Tour de France: Who Will Win The White Jersey?

It’s said the mark of a champion is to win the Tour de France at your first go. Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault are amongst those who came, saw and conquered from the start. But that’s the exception and the majority of Tour winners are like fine wines that take time to age and mature. You can be born with talent but it has to be worked on, weaknesses addressed and tactics learned.

While a future champion serves their apprenticeship the best young rider competition is a useful staging post and prestigious line for the CV. However a look at the past winners suggests the white flower of youth rarely blooms into a Tour de France winner. Here’s a brief analysis of the contenders, the rules and the history of this jersey.

The rules are simple, the jersey is worn by the best rider on the overall classification born on or after 1 January 1989, ie aged roughly 25 and half or younger. It’s worth €300 a day with a prize of €20,000 to the final winner in Paris.

Last year Thibaut Pinot had a Tour de France meltdown but the evidence of collapse was there in the Tour de Suisse when he was struggling on the descents; the Tour amplified this like it exaggerates everything else and Pinot’s tacophobic technical troubles went into a full-blown mental collapse as the media pressure that had been inflating all year burst in public sight. Now he’s had a quieter run up to the Tour and the burden of espoir français is now being spread across the shoulders of many riders. The Tour de Suisse went to plan this year except for a cold he caught at the end. A worry but he had the same in 2012 and took a stage win in the Tour. Otherwise this year has been much more satisfying and as mentioned the other day he’s not finished lower than 24th in a time trial which suggests both study and application rather than the usual “brave chap” approach associated with many a Frenchman. As we’ve seen before he can climb with the best on the good days so he is the prime pick.

Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is another French hope. Rightly he pushed back against the label of “first Frenchman” in the Tour last summer as he wanted a high GC position rather than simply beating his countrymen. An intelligent and likeable rider who goes well in the mountains, his attacking style might be more suited to a stage win but the top-10 is within his grasp with this year’s route especially as he did well in the Dauphiné – fifth overall and pipped by Wilco Kelderman for the white jersey. The Tour requires constant concentration, for example the will to hang at the front of the bunch over the cobbles and in the crosswinds and this positioning has cost him in several races. Reviving the wine analogy, Bardet should keep developing over the years and 2014 might be too early to tell.

Rafał Majka is a late call up, a replacement for Roman Kreuziger and his passport problems. But what a replacement he is given he finished sixth overall in the Giro a month ago and wore the white jersey during the race, albeit carrying it because Nairo Quintana was pretty in pink. He wasn’t supposed to be riding so his form is unknown to us but clearly the team have a good idea and that’s why he’s got the call. He led Tinkoff-Saxo in the Giro but is obviously going to be riding in support of Alberto Contador. But tracking the Spaniard is one way to get a high overall position.

Michał Kwiatkowski wore the jersey during the Tour last year but slipped back during the final week. Now he’s a more uncertain prospect after a disappointing Dauphiné where he was consistently off the pace. It’s one thing to be behind the rivals but he was minutes down before he abandoned the race. In some ways he shouldn’t care because his start to the season was so good that anything else this year is a bonus but of course this is the Tour de France. A smart rider we’ll see if he can ride into better form during the race but so far the high mountains have been his limiting factor.

Movistar’s Ion Izaguirre is an outside pick. The new Spanish champion is in top form and benefited from the grace of Alejandro Valverde to win the title last weekend perhaps with the implicit understanding that the favour has to be returned during the month of July. But riding in service can still equate to a high overall position and the Basque climber could be Movistar’s mountain man for Valverde. The team also have Jesus Herrada, top-10 in the Tour de Romandie this year.

Is Tom-Jelte Slagter a stage racer? The Dutchman’s going to be riding in support of Andrew Talansky but was a contender to win Paris-Nice an unshipped chain sunk his chances. He’s solid in the mountains could be a rider to take the jersey when the race crosses the Vosges only to lose it to a pure climber later in the race. Team mate Ben King has shown promise but he’s yet in the league to rival Slagter yet alone Pinot or Kwiatkowski.

IAM Cycling’s Séb Reichenbach has been tipped on here before but the Tour de France is a big ask for someone riding shotgun to compatriot Mathias Frank. He could and should climb well but a high overall position might be too much to ask.

Orica-Greenedge’s Simon Yates was a surprise call-up but a welcome one given the excitement surrounding hi and twin brother Adam. He’s got what it takes, especially given he’s bounced the likes of Daryl Impey and Matthew Goss out of the team. It’s not because he’s English either, he’s in form with seventh in the recent Tour de Slovénie and strong in the British championships over the weekend so rates as an outsider. But I’m not sure he’ll make it to Paris, the team could have a secret plan to send him home mid-race?

