The story of the Tour de France logo

We turn our eye on some top designs inspired by the biggest event in cycling, starting with the Tour de France logo.

Current Tour de France logo

The current Tour de France logo was designed in 2002

It's that time of year again, when men on bicycles race around France in the high point of the cycling calendar. The Tour de France was originally organised in 1903 to promote sports magazine L'Auto, and has been held every year since, except during the two World Wars.

We know that cycling's a passion for a great many designers, and the volume of bike art out there is testament to that, and we're sure that many designers will have at least half an eye on this year's Tour, and so here we take a design-focused look at cycling's most prestigious event – starting with the striking Tour de France logo design.

100e Tour de France logo

The current Tour de France logo spawned from the 100e anniversary design

The current Tour de France logo was created by French designer Joel Guenoun back in 2002 and it's remained unchanged ever since. The playful brush script gives it a distinctly Gallic feel, while the splash of yellow reflects the famous maillot jaune awarded to the winner of each stage, but also forms part of a neat little typographic sketch of a cyclist formed within the word 'Tour'.

The Tour de France logo was introduced in 2003 for the race's 100th anniversary, with a 100e (French for 100th) in grey underneath and cleverly superimposing the 'e' over the last letter of 'France' to create a drop shadow effect, and the main part of the logo has been retained ever since.

Old Tour de France logos

Previous Tour de France logos were austere by comparison

It's all in marked contrast to the previous Tour de France logo, which feels a lot more corporate and a lot less fun. The basic blue and white logo – stern sans serif capitals ringed by a series of lines that we suppose are meant to evoke bicycle spokes – has little going for it, although the more colourful version used from 2000, with the year added in red italics to the side, is a little more lively.

2015 Grand Depart Tour de France logo

2015's Grand Départ from Utrecht featured some striking artwork

The Tour's Grand Départ regularly takes places outside of France; in 2014 it was in Yorkshire and in 2007 it set off from London. 2015 saw Utrecht host the Grand Départ, and the Dutch city marked the occasion with a fantastic set of city branding designed by Total Identity, the only agency whose pitch didn't contain any realistic bicycle elements.

Utrecht's logo is formed around a red triangle, the central part of the city's ancient coat of arms, and connects a yellow circle that represents the start of the Tour de France to another circle containing a rotating tricolour that cleverly alternates between the Dutch and French flags.
The whole campaign, says Total Identity, combines urban dynamics and pride with speed and narrative sports elements, and the whole cross media campaign even includes an animated short soundtracked by top Dutch pop band C-mon & Kypski.

At this early stage it's too early to say who'll win this year's Tour de France, although Britain's Chris Froome, who won it in 2013, appears to be a strong contender. If you struggle to name any Tour de France winners other than Bradley Wiggins and Lance Armstrong (who doesn't count any more since he got stripped of all his wins) then this print project by Neil Stevens could be a helpful aide-mémoire.

Neil Stevens Tour de France artwork

Neil Stevens Tour de France-themed artwork includes this tribute to Bernard Hinault

Stevens – clearly a massive cycling fan as a brief glance at his site will tell you – has created a series of prints inspired by iconic cycling jerseys from throughout the Tour's history. "I've always loved the look, style and even feel of those old cycling jerseys," he explains.
"The colours, logos, type and design style always grabbed my attention and in many ways is what makes the Tour the big draw that it is."

Bradley Wiggins is there of course, with an eye-catching maillot jaune enhanced with a mod target symbol, but Stevens also celebrates winners going as far back as Fausto Coppi in 1949. Our favourite, though, is definitely Bernard Hinault's Mondrian-inspired jersey from 1984.

Otto Von Beach's Tour de France logo artwork

Otto Von Beach's Tour de France artwork employs his trademark lithographic style

Going even further back, modern Victorian illustrator Otto Von Beach created a set of six prints in his trademark lithographic style, commemorating the original Tour de France back in 1903.

Von Beach's prints celebrate some key moments from the inaugural Tour, including the moment when race leader and eventual winner Maurice Garin nobbled fellow racer Fernand Augereau by bending his rear wheel. Cycling was a serious business, even back then; Garin went on to be stripped of his 1904 title for cheating and banned for two years.

Kraftwerk's unofficial Tour de France logo

For electronic music fans, Tour de France means only one thing

Of course, we can't discuss the Tour de France without mentioning Kraftwerk's song of the same name. Released in 1983, the minimalist electronic anthem was inspired by the band's love of cycling, and uses sampled voices and mechanical sounds to evoke the spirit of the race, and the single's cover is a similarly minimal masterpiece.

Uncredited, but most likely the work of long-time Kraftwerk collaborator Emil Schult, it depicts four cyclists in a paceline, on a road formed by the French flag. The cyclists were adapted from a 1953 Hungarian postage stamp, and the artwork was updated in 2003 for the release of Tour de France Soundtracks, an album recorded for the race's centenary.

Words: Jim McCauley

Jim McCauley is a writer, editor and occasional podcaster, and is available for space parties.

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