Some have gandered that the colour red has been chosen because in other races – such as the Tour de France – it's on the jersey for the King of the Mountains, making it fitting in this instance as La Vuelta is won and lost in Spain's high ground. Whatever the reason, the maillot rojo has only been red for the last ten years and before that, the Spanish were somewhat indecisive as to what to do about the colour.

Roberto Heras in the 2000 Vuelta a España leaders jersey. (Image: Getty)

When the first Vuelta was raced in 1935, the winner was crowned in an orange jersey. The race then took a five year hiatus from 1936 – thanks to the Spanish Civil War – returning in 1941 with a white leader's jersey, before going back to orange the following year. Another break, for WWII this time, and in 1945 the leader's jersey switched once more to white, staying so until another break from 1950 for which economic reasons were to blame.

Since it came back in 1955, La Vuelta a España has not had a break but it has had many more jersey changes. Upon its return, the leader wore a yellow jersey, perhaps to try and unite all the Grand Tours with one glorious colour for the leader of the General Classification. For the next 43 years, it stayed yellow, except for a blip in 1977 when the organisers went back to orange once more.

Mark Cavendish in the red jersey at the 2010 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Tim De Waele)

Then came 1998 and a more golden, darker yellow in a move away from the maillot jaune, which was to remain until 2010 when the maillot rojo that we now know was introduced. Mark Cavendish was the first ever rider to don the jersey after his team – HTC-Columbia at the time – won the opening time trial stage, however it was Vincenzo Nibali who was the first winner in red. 

The maillot rojo has only existed for 11 years – and Primoz Roglic has taken three of those – and with La Vuelta's history of switching colours around a lot, time will tell if red stays the course for good. While there seems no rhyme or reason for the colour choice, perhaps it's as simple as red being a key component of the Spanish flag.

September 24, 2021