17 March 2015

Tour Green: Sean Kelly

Believe it or not, this was the jersey of a French cycling team.

Sem-France Loire jersey

So why does it look more like the flag of Ireland--or, at least, the way such a flag might look if it were designed by an Ulsterman?

The Sem-France Loire team raced from 1980 until 1983.  Directeur sportif Jean de Gribaldy formed it by taking the French part of the Belgian Flandria-Ca-Va Seul-Senair (Try saying that three times fast) team after Flandria withdrew its sponsorship.   The team was originally called Puch-Sem-Campagnolo, but de Gribaldy re-christened it Sem France-Loire in 1981, when Sem became the main sponsor.

In the squad's first year, it was captained by Joaquim Agostinho, a Portuguese cyclist who finished fifth in the Tour de France that year.  But in the summer of 1981, a certain racer who started his professional career on the Flandria team several years earlier contacted his former directeur sportif--de Gribaldy--about joining his new team.

DeGribaldy got the necessary sponsorship and signed said cyclist.  Once you know who he is, it will make--in an ironic sort of way--perfect sense that he wore the jersey in the picture.

I am talking, of course, about someone who would become of the most prominent racers of the 1980's--and one of the most successful Irish riders ever:  Sean Kelly.

With Sem, Kelly rejoined some of his former teammates, including Eddy Planckaert.  With such a strong cast, the team cast a shadow far longer than one might have expected from their small budget.  Their riders accounted for several important victories, such as the French road race championship of 1981, the Swiss Cyclo-Cross championship of the same year, as the Paris-Camembert in 1981, Paris-Nice in 1982 and Liege-Bastogne-Liege in 1983.  And, in 1983, Kelly would win the Tour de Suisse for the Sem team's last major victory.

The following year, power-tool manufacturer Skil became the main sponsor. Sem-France Loire then morphed into the Skil_sem team.  And Kelly went on to bigger and better things.  Although he never won the Tour de France outright, he took--appropriately enough--its maillot vert in 1982, 1983, 1985 and 1989.

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