Yellow jersey inspires racially charged debate in Brazil

A yellow jersey has forced a national discussion about political leadership, tolerance and racial stereotypes in Brazil.

Marcel Kittel of Germany won the seventh stage of the Tour de France last week, including the brutal time trial in Wurzburg, giving him a crucial time bonus for that victory. It was also the eighth time Kittel had worn a yellow jersey at the Tour.

The yellow jersey is the ultimate status symbol in France. The recent win by the 30-year-old Kittel, who is competing in his third Tour, has incited a heated debate about its meaning in Brazil.

Many viewers watching at home were disappointed to see a German man wearing the title of “Tour de France” on his back as he continued to lead the race. While there has been no indication by Tour organizers or the German federation that they plan to change Kittel’s position, the result sparked a debate online.

Many comments were from Brazilians hoping that the yellow jersey would be worn by an African-Brazilian.

There were also those who hoped that yellow will be worn by a Muslim or a South American, like Peru’s Rigoberto Uran, who wore the overall lead during the 2015 Tour. Uran is competing in this year’s Tour.

Others asked why Kittel was wearing the title of “Tour de France” in the first place, considering that there are many people competing in the race, as well as the leader of the German team, Lotto-Soudal.

Gustavo Gonzalez, a student who posted on Facebook, “Odilee?” and asked if his words could be translated “Missile” for the youngster, received mixed responses. The hashtag had 47,000 mentions by Monday.

Kittel has been racing for Lotto since 2005, and has won 10 stages in five editions of the Tour de France. A four-time winner of the world time trial championship, he has won two stages at the race this year.

One of the few entries in the race from Brazil, Vinicius Rangel, said he would be willing to wear the yellow jersey if he won the race, according to Agencia Brasil.

But he said he knew that “the championship would be historic,” and that his greatest race goal would be an overall victory in the race.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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