brash diagonal epitome of nineties clothing, the 1990 Team Toshiba jersey. So, there's that . . .


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