Last alphabetically they may have been, but Holly Blades says Team Z belonged right at the front of the style pack.
Rising out of the ashes of the mighty Peugeot team, Z-Peugeot were an explosion of pop art in the peloton. In an attempt to distance his new team from the classic black and white Peugeot jersey, boss Roger Legeay teamed himself with a young businessman, Roger Zannier, who was looking to publicise his range of children's clothing – thus the overtly bright and eye-catching Z jersey was born.
The super ‘80s design of a bright yellow comic book explosion and a sky blue jersey with hot pink touches could not be missed on the roads and has remained an absolute classic since its first appearance in 1987.
Legeay brought the Simon brothers, Pascal and Jerome, and Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle along from Peugeot to lead Z, but the team's first season was pretty quiet and it wasn't until 1988 that things picked up. Ronan Pensec took a couple of wins and Jerome Simon won the ninth stage of the Tour de France.
In 1989, Z picked up steam as it signed Robert Millar and witnessed the resurgence of the Scot in a move he said felt like “coming home.” Millar would go on to win stages of the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de France, plus the mountains classification of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
In a surprising move, Z managed to secure world champion Greg LeMond following his period out of the saddle after his hunting accident. Although they didn't present the highest of his several salary offers, they did assure him he could ride his own bikes. Swayed by this opportunity, LeMond broke his contract with ADR – later facing a court case – to join Z.
Probably worth it for the team though, eh? Because in 1990, Z saw two yellow jerseys in the shape of the overall Dauphiné on the back of Robert Millar, plus the iconic Tour de France maillot jaune on Greg LeMond, the first non-European to win. In a fantastic piece of what I believe the kids would call “shade”, Wikipedia lists LeMond as “the first and only American to win the Tour de France.”
Although LeMond wouldn't win any more major titles in the period between the 1990 Tour and his retirement, Z still had Millar, Bruno Cornillet and the stalwart Duclos-Lassalle to bring in the wins. The Z logo was never seen on another winner's jersey, but the team raked in stage wins in the Tour, the Giro and the Dauphiné, and Duclos achieved his aim of winning Paris-Roubaix not once, but twice in consecutive years (1992 and 1993). He now has two cobble trophies and two sections of pavé named after him on the Paris-Roubaix route.
Alas, in 1993, sponsorship of the team changed to GAN and the jersey became a restrained-if-tasteful white, blue and yellow affair. Where's the fun in that?
Z were technically the last French team to win the Tour de France (albeit with an American rider – the only American rider to win, no less!) and their legacy lives on in their fondly remembered line-up of LeMond and Millar and their, let's face it, much-loved jersey. It even features in virtual form on the popular online training platform Zwift!
Laurent Fignon may have called the entire team Z a marketing stunt, but it was a marketing stunt that worked for Z owner Roger Zannier, as cycling journalist William Fotheringham points out in his team profile. Awareness figures of Z, the children's clothing company, rose from 5% to 38%. By 1992 sales had topped two billion francs and there were more than 200 Z stores. Indeed, Z still exists as a store, although the logo is slightly more subtle now and the aesthetic is more ‘Ron Weasley’ than ‘Roy Lichtenstein’.
Z were a much-loved team with a fun, memorable jersey. They might have started off a bit slow, but eventually they won the Tour and showed Fignon what a marketing stunt can achieve. Spot any similarities with the current WorldTour crop?