Stars-and-stripes saga: The backstory behind Greg Daniel’s missing national champion’s jersey
Over Memorial Day weekend, 21-year-old Greg Daniel shocked the favorites with an emphatic victory at the U.S. national road championship. Almost a month later, he’s still without a team-issue stars-and-stripes jersey. Why?
The answer is a convoluted story of jersey-design rules and interpretations, between his Axeon Hagens Berman team, USA Cycling, and the UCI.
Daniel had looked forward to donning a team-issued stars-and-stripes jersey at the Tour de Beauce, his first race since winning the national title. But when he clipped in to begin Stage 1 on Wednesday, he was wearing the same jersey he received on the podium in Winston-Salem, with a sponsor decal on the front. It was, as they say, “not very pro.”
Fortunately for Daniel, he traded in his generic stars-and-stripes jersey for the yellow leader’s jersey at Beauce, which he donned after the second stage and wore through the final podium presentation.
Why wasn’t the U.S. national champion wearing a team-issue jersey in a UCI stage race, two weeks after winning his title? Because the team’s proposed design did not pass USA Cycling’s regulations.
USA Cycling technical director Chuck Hodge said the federation issued a document to all pro teams earlier this year with a template and regulations for a national champion’s jersey.
“We have a template, which is stars and blue on top, white space in the middle, and red and white vertical stripes below,” said Hodge. “We don’t require it to exactly follow that template, but it should follow the design guidelines of the template. If the stripes are a little wider, if the stars are a little bigger, those are items we can approve.
“We had some issues last year at major events with our national champion jersey and our Pro Committee, backed by staff, came to the decision that we have an iconic, long-standing national champion’s jersey that we want on display. I created this document at the beginning of the year to try to clarify these things.”
Sean Weide, media relations coordinator for Axeon Hagens Berman, said the team submitted a design for Daniel’s jersey the night he won the national championship, but was notified a few days later that the design did not meet the regulations of the template and therefore had been rejected by USA Cycling’s Pro Committee.
“As far as I know, at least from my experience, if you don’t wear your national championship jersey that you have earned, the UCI and the commissaires can fine you every day,” Sean Weide, media relations’ coordinator for Axeon Hagens Berman, told CyclingTips. “We were fortunate that [Daniel] had his podium jersey that he was presented in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and of course that is approved because that is what they presented him. So he had been wearing that on the first day of Beauce.”
Daniel and the team weren’t fined at the Tour de Beauce, but the absence of his coveted stars and stripes jersey was conspicuous — it was a missed opportunity to show off the team’s sponsors, in a sport where sponsors are a lifeline.
“Ironically or coincidentally, the jersey design that we submitted was identical to the one USA Cycling approved last year for the under-23 national champion who also rode for Axeon, Keegan Swirbul,” Weide said. “Last June, after he won under-23 nationals, we submitted that jersey design and they approved it. From what we understand, although it was identical to that one approved last June it was not approved this time.”
Axeon responded to USA Cycling’s rejection of the design by emailing a collage of national champion jersey designs from the past year that did not follow the template, and a statement from branding expert, Jon Brooks of Image Building Communications.
This didn’t sway USA Cycling to approve the design, and Hodge, who joined USA Cycling in November of last year, explained the recent strictness on national champion jersey designs is focused more on prominent UCI categories.
“This actually came out of the Pro Committee last year, before I was with USA Cycling, that we want consistency, especially what we call the UCI categories, which is 17-18 juniors, u23s and elites, those very visual jerseys that are out there,” Hodge said. “We want visual recognition of this jersey. We want people to look at it at a race and say, ‘that is the U.S. national champion.’”
Axeon Hagens Berman resubmitted a jersey design to USA Cycling about a week later, but the team’s deadline to have a jersey made for Daniel in time for the Tour de Beauce had passed.
The new design was approved, though additional issues arose, this time due to the UCI’s regulations on logo sizes, further delaying the process.
“There were a few issues with the size of the logos,” Hodge said of Axeon’s resubmitted jersey design. “That is a UCI regulation, that is not our regulation. I have actually explained to Axel [Merckx] that USA Cycling was fine with the design of the jersey, we were fine with the logos. I emailed the UCI to see if they would give any leeway. It is not in our regulations, but it is in theirs. I never heard back from [the UCI], but my last discussion with Axel was you if want to go ahead and do this, we are ok with it, but you may run into trouble with the UCI.”
Weide said Axeon Hagens Berman decided to roll the dice and produce Daniel’s team-issue national champion jersey. “The hold-up on the approval was USA Cycling’s concerns with the UCI and they feared the [resubmitted jersey design] would open us up to fines, because we don’t meet the UCI regulations,” Weide said.
“Since we already have jerseys that are in line with that, we are just going with the design and we’ll just have to see what happens, and if there are fines. We can’t afford to go any longer with getting this out for Greg Daniel.”
Hodge explained that approval of jersey designs occurs on a case-by-case basis. “It is not like we are picking on one team,” Hodge said. “We are finding these and dealing with these. We want a consistent look. Other nations for instance, I talked with Belgium and they have even stricter regulations on their jerseys than we do.”
Rally Cycling, the team of national criterium champion Brad Huff, was forced to redesign Huff’s national champion jersey, earned in April.
“We had a design that we have used in the past that is in line with what [USA Cycling] want, and we kept the sides sort of what they were, but we changed what was around the gut area, and I’m not sure how they found out about it,” said Sam Weibe, Rally Cycling’s creative director.
“Our line of thinking was maybe a criterium champion’s jersey is a little less official than a road race champion, so maybe we could do something different, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. They like things to look the way they want them to look.”
Unlike many European countries, which often feature three bold colors of their country’s flag, the USA’s stars and stripes requires a bit of ingenuity for designers seeking to showcase the flag on a cycling jersey.
“Being a designer, the USA is hard,” Weibe said. “I’ve found that it is hard with the stars and stripes, and it is not as simple as some other country’s flags. I think there is the potential to get kind of out of hand maybe if teams just did what they wanted. I’ve made some pretty ugly stuff in the past, where I was like ‘what was I thinking?’ because it is tough. There is red, white, and blue, and stars and stripes, and a lot of stuff flying around.”
USA Cycling has adopted this new template to rein-in some of the more elaborate designs that have appeared in the past, though UCI sponsor logo size regulations are also a sticking point. Rally Cycling ran into the same issue Axeon Hagens Berman did, in terms of logo sizes, but Weibe doesn’t see it being a problem.
“I think is important that our sponsors are shown and in a prominent way,” Weibe said. “[The UCI] have a template they sent me and it was 10cm on the front for a sponsor logo and 5cm on the shoulders. We are not going to shrink our sponsors’ logos or the main logos.
“That kind of stuff they are fine with. They aren’t going to crack down on you for that, but I don’t think they want these wild kits because people may wonder what the hell that is.”
Gone, it seems, are the days of creative, and sometimes outlandish, U.S. national champion jerseys in the pro peloton. Fortunately for Daniel, he still has 11 months to wear his stars and stripes.