Tour de France: Who will win the Mountains Jersey?

Nairo Quintana

The Tour de France mountains jersey should be one of the most prestigious prizes in the sport. The mountains often define the race and offer spectacular drama. Even the title of King of the Mountains brings a regal tone, albeit in English as the official title is classement général du meilleur grimpeur, just the best climber.

But in recent years the contest has become a sideshow, albeit a valuable one. Rather than going to a proven climber it’s often awarded to a breakaway artist with a talent for mental arithmetic and a dose of good fortune. In fact it’s the hardest competition to assess as over the years the outcome can be quite random. Still, we can break down where the points are available and extrapolate potential contenders.

As with the green jersey, the mountains jersey is all about points:

  • Hors Catégorie passes: 25,20,16,14,12,10,8,6,4,2 points respectively for first 10 riders
  • Category 1 climbs: 10,8,6,4,2,1 points
  • Category 2: 5,3,2,1 points respectively
  • Category 3: 2, 1 points
  • Category 4: 1 point
  • * Points are doubled for the final climb on a stage with a summit finish (Stages 8, 15, 18, 20).
HC Finish* HC 1 Finish* 1 2 3 4
3 4 1 7 13 16 20

You can spot the pattern here. Each increase in a climb’s status sees at least twice the points rewarded. The summit finishes see the points doubled in an arithmetic nod to reward those able to bag points at the end of the day rather than the early breakaway, a tilt from the chancers to the overall contenders.

As you can see winning a fourth category climb is anecdotal because you could sprint for every one of them but only win 20 points this year. Given this the jersey can be one by long range raids where a rider collects points in a breakaway even if they’re far from the best climber in the race.

There’s a lottery element here. Now it takes big talent to get in a breakaway in the mountain stages and I’d urge you to watch one of the mountain stages that will be shown live from start to finish because the effort involved to get in the breakaway can be incredible. But good fortune is needed.

For the sake of round numbers imagine 20 riders with the form, talent and green light to attack in the mountains. Say five make it one day and they all get some points for crossing the big climbs. Come another mountain stage and our 20 are trying again, this time maybe two of the points scorers from the previous stage get away again and now they’re building up a lead in the competition.

Thomas Voeckler won last year and is the prototype rider for the mountains competition. He climbs well but is able and willing to go in a breakaway on a big day, to take his chances in a move that might work but if not then at least he’s bagged plenty of points. Not for him an escape across some bleak stretch of northern France on a Tuesday, “Francis” prefers to attack on a big stage in the mountains at the weekend when giant crowds and TV audiences are assured. He’s also in form, having won the Route du Sud stage race overall. Team mate Pierre Rolland is going for a high overall position but can wobble and if the time trials go wrong he could put his climbing power to work in search of the jersey.

Winning the mountains jersey could be the ideal objective for Andy Schleck. He’s only just turned 28 and has been a contender for the overall for years but so much has gone wrong in the last 12 months. The Andy Schleck of 2010 would find the route to his advantage but he remains an uncertain prospect for the overall, it’s only in recent months that he’s been able to finish a stage race but the Tour de Suisse showed him climbing well. However, remember the UCI points system offers no reward for the mountains jersey and with his contract up, the Luxembourger might find it safer to aim for the overall and bank some ranking points to boost his contract value.

Next up comes a long list of candidates. Euskaltel-Euskadi come with Mikkel Nieve and Igor Anton. Ag2r’s John Gadret has excelled in the Giro in past years and prefers the steeper slopes of Italy whilst team mate Hubert Dupont is a climber and Romain Bardet is the real deal but they could all be riding to get J-C Péraud into the top-10. Vacansoleil-DCM’s Johnny Hoogerland and Thomas De Gendt are breakaway contenders, the kind able to win big points in the medium mountains. Lampre’s José Serpa is a pure climber. Astana came close last year with Fred Kesiakoff. Orica-Greenedge’s Simon Clarke won in the Vuelta but he’ll need a little luck to get in the right moves.

Dani Moreno

If the jersey can be a lottery, there are some more certain figures. Katusha’s Dani Moreno impressed in the Dauphiné, in fact he looked better than team leader Joaquim Rodriguez but both can pick off mountain stages.

Thibaut Pinot FDJ

The same for Thibaut Pinot at FDJ, he can hang with the best in the mountains. Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin is strong pick but again think he’s got overall ambitions, this year’s route could see him in the top-10 overall so he might not want to sprint and attack for points. All these riders are aiming for something bigger than the mountains jersey but given the distribution of points they could end up with the jersey.

