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Selling the Yellow Jersey

The Tour de France in the Global Era

Yellow Livestrong wristbands were taken off across America in early 2013 when Lance Armstrong confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had doped during the seven Tour de France races he won.  But the foreign cycling world, which always viewed Armstrong with suspicion, had already moved on. The bellwether events of the year were Chris Froome’s victory in the Tour and the ousting of Pat McQuaid as director of the Union Cycliste Internationale. Even without Armstrong, the Tour will roll on— its gigantic entourage includes more than 200 racers, 450 journalists, 260 cameramen, 2,400 support vehicles carrying 4,500 people, and a seven-mile-long publicity caravan. It remains one of the most-watched annual sporting events on television and a global commercial juggernaut.

In Selling the Yellow Jersey, Eric Reed examines the Tour’s development in France as well as the event’s global athletic, cultural, and commercial influences. The race is the crown jewel of French cycling, and at first the newspapers that owned the Tour were loath to open up their monopoly on coverage to state-owned television. However, the opportunity for huge payoffs prevailed, and France tapped into global networks of spectatorship, media, business, athletes, and exchanges of expertise and personnel. In the process, the Tour helped endow world cycling with a particularly French character, culture, and structure, while providing proof that globalization was not merely a form of Americanization, imposed on a victimized world. Selling the Yellow Jersey explores the behind-the-scenes growth of the Tour, while simultaneously chronicling France’s role as a dynamic force in the global arena.

280 pages | 19 halftones, 1 map, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2015

History: American History, European History

Sociology: Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports

Sport and Recreation


“In this original and compelling examination of the Tour de France’s commercial, economic, and cultural history, Reed inserts the world’s greatest bicycle race into the broader narrative of globalization even as he illustrates  the important role local and national context plays in shaping the Tour’s many meanings. Selling the Yellow Jersey demonstrates that sport does not simply reflect and exploit major trends in business strategies, leisure, and consumption patterns, celebrity and mass culture, and media innovation; it also shapes those trends in significant ways. In the process, Reed deepens our understanding of how the Tour’s internationalization has both challenged and reinforced longstanding notions of a distinctive ‘Frenchness.’”

Christopher Thompson, author of The Tour de France: A Cultural History

Selling the Yellow Jersey is a provocative case study describing how twentieth-century globalization trends inherent in modern media, marketing, and consumerism interact with and transform the peculiarities of national and regional identities.  Reed explains how by developing into a quintessential and yet contrived cornerstone of la France profonde, the Tour became a significant aspect of a developing national identity for the French as they struggled to adapt to post-war modernity and global commercial competition.  At the same time, the Tour de France gave the world of international cycling, including its celebrity culture and its rules and ethics, the peculiarly French twist that it maintains through today.  By focusing intently on the development of the Tour as a commercial venture, Selling the Yellow Jersey illuminates the perhaps unromantic yet undeniable ways that businessmen built modern sports and other mass entertainment spectacles in search of new ways to boost their profits, whether that meant selling more newspapers or directing more consumers’ eyes to paid advertisements.”

Phillip Dehne | St. Joseph’s College

“In Selling the Yellow Jersey Reed deftly intertwines the stories and spectacles of the Tour de France alongside a fascinating reading of the shifting culture and politics that have shaped France over the past century.  It is essential reading for sports fans, history buffs, and Francophiles alike."

Judith Grant Long | Harvard University

“Reed’s commercial focus makes Selling the Yellow Jersey a particularly pertinent Tour history given the on-going revenue sharing debate. Understanding of what is happening today can only be enhanced by understanding those parts of the past that relate to the present. Even without that motive, though, Selling the Yellow Jersey is a worthwhile read, Reed’s history being full of choice titbits of Tour history and—despite its average of three or four footnotes per page—a brisk read.”

Podium Cafe

“Excellent. . . . Selling the Yellow Jersey is recommended reading for anyone interested in the fascinating history of this sport and its social, cultural and economic aspects.”

Bowling Green Daily News

Selling the Yellow Jersey offers a compelling and long-overdue analysis of the Tour de France as a global commercial sporting spectacle. It showcases the importance of the history of this particular sporting event, both within French frontiers and beyond them. Moreover, it breaks new ground by convincingly demonstrating that the race was not only immensely potent as a source of cultural and social meaning for French men and women, but was central to a kind of commercial modernity—from the race’s structure to its celebrity athletes—that shaped globalization on French terms.”


“Comprised of equal parts cultural history of sport, media history, and business history, Selling the Yellow Jersey mines a rich vein of archival sources ranging from the municipal records of host cities to the archives of Tour sponsors and augments them with the self-reflexive, enthusiastic coverage of the event in print and on television, both in France and abroad. . . . Selling the Yellow Jersey is a smart, innovative, and well-researched work that demonstrates how the Tour de France’s fusion of sport, media, and commerce helped shape the global twentieth century.”

American Historical Review

“This is a very impressive piece of analysis, based on expert and detailed knowledge, original research and insight, and it deserves a place in the library of any university where the history of sport is researched and taught, and on the shelves of any fan of the Tour de France who, while watching the riders sweat through the French countryside and its heritage, also wants to understand a little more about what is going on behind the heroic physicality of the competition and the dramatic images of rural and urban France.”

Hugh Dauncey | Modern and Contemporary France

Selling the Yellow Jersey greatly expands the vision of the tour as a commercial and globally important spectacle. Further, Reed shows the tour can be a wonderful focal point for comparative history. The work is essential reading for scholars of cycling and French or global history.”

Journal of Sport History

Selling the Yellow Jersey serves as a great introductory work for anyone who wishes to see past the athletes who have formed the tapestry of the event. The book traces how the French influenced the world of cycling, how globalization impacted the Tour, and how the French adapted to these developments. . . . Selling the Yellow Jersey is a highly engaging story that will enrich the academic discourse and add to the understanding of the Tour for years to come.”

Sport in American History

“A fascinating study, Selling the Yellow Jersey should find an eager audience both inside and outside the academy. Clearly written, with superb anecdotes, the book could even work well in undergraduate classes, especially since it models for students how they might use English-language media sources in research projects quite firmly anchored in European history.”

Stephen L. Harp | Journal of Modern History

“Anyone interested in learning more about the history of the Tour will find Reed’s work an engaging book. I certainly suggest reading it in conjunction with watching the Tour. More importantly, readers will see how sports histories clarify the spread of commercial culture to France, from Paris to the provinces, and the reflection of French culture back to the rest of the world in the era of globalization.”

Contemporary French Civilization

“Reed’s text has much to recommend it to a wide and varied audience. Not only is the content very well researched (the bibliography is richly detailed and well organized showing the variety of archives, periodicals, autobiographies, interviews, and other academic and gray literature that construct this text) but it is also informative and sprinkled with trinkets of interesting information that will appeal to tour fans and those involved in sport cycling, alongside academics.”

Enterprise & Society

Table of Contents



1 Sport, Bicycling, and Globalization in the Print Era: Convergences and Divergences
2 The Tour, Greatest of the Turn-of-the-Century Bicycle Races
3 The Tour and Television: A Love-Hate Story
4 The French School of Cycling
5 The Tour in the Provinces: Sport and Small Cities in the Global Age
6 The Tour’s Globalizing Agenda in the Television Age
7 The Global Tour and Its Stars
Afterword: Doping and the Tour on the World Stage


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