Thibaut Pinot
Rafał Majka, Romain Bardet
T-J Slagter, Michał Kwiatkowski, Ion Izaguirre
Séb Reichenbach, Jesus Herrada, Simon Yates

The History…. and The Scary Stats
The White Jersey was introduced in 1975. As Wikipedia puts it:

“on four occasions a cyclist has won the young rider classification and the general classification in the same year — Fignon in 1983, Ullrich in 1997, Contador in 2007 and Schleck (retroactively) in 2010.”

Worryingly if you strip out these precocious winners only two others have won white and yellow during their career, Greg LeMond and Marco Pantani. Certainly it can reveal talent at the highest level but there’s a surprisingly poor correlation between winning white and winning the Tour in subsequent years. The white jersey winner is not the revelation might imagine.

If he can avoid trouble this could be Thibaut Pinot’s chance. But the conditional tense applies to a tense rider. Otherwise there are some good challengers. The jersey offers a high profile to its wearer during the race even if it’s the race’s fourth jersey, both in the public perception and in the ASO rulebook which states if a rider has all four jerseys the green ranks second, the mountains is third and white comes last.

40 thoughts on “Tour de France: Who Will Win The White Jersey?”

  1. Inrng, don’t suppose you’ve heard why Impey was left out of the OGE team? From his recent Bayern Rundfahrt stage win and the key role he plays leading out Gerrans I would have thought he’d be a certain starter. Cameron Meyer is another surprise omission given his win at Tour de Suisse.

    • well, there’s no ttt this year and to be honest, both the impey and meyer wins were from breakaways staying away no?

      im happy theyre resting adam yates after his amazing year so far. im also impressed that theyre keeping the yates’ separate to avoid any of the issues that arose from the schleck sisters.

      im a huge fan of what OGE has turned into. i just hope they shrewdly go the GC route with a signing like rohan dennis or talansky rather than dump it on wiggins or evans.

      • Well, that answers that then. Figured there must have been a reason why Impey was left out and, not to be too disparaging, guys like Keukeleire and Yates were selected.

  2. Team tactics probably have a lot to do with why there is a poor correlation between the white jersey winner and eventual tour winners. By this I mean that many young riders who are eligible for the white jersey are riding in support of their team leaders and they have to sacrifice their white jersey chances. I’d like to add that having a white jersey in your cupboard isn’t enough to guarantee some one team leadership later in life, but of course that is exactly InnerRing’s point:)

  3. I guess the question I would ask is why did almost all the overall winners fail to get a white jersey when they were younger?

    Maybe because teams don’t put enough faith in younger riders, see Quintana being passed up in favor of Valverde. You have to be just bad enough or unknown enough not to be picked up by a larger team.

    • Lots of very talented and exciting young riders have had to spend time “serving their apprenticeship” within teams that already had an established leader.

      Most famous example would be Lemond working for Hinault…..and more recently Nibali playing understudy to Basso at Liquigas and Froome to Wiggins at Sky.

      Agree that Quintana is something of an irresistable force. Next season will surely be built around his goals, not Valverde’s….

  4. I think perhaps Tom Dumoulin (Team Giant-Shimano) deserves mention as an outsider. Still only 23, he was 5th in the white jersey competition last year, had a good Tour de Suisse and comes fresh off winning the Dutch National TT race.

  5. How many of the former winners would have won the white jersey if it had been in existence prior to 1975?

    As it happens, I reckon the white jersey is an ok predictor, but not quite in the way you’re looking at it. Since 1975 there have been 19 winners of the TdF, 16 of whom have been eligible for the white jersey under the current rules (ie., born since 1950). As you note above, 6 of them had previously won the white jersey. In addition, Hinault would have won the white jersey in 1978 if it had been under the current rules. So that makes 7 GC winners out of the 16 eligible since 1975.

    Going a step further, of the 28 TdFs that have been won since 1975 by people born since 1950, 16 have been won by white jersey winners or Hinault. In fact, Indurain is the only multiple winner born since since 1950 who didn’t win the white jersey/wouldn’t have done so under current rules: Hinault, Fignon, Lemond, and Contador all won it.

    So winning the white jersey doesn’t make you especially likely to win on GC (though the rate is still higher than riders who failed to win the white jersey!), but the GC winner is likely to have the white jersey in his palmares.

  6. What benefit in sending Simon Yates home early as a secret plan or am I missing something / being a bit slow!..? Maybe keep his brother in the bus and tag team them.. Twin doping.

  7. White jersey = just an excuse for the race promoter to add yet another sponsor to the event and interfere even further with the only dependable revenue stream the teams have: jersey advertising. Knowing I was being manipulated in this fashion, I think I would feel embarrassed to put it on, and the fact a 25-year-old is considered young is just ridiculous. I would make you threaten me with disqualification before I would wear it. €300 a day? Oh, Merci Monsieur. That will fuel our motorhome, mobile workshop and attendant vehicle fleet for like an hour. Brilliant.