But my pick would be Chris Froome. With double points available for the summit finishes there’s an inbuilt reward for the big names. In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins pace themselves but Froome is a more aggressive rider willing to drop rivals and win stages. It’s possible to see him winning several mountain stages and therefore scoring big points. He gets the nod ahead of Nairo Quintana because the Colombian mountain ace is discounted by three factors, first he could be riding in the service of Alejandro Valverde, second his form is unknown given he has not raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège and third, if he’s been training at altitude in Boyaca, Colombia then the advantages will fade by the third week of the Tour although the first two factors count more. However if he’s in shape and given the room then he could prove the star of the race.

Finally remember to discount these predictions because the outcome of this competition is far more random than the other jerseys in the race. The mix of attacking spirit, good fortune and arithmetic means predictions are hard. Nobody could have predicted Anthony Charteau winning in 2010.

43 thoughts on “Tour de France: Who will win the Mountains Jersey?”

  1. If anyone can win two HC finishes that’s 100 points, a tough target for a breakaway rider to reach so it perhaps depends if the overall contenders are the contenders for each HC stage finish assuming that they want the stage win enough to fight for it with no bonus seconds on offer (and why shouldn’t they).

    • Probably not as the winner of the competition is the winner outright, even if someone else has to wear the jersey because of convention. Should the assumption about Froome prove true, he’ll stand on the podium in Paris for the polka dot jersey ceremony.

  2. Only way Andy Schleck could win it is if he deliberately loses an hour before the start of the bigger climbs.

    Surely, despite all his troubles, the teams of the GC riders aren’t going to let him loose in a break if he’s anywhere on GC,

      • Still one of my favourite rides in recent TdF history. Really hope he can demonstrate a return to that sort of form this over the next month.

      • Well I think that was more of a “well we will bring him back into the fold soon enough” and the pelton weren’t able to. Plus, he also had 2 riders up in the breakaway to help him once he caught them

      • He also then lost more than enough (more than he gained?) in the TT two or three days afterwards, so unless he’s followed Nibali’s TT training, the calculus might remain the same. i.e. he’s not really in contention for the overall.

  3. In the same way that the Maillot Jaune is for the lowest overall cumulative time (not the most first place finishes) surely there is a case to be made for the Best Climber category to be based on cumulative times for specified climbs along the route. In an instant this would rid us of skewed results which are caused by breakaways who are often not the fastest up the climbs.

    With modern timing technology, this is much easier to accomplish than would have been the case only 20 years ago.

    • (forgot to add) this would also create more ‘races within a race’ as Best Climber contenders would effectively look to MTT up targetted climbs, thereby creating more spectacle and excitement

      • While breaks may go up the mountains slower than the best climbers, I think you’re underestimating just how hard it is to get into the break and then spend the next three hours into the wind. It’s a different brand of effort, but just as respectable.

        • Thing is, it is still called mountain jersey, so it is supposed to reward the “best climber” type of effort rather than “best breakaway rider” type of effort.

          If the jersey change its name to the latter, nobody would have a problem. Now the “mountain jersey” is practically the “breakaway jersey” and breakaway riders deserves more official recognition they currently get.

          • The official recognition they get is the massive amounts of airtime you get , all the eyes are on the breakaway through the most of the stage. Add the combativity prize and that if you’re even in a breakaway you’l get respect for that.

            Oh..and there’s the small thing of a Stage you can contest if the breakaway is good enough. If you can’t respect the breakaway riders enough , that’s your problem. No need to change a jersey for that.

          • breakaway groups get the TV coverage for sponsors

            I like the Gear’s idea of adding a time component , which mathematically excludes long but unsuccessful stage breaks.

          • I like the way the Giro rewards riders in the break. They have 3 competitions, The TV or intermediate sprints. Premia Della Fuga gives you points equal to the number of km’s you are in the break and the combativity prize which rewards you with points for the climbs, tv and your final finish.

            I do not like LeTours solution of awarding double points for the final climb. As Samu proved a couple of years back, Win two HC double point climbs and you can beat the guys who get into the breaks and are competing over most the cols.

            This skews the competition towards the GC contenders or guys who target two days with summit finishes. I would like to see the TdF award more points in the medium mountains and reduce the disparity between Cat 2, Cat1, and HC climbs. I feel this would create a more equal KOM competition. Winning on Ax3 gives you less points (20) than the breakaway rider who takes out the HC climb (25)

  4. Thanks for stirring the subject. It is important for this prize to get its prestige back,, and for it to be contested by a GC contender with no green light for attacks, because it will be an extra stimulus for attacking the red light. In olden days, the breakaway factor wasn’t so important, because the group of leaders would not be bigger than 10 riders atop your Madeleine or your Aubisque. Now, with groups of 30 dudes or more staying together over legendary summits, it too often happens that the best climbers get no points.
    So it would be good to imagine, say, Quintana, wanting to be crowned KOM, and for that purpose making Movistar pull hard on every climb, to make sure that Nairo gets his points. And even better to see Froome accepting the challenge. But it could send the race out of control too early in the stages, and I’m sure people like Brailsford and Unzué don’t want us to have that enjoyment. 🙁
    A good alternative would be to chronometer all riders in all categorized climbs, so that the KOM is finally “simply the fastest guy over the slopes”.

