With its demanding mountain stages, signature yellow leader’s jersey and dramatic conclusion on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, the legendary Tour de France always impresses. But its history also includes a legacy of impressive poster prints.
As the 2018 Tour de France enters the exciting final few stages, the world’s top riders try to outlast each other in their grueling quest for victory. While their blurred images flashing by French landmarks might be fleeting, a remarkable collection of event posters have endured, capturing a cultural and historical record of the event.
Coincidentally, one of my favorite posters was created exactly fifty years ago for the 1968 Tour and was featured as the cover artwork for the French magazine Miroir du Cyclisme. The design includes a tri-color typographic header design reminiscent of the French flag, and an image of two riders (who were the favorites going into the race that year) framed inside the distinctive shape of France. It’s a design nostalgic of the simplicity and boldness that the 1970s were famous for.
Going back to the early years of the Tour, there are several posters typical of the design styles of that period. The 1927 event poster shown below uses a red, white and blue ellipse and border treatment with art deco-style fonts and an illustrated rider waving to the crowd. The 1935 poster design was also a magazine cover, featured in Journal Meteore. It uses a rider and shadow image that looks more velodrome than road race, but works really well and is a nice example of vintage typography. The print technology at that time was still fairly primitive, and consequently, these designs are pleasantly uncomplicated.
The style of the Tour poster artwork began maturing in the post-World War II era. These examples from 1949 and 1952 show the evolving complexity of design and printing techniques, which began to include posterized visuals, the overlapping of images, and graduated color tones in the backgrounds and design elements.
Tour posters examples from the 1970s and 1980s are a little scarce. Admittedly, some of these may be magazine covers or even advertisements, but the three examples shown below are representative of the eclectic styles that were prevalent during the last two decades before the computer design age. Nothing here I’d hang on my studio wall, but the 1975 version is a simple and clever nod to the red polka dot King of the Mountains jersey worn by the toughest climber throughout the tour.
Probably the best examples come from the more recent decades, especially in 2013 when the Tour celebrated its 100thanniversary. The three designs shown below capture the essence of the race in completely different ways and are just a few of the numerous clever solutions to be found.
My favorite posters, however, were done in the 2000s and feature creative concepts designed around the famous yellow leader’s jersey. The 2006 version (perhaps the most ingenious of them all) portrays six riders grabbing for the yellow jersey and stretching it into the shape of France. The 2009 poster uses the same jersey element to create a mountain peak symbolic of the steep mountaintop stage climbs and it leads with the lyrical headline “Le Tour Toujours” (The Tour Always). Great stuff!
Unfortunately, doping scandals, stripped titles and general negativity tarnished the event and the sport of cycling in the late 1990s and 2000s. But if the quality of the poster designs for the Tour de France throughout its first century is any indication of the future, it should be blue French skies and clear mountain air ahead. Thumbs up from the Sports Brand Jury courtroom, and Vive le Tour!
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