It’s the 40th anniversary of the polka dot jersey so expect a greater focus on this jersey. It’s an unsettled competition, the green jersey points competition has been tweaked to reward the fastest sprinter but the polka dot mountains jersey still doesn’t go to the best climber.
History: The term “best climber” began in 1905 when the L’Auto newspaper started to label a ride in the race but it was merely a label in the newspaper associated with the race, a subjective term. 1933 saw the first formal classification and in 1975 the competition got a dedicated jersey. The polka dots came about because the sponsor of the competition was Poulain, a chocolate company that used red and white packaging at the time. It’s stuck despite the change of sponsors and other races even use a dotted jersey for the competition.
Points: The classement général du meilleur grimpeur is the strict title. It is a points competition and the bigger the climb, the more points:
- Hors Catégorie climbs: 25,20,16,14,12,10,8,6,4,2 points respectively for first 10 riders to finish
- 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 10, 12, 17, 19 and 20)
Here’s the split of climbs for the 2015 race, the finishes reflect the doubled point opportunities.
|HC Finish||1 Finish||2 Finish||HC||1||2||3||4|
|No. of climbs||3||1||2||4||5||11||13||18|
The total points score is for the first rider on the climb. As you can see the points scale is heavily weighted towards the stage winners of the big summit finishes. All those efforts sprinting for third and fourth category climbs might bring the jersey early but they’re unlikely to help a rider keep it. To exaggerate to make the point should a rider bag every single third and fourth category climb in the race they’d earn 26+18 = 44 points or less than winning one summit finish atop an HC climb with 50 points up for grabs.
Raiders of the lost art: the jersey has gone to raiders who have taken off for the day to score points, often going on two or three big breakaways across the mountain stages. It’s the most subjective of all the jerseys, there’s no disputing the overall winner and the points competition is usually emphatic but the climber’s prize has a varying legitimacy. Nairo Quintana’s win in 2013 seems appropriate, Thomas Voeckler’s 2012 win was a popular triumph but Anthony Charteau in 2010 is an example of the kind of arithmetic winner who has the points but not the flair, the art. Not that it’s easy to get the jersey, just that its status varies according to the wearer.
All this makes it the hardest jersey to predict. The default picks are between the overall candidates especially those capable of sprinting for the win in the three HC-rated summit finishes on Stages 10, 12 and 20, it’s here that Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana get the nod ahead of Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali because the latter two might prefer to take time elsewhere, on a descent or a transition stage ambush. When the route was announced Froome bemoaned the parcours suited the climbers but he’s excellent on a summit finish. But this is still highly speculative.
Let’s turn to the pure climbers. Rafał Majka won last year because Alberto Contador crashed out and Tinkoff-Saxo had a find alternative goals. If Contador stays