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).
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.
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.
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.