  5. I think it would be difficult for Schleck to outright win it because nobody would let him in a break unless he’s already way down on the GC, by which point, there will already be a bunch of contenders with a lot more points.

      • Exactly, this course is very similar to 2011 and Samu Sanchez won that year, without getting in any break and finiching 5th on GC. With such an heavy last week (3 summit finishes, Ventoux, Huez and Annecy-Semnoz) I say the winner will be a strong rider, able to ride with the best but who’ll be down to 8th-10th on GC, about 7-8 minutes back, so he won’t be chased down by the really big guns. I’m thinking Purito, Schleck. Or maybe one of the french guys, Rolland or Pinot.

      • He wasn’t in a break though, he just went off by himself 60km out with only minimal help from Monfort. I think they were all so surprised by how unexpected and outrageous it was. I don’t know how he stayed away to be honest, it was incredible, maybe my favourite Tour moment ever.

        • Partly because Dries Devenyns from Quick Step “mysteriously” decided to work for him when Schleck caught the break (which also had Monfort in it).

          Hope one day Devenyns and the others involved (QS team management, perhaps) tell the full story, because it’s a fascinating footnote to that Tour.

  6. Would have been interesting watching Dan Martin and Andy fighting for the Dots. But as was stated, both probably have overall ambitions.

      • Winning the Tour Kom or points jersey is worth 6 points towards the UCI Team sporting value, compared to 3 for a stage victory or 20 for the overall but nothing to the individual. Of course the team collective score is not very significant compared to the rider’s component. A stage victory is worth 9 points to the individual and the overall 45 and of course the overall win will probably see you in the top 10 of the UCI WorldTour ranking to give the rider another 100 points to their end of season tally (and there are 10 riders to score but only one team score).

  7. Well, those 7 HC climbs carry 250 points for the #1. That’s more than all the other climbs together. Of those, the Palhieres, the Glandon and the Madeleine, and possibly the first Alpe, could go to a breakaway. But it would still have to be a good climber to take those points, and enough other ones to ward off the GC riders who will aim for the HC finishes.

    • Please, spare us the thought of such a prospect. To finish first, first you must finish. The British press in their new found sport seem to forget this.

  8. I think Dan ‘Who Am I?’ Martin is a great bet. Yes he may be aiming for a high finish but a good compromise would be top 15 and giving it the heave-ho on the face-card stages. I think it’s perhaps unrealistic for him to aim for top 5 in his first year as team leader so the KoM is a far better bet given that he has a talent for the mountain finishes anyway. Quintana will probably be a less likely bet as his training regimen gives him a better shot of overall positionings.

    I think the rejigging of the jerseys in the last 2 years has clearly worked. I found the KoM jersey a bit anachronistic in the past as it was clearly for the best breakaway rider rather than goat.

    Andy Schelck? Please. Next thing you’ll be tipping Gesink for the podium. It’s over. Give it up.

  9. The KOM competition will get cranked up in stage 9. With 4 cat 1 climbs we will have an early favorite. Voekler will take it in the last week in the Alps. He’ll let the lesser lights such as Kessiakoff and Hoogie battle early to wear themselves out. Then, he destroys the competition on stage 19 to Le Grand Bornan. Possibly takes the stage as well as the GC boys will be saving it for stage 20.

    Simple math, mark it down. He”l take out enough points on other stages to fend off potential double stage winners on HC climbs.

    Can’t see guys like Andy or Nairo competing for Polka Dots. Andy wants to win outright and Nairo will be riding for Val who is shooting for the podium.

    • Wanted to add, if Voekler can take home another polka dot jersey coupled with a win on the Ventoux or L’Alpe, he will assure himself a spot next to Virenque and JaJa in French cycling lore. The Ventoux takes place on Bastille Day, every French rider will be trying to get into the break.

  10. As a Schleck fan I think it’d be great to see him target the mountains jersey, but I don’t see him doing that. He would have to completely give up on the overall and only target the big mountains on a breakaway. I don’t see him ever giving up on the overall but I would love to see him make a move on the Ventoux stage or the Alpe D’huez stage

  11. checking odds this morning as was thinking of having a wager on Quintana for a podium place and asides from all expecting him to ride for Valverde, his odds are lower with every major bookmaker than that piti, Valverde.

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