Written by Senta Scarborough
If it's July, and for Fierce Hazel fans, it's time to look for the yellow in one of the fiercest races of all—the women's and men's Tour de France.
Yellow—the most recognized color in the hard-core, mountainside, chateau-filled race—is famous for the "maillot jaune" or yellow jersey worn by the rider who leads the general classification (GC) or the competitor with the lowest aggregate time prior to the start of that stage. The person wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the final stage is the winner of the Tour de France.
This year, with the return of the women's Tour de France, Fierce Hazel celebrates the story of the first woman who ever donned that coveted yellow jersey.
When the Tour de France began in 1903, there was no easily visible way to know who was ahead. The leader wore a green armband that journalists and other onlookers couldn't see.
In 1919, the then-Tour de France director, Henri Desgrange, wanted the rider with the fastest time for each stage to wear a yellow jersey, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Why yellow? It honored the sports newspaper that sponsored the race, L'Auto-Vélo, printed on yellow paper. The first wool yellow jersey was worn by Eugène Christophe. Now, other colored jerseys represent different achievements—polka dot jersey for best climber, green jersey for sprinter, and white jersey for best under 23 years old.
Only One First
The story of the first woman to wear the yellow jersey, Dutch cyclist Mieke Havik, has been captured by a new sports documentary by director Jill Yesko, Uphill Climb: The Women Who Conquered the Impossible Race. The film, currently in production, will tell the story of those international trailblazers who rode in the first women's Tour de France, then called the "Tour de France Féminin" in the mid to late 1980s.
Mieke Havik, the first woman ever to wear the yellow jersey, shares the podium with Ludo Peeters after the first stage in 1984.
The Tour de France Féminin ran from 1984 to 1989, following the same course as the men, including the legendary climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees Mountains. The women's peloton followed the last 60-80km or so of the men's route. Each stage race finished at the same place as the men's, drawing huge crowds to cheer on the women.
"Mieke (Havik) is up on the podium, and crowds go, 'Yeah!' because the women were sharing the podiums with the men. The crowds were already hyped up because they'd already seen the man in the yellow jersey," Yesko says.
On the podium, Havik, who was about six feet tall, looks at the jersey.
"She's very brawny so there's no way that yellow jersey is going to fit over the other jersey she was wearing," Yesko says. "So she takes her jersey off right in front of the crowd. They are saying, 'No! Don't do that because the jersey is a fake."
Havik didn't realize the yellow jersey was a Velcro wrap-around.
"The yellow jersey is velcroed in the back. Havik said, 'They probably thought I was doing a striptease. No wonder they were applauding so much,'" Yesko says.
Mieke "The Hawk" Havik, the 1st woman to wear the yellow jersey at the 1984 Tour de France Féminin reminisces with Uphill Climb director Jill Yesko during her shoot in Heeze in the Netherlands.
The film: Uphill Climb
Yesko's team is interviewing many of the former competitors from the Tour de France Féminin now attending to watch and volunteer for this year's women's Tour de France.
This is the third sports documentary film by Jill Yesko, a former journalist turned filmmaker who has directed and produced the films: Broken Trust: Athlete Abuse Exposed and Tainted Blood: The Untold Story of the 1984 Olympic Blood Doping Scandal.
She has teamed up with an award-winning producer and lifelong cyclist, Allyson J. (Ally) Davis, whose experience spans television, sports production, and global marketing. Davis has worked for E! Entertainment Networks, Universal Sports Network, and FOX Sports and now serves as Uphill Climb's executive producer.
"These women competed under really onerous circumstances and rode this incredible race. As an independent woman filmmaker, I feel like this is my own uphill climb. I don't have a big studio behind me at this point. So it's just Jill and Ally essentially staring up at that mountain," Yesko says.
If you want to support the film or make a donation, check out the film's website, uphillclimbfilm.com. Here you can check out the trailer and read more about the film and filmmakers.
There is a donation button where you can make a tax-deductible contribution to the film. If you do, Yesko says you will be acknowledged in the credits. The film also has sponsorship packages at many levels.
"I know this is my own personal uphill climb. I've got to get to the summit," Yesko said. "I can't stop. I can't fall off my bike. I've got to keep going."
Senta Scarborough is an award-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated producer. She is the founder of Sentamatic Media focusing primarily on screenwriting, journalism and non-fiction projects. Her clients include KCET-SoCal PBS, Emory University, Stanford University, Fenning Marketing Group and Fierce Hazel. Her work has appeared in Adweek, Into, USA Today, E! News, US Weekly Magazine and Asheville Poetry Review, among others. She is a lifetime member of the National Gay and Lesbian Journalist’s Association where she served as a board director for two terms. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California Riverside/Palm Desert. Find her on social media @sentascar.
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Source for Yellow Jersey history: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/original-tour-de-