Sean Kelly’s bitter sweet yellow jersey

Sean Kelly won the green jersey four times and held the green jersey for a total of 67 stages, but in the battle for the overall classification at the Tour de France he only ever wore the yellow jersey once.

Kelly got his hands on the jersey after Stage 9 of the 1983 Tour which took the riders from Bordeaux to Pau. Before the stage, thanks to a strong opening prologue and a sixth place finish in the 58.5km time trial on Stage 6, Kelly found himself in second place overall, just 25 seconds behind the first ever Danish rider to wear the yellow jersey, Kim Andersen.

With time bonuses of 30,20 and 10 seconds available at the stage finish and five hot spot sprints on the route where the first three all received an 8 second bonus, Kelly knew there was more than enough time an offer for him to take the jersey on bonuses alone.

Andersen wouldn’t normally scrap it out for sprint bonuses, but he knew what was at stake so at the first sprint of the day he took it upon himself to challenge Kelly taking third in the sprint while Kelly finished just ahead in second. 8 seconds each, as you were. The gap from Andersen back to Kelly remained at 25 seconds.

But Kelly out gunned Andersen in two further sprints, taking third place at Roquefort and second place at Morlaas, while Andersen didn’t score in any of the remaining intermediate sprints. This left the gap between Kelly and Andersen at 9 seconds with only the final sprint to the finish line to come.

The Frenchman Phillipe Chevalier had broken clear 80km to the finish and was certain to win the stage. Another rider, Dutchman Gerard Veldscholten remained in no man’s land between Chevalier and the charging bunch and looked certain to take second place. Therefore, Kelly knew he had to win the bunch sprint if he was to take the 10 seconds and the first yellow jersey of his career.

And Kelly did exactly that, just pipping Etienne De Wilde to the line to take the remaining 10 second bonus which launched him into a 1 second lead over Kim Andersen overall.

Kelly’s time in yellow the following day was not a pleasant one. It was a mountain stage from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon where unfortunately Kelly suffered majorly. He ended the stage over 10 minutes behind the winner Robert Millar and conceded the jersey to the Frenchman Pascal Simon (incidentally, Stephen Roche had also taken over the lead in the white jersey competition the very same day that Kelly took over in yellow. The white jersey was a classification which denoted the leading Tour debutante. This was the only day that any Irishman has ever led this Tour classification, as just like Kelly, Roche was to concede time in the mountains the following day and he lost the white jersey to Laurent Fignon, the eventual race winner).

Kelly would ultimately end the race in seventh place, but he had this to say about his day in yellow:

“My day in yellow was brutal. Over the Aubisque, the Tourmalet, the Aspin and the Peyresourde. I was very bad early on. Was it the pressure of the yellow jersey weighing on my shoulders or was it that I was always going to have a bad day there? The pace on the Aubisque was very fast.

Just like now, there is so much attention on the yellow jersey, especially when he’s dropped. I had five or six motorbikes around me, cameramen filming me, taking photos. I didn’t lose my head at them but it was very irritating. It was a hot day and the fumes are so poisoning.

I felt better towards the end but I lost 10 minutes and slipped down overall, six minutes behind the new leader. It was very deflating but you have to carry on, get into recovery mode and forget about it.

I kept my yellow jersey, with the numbers still pinned to the back, to Paris. We were having a meal after the final stage and I left my suitcase in the car outside. The car was broken into, the suitcase was gone. I called the police and they found the suitcase and some possessions strewn in a nearby street, but not the yellow jersey.

It was very upsetting to lose the one I’d actually worn, although the Tour de France did send me a replacement, which is framed at home. I put it up there with the Milan-San Remo and the Paris-Roubaix and the other big Classics I won.”

Related Articles

#Andersen#de Wilde#Kelly#Simon


  1. Bikefoolish - August 16, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    Good work Cillian. Any chance of doing the cycling history stuff soon?

  2. Irish Peloton - August 16, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    Yep, have a show all ready and prepared since yesterday. Should be recording on the weekend!

  3. Chris - August 21, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    Hi Cillian,

    Good post here – was wondering if you’d read breaking the chain?

    Am currently half way through this and the incident seems to crop up – Voet says he made his name in the soigneur’s game from working with Sean Kelly, & although not mentioned by name he says that he earned the nickname ‘blocker’ by giving said rider the wrong drug the day after he won his first yellow jersey, making him incapable of holding a wheel on the mountain stage on his first and only day in yellow.

    Voet also goes onto say that he thought that year was probably said riders only chance of winning the tour – very interesting passage I thought.

  4. bikefoolish - August 22, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Interesting reading Chris. I’m trying to get the said book myself to have a read, I dont know if you listen to Cillian’s podcast’s on cycling history but I am trying to persuade him to look at a history of doping because its such a large aspect of the sport. I am particualry interested in large systematic doping as had occured after the war in the eastern block countries. Most publicised were those uses for gymnastics but I want to see where they connected to cycling. Daniel Freibe’s book on Merckx alludes to it in his last chapter, very interesting read

  5. John Pierce - March 29, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

    There is one of my unauthorised photos on this page. Please either remove it or place a credit on it as it is a copyrighted photo; This is subject to a reproduction fee by law.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *