The Red Jersey at La Vuelta a España - A Brief History

La Vuelta a España is the youngest of cycling’s three Grand Tours. But what is the history behind the leader's red jersey?

Each Grand Tour has its own colour for the leader's jersey, and it only seems fitting that the Vuelta should choose red for its colour – a colour that's so often associated with mountains classifications and combativity. Those are two central features of the Vuelta a España.

The red jersey, or maillot rojo, is worn by the leader of the general classification — the race’s equivalent to the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, or the pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia.

However, the jersey has not always been red. In fact, it has been a variety of different colours through the years. The race leader wore orange throughout the inaugural edition of the Vuelta in 1935. Since then, it has changed colour on multiple occasions.

Vuelta a España 2021 Guide

To understand why the leader's jersey at the Vuelta a España has changed so regularly, we need to dive into the history of the Spanish Grand Tour. After the Vuelta was initially raced in 1935 — 32 years after the first Tour de France and 26 years after the inaugural Giro d’Italia — the race was held infrequently. The Vuelta only took place ten times between 1935 and 1955.

The Spanish Civil War halted the Vuelta after 1936 for a five-year period. Once the Vuelta returned in 1941, the leader’s jersey changed to white, before changing back to orange again in 1942. Another hiatus occurred after 1942 due to World War II, and when the race returned to the calendar in 1945, the colour of the jersey changed again. This time, the leader would wear white. This remained the case until 1950, when the race took another break due to economic concerns.

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When the Vuelta returned to the cycling calendar for good in 1955 — with Basque newspaper El Correo organising — the leader donned a yellow jersey, rather than the original orange or varying white jerseys that had been used since the race’s inception. This was very similar to the Tour de France's maillot jaune. The jersey remained yellow for over 40 years, with the exception of 1977 when it was briefly orange again. In 1998, the jersey was altered to a darker, golden colour.

Roberto HerasRoberto Heras in the leader's jersey at La Vuelta in 2004 (Image credit: JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)

The leader’s jersey remained gold until 2010, when the red jersey was introduced. Mark Cavendish was the first rider to wear red after his HTC-Columbia team won the team time trial in Seville. Philippe Gilbert and Joaquim Rodríguez were some of the other riders to wear red that year, before Vincenzo Nibali eventually won the 2010 Vuelta a España, making him the winner of the first red jersey.

Mark Cavendish red jerseyMark Cavendish wearing the red jersey at the 2010 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Tim De Waele/Getty Images)

Roberto Heras is the only rider to have won La Vuelta on four separate occasions. He won the race in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, so wore the golden jersey, or jersey de oro, rather than the red jersey. 

After Heras tested positive for EPO months after the race, his victory at the 2005 Vuelta was disregarded. However, he successfully appealed and was reinstated as the 2005 champion.

Riders that have won the red jersey at La Vuelta a España

Primoz RoglicPrimož Roglič celebrates winning the Vuelta a España in 2020 (Image credit: Luis Angel Gomez / ASO)

  • 2020 - Primož Roglič, Jumbo-Visma
  • 2019 - Primož Roglič, Jumbo-Visma
  • 2018 - Simon Yates, Mitchelton Scott
  • 2017 - Chris Froome, Team Sky
  • 2016 - Nairo Quintana, Movistar
  • 2015 - Fabio Aru, Astana
  • 2014 - Alberto Contador, Tinkoff-Saxo
  • 2013 - Chris Horner, RadioShack-Leopard
  • 2012 - Alberto Contador, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff
  • 2011 - Chris Froome, Team Sky
  • 2010 - Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Doimo

Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Primož Roglič have all won the Vuelta a España twice since 2010. Originally, Juan José Cobo won the 2011 edition, though he was stripped of the title in 2019 after he was found guilty of doping.

Cover image: Luis Angel Gomez / ASO

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