The Tour de La Provence (February 14-17) will showcase a leader's jersey like no other in professional cycling as race organizers have unveiled a replica of La Vie Claire's apparel, complete with the white, red, yellow and blue cubes of Piet Mondrian.
The French team, which operated under the name of organic food company La Vie Claire from 1984 to 1986, won the Tour de France through Bernard Hinault in 1985 and Greg LeMond in 1986. Japanese giant Toshiba took over sponsorship from 1987 to 1991.
"We wanted to pay tribute to a great piece of cycling history," said newly-appointed race director Pierre-Maurice Courtade, 38, who has compiled an astonishing collection of 4,000 cycling jerseys, some of which were part of an exhibition at the Stade Vélodrome when the Tour de France visited Marseille for an individual time trial in 2017.
Deputy race director Marion Rousse, who is an analyst on France Télévisions, added: "It's an homage to Bernard Tapie, who tremendously helps the organisation of the Tour de La Provence."
Tapie was a controversial self-made businessman, TV star and politician in the 1980s. He made himself famous for rescuing bankrupt companies, and he took up the gamble of financing Hinault's comeback after his knee operation and his divorce with Renault team boss Cyrille Guimard in 1983. Tapie revolutionized the sport with his business approach and the introduction of high wages for professional cyclists.
"The riders were exploited," Tapie recalled in an interview with newspaper La Provence this week. "I rectified that. The other teams sulked but they were forced to follow the move." Tapie continued in the sports business when he took over football club Olympique de Marseille in 1986. The team won the Champions League in 1993 and remains the only French club to have done so. A minister under French president François Mitterrand and the owner of Adidas for a short period, Tapie, now 76, was diagnosed with cancer in 2017.
Since 2013, Tapie is a major shareholder in the newspaper La Provence, which covers France's second city Marseille and around. His undisputed love for cycling led to the inception of the Tour de La Provence won by Thomas Voeckler in 2016, Rohan Dennis in 2017 and Alexandre Geniez in 2018. The fourth edition has taken the dates of the defunct Tour Méditerranéen in the international cycling calendar.
22 teams including 9 World Tour teams and riders like Philippe Gilbert, Thibaut Pinot, Warren Barguil, John Degenkolb and cyclo-cross world champion Mathieu Van der Poel are expected to line up for the 8.9km inaugural time trial on Thursday at Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer. Tapie will be there as well as several former members of his team to revive the mid-1980s.
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