    • You raise an interesting point – why do they make it under 25 when U-23 is the UCI standard? What’s the average age of a tour rider (and winner)?

      And while I agree that 300 euros a day isn’t much, if you’re the best young rider through the entire race, you’d end up winning a total of 36,500 (500 each day for winning, 300 for jersey, and 20,000 final prize). How much are the minor sponsors contributing per day? The major sponsors (ie. those with naming rights) are still on the jersey and surely the added publicity for them alone would be worth it. Meanwhile the minor sponsors are still being seen on the podium each day and on the other 8 team members. And that’s before you look at any other promotional events/materials the sponsors will produce with “rider x, TOUR DE FRANCE white jersey WINNER loves his [SPONSPOR PRODUCT.]”

    • How many Under 23 riders make it into the Tour?
      Probably about a dozen last year, some of wouldn’t have been expected to finish and some who wouldn’t be contenders for the jersey anyway.
      Extending it out to under 25 gives a better, more credible, number of riders competing for the jersey.

  8. No suprise for me that Simon Yates is in the line up, that guy is on the up, been some stunning wins. He hunts riders down better than most, totally suited to the stage finishes on UK roads, he my pick for Maillot Jaune. I figuring OGE have a plan for him and which ever way it goes let him off the leash and like you say probably pull out later on. Do not underestimate the power of getting one over the home team. He was going well at the Nationals the weekend and and was super relaxed and looking forward to the GD in a manner that exuded mucho confidence. If he finishes the 3 weeks. He could go top 5 in White Jersey competition.

  9. Why Simon Yates?

    Well, we now know as of this morning why Impey’s not riding – his A and B samples have tested positive for the banned probenecid (a diuretic, banned because it can be used as a masking agent).

    OK. Back to Simon. Both twins have shown remarkable assurance at the top level from their very first pro races this year. Simon was crocked with a broken collarbone in Tour of Turkey, and only returned for Tour of Slovenia a couple of weeks ago – where he finished 8th on GC and picked up the YR jersey. That time out meant that he’s been more rested than his brother, who desperately needs a break now.

    Simon was going like a good ‘un on Sunday in the Nat RR.

    He – like his brother – are Bury lads, and know the Yorkshire roads well. Furthermore, from his Academy days Simon trained all the time on the roads being used in the first two stages. He’s going to be a massive asset to OGE and Gerro (thinking st 2 re the latter – that has Gerro’s name all over it).

    And…being the only English-born rider lining up in Leeds, and one of only 4? Massive PR opportunity for OGE. And with the Impey news, it’ll help somewhat.

    • Hadn’t appreciated that Yates is the only English rider. I suppose Cav = Manx, Thomas = Welsh and Froome = expat Brit. In the absence of Wiggins, Yates should be the home favourite.

        • Lets agree to change the term from English to English-born, then.

          Definition of ex-pat: ‘An expatriate (sometimes shortened to expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country other than that of the person’s upbringing’

          Wiggins was most definitely brought up in England, as well as living here from the age of 2 to present. So I think we can agree that ‘ex-pat’ doesnt really apply.


        • There’s more to nationality than where your mum happened to be when you were born. Wiggins is hardly an expat, having been brought up in Kilburn by an English mum. Whereas Froome was born and brought up in Kenya/schooled in South Africa, albeit by British parents. So Froome = expat Brit, whereas Wiggins = English.

          This isn’t meant as a dig at Froome, but may go some of the way to explaining why he’s not seen by the UK public in the same way as Wiggins is.

    • I don’t give a flying fcuk where any one born, its the riders attitude on an off the bike that interests me. With a dose of Aussie Grinta, and the way he hunts down a win he along with D-Mart are my kinda riders. I’ll take a rider who who can light up a stretch of tarmac on a road stage any day of the week over a winner of a 3 week tour.

    • Jean-Marc Marino, Svein Tuft, Jack Bauer? One of the Bretagne guys?

      In all fairness, the lanterne rouge is sometimes someone who has constantly emptied the tank as a domestique or has a role for a greater cause (e.g. Marino is a road captain) or been ill at some stage, rather than being someone struggles so much with the climbs that they, to use a description of Andrea Fedi by – i think – Luca Scinto, ‘gets dropped over speedbumps’.

      PS I think I know what a road captain does but any of the customary excellent INRNG insights would be great at some stage.

  10. There isn’t such a big correlation between white previously and yellow after because tipically what a grand tour contender lacks in its youth is consistency for a 3 week top performance.

    Tipically to win the white jersey, you “just” need to follow wheels and last the whole tour. It is not required to make a difference to the rest of the field, which is something that definitely a yellow jersey needs to do.

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