The Curse of the Rainbow Jersey

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The curse of the Rainbow Jersey is a curse in cycling which is used to explain the poor performance of the World Champion, usually from bad luck the following season. The rainbow jersey is worn by the reigning world champion in bicycle racing and it dates back to 1927. Proponents of the curse argue every pro rider who has won the World Championship has had an underwhelming following season or has altogether been forced to take time off from racing due to injury, exhaustion or suspension the year after their championship.

Effects of the Curse of the Rainbow Jersey

The rainbow jersey curse dates way back as early as 1927 when Alfredo Binda won the first World Championship. Binda never won the Tour de France in his career despite being one of the greatest riders in the sport. Perhaps the most notable victim of the curse is Jean-Pierre Monsere who won the 1970 world champion and died wearing the rainbow jersey in March 1971.

In 1981, Belgian Freddy Maertens won the Tour De France but he failed to win any races in 1982 and only won two more races in his professional career. In 1987 the rainbow jersey winner Stephen Roche of Ireland had a disastrous campaign the following year, missing majority of the season with a knee injury. The 1994 winner of the rainbow jersey, Frenchman Luc Lebianc performed poorly the following season, winning just one race the following season though he bounced back in 1996.

The 1997 rainbow jacket winner Laurent Brochard was suspended for the following season after he was caught up in the Festina doping scandal. The 1989 champion Stephen Roche never won another championship again. The 1999 champ Romans Vainsteins got just one more pro podium finish, in 2002, before retiring. The year before that, Oskar Camezind won the rainbow jacket but he retired in 2004 when he tested positive for EPO and without winning another major race in his career.

In 2003 Spaniard Igor Astarloa, who won the rainbow jersey that year switched teams to team Cofidis for the 2004 season but the team suspended operation due to a doping scandal involving members of the team. He switched back to team Lampre and then Barloworld but he had an underwhelming season and he never quite reached the same height again. Isaac Galvez, who was wearing the rainbow jacket as World Madison died when he hit an obstacle and flew into a ditch.

The 2006 winner, Italian Paolo Bettini lifted the title on September 24, 2006 in Salzburg Austria but barely a week later, he lost his elder brother in an auto accident. He too suffered a number of accidents and technical problems that somewhat diminished his performance. Alessandro Ballan, the 2008 World Road Champion was unable to defend the title after he was diagnosed with Cytomegalovirus just before the 2009 season began.

He missed the entire Giro d’Italia and most of the Tour de France as a result. Phillip Gilbert, the winner of the 2012 World Road Championship only won one stage in the entire championship the following season while wearing the rainbow jersey. The 2013 rainbow jacket winner Rui Costa suffered from bronchitis and was forced to miss most of the 2014 Tour de France.

How Credible is the Curse of the Rainbow?

The credibility of the curse of the rainbow jacket is questioned in many quarters and looking at the statistic,s it does not really seem to hold water. Alfredo Binda for example won 41 subsequent stages of the Tour de France but this is overlooked when explaining the curse. Maertens won the 1976 World Title and still won the next year’s version in record fashion, including winning 13 stages of the 1977 Vuelta.

Lance Armstrong, despite the obvious misfortunes that befell him later won several back to back titles during his long career. More recently, 2011 world champion Mark Cavendish won 13 stages while in the Jersey and Belgian Tom Boonen followed up the 2005 world championship with 12 individual stage wins as well as the Tour of Qatar and the Tour of Flanders.

While it is undeniable that players do take a fairly sharp turn for the worse while holding the rainbow jersey, but there are clearly many exceptions to this tendency. Usually, this can be attributed to the huge pressure heaped on the winner to maintain their high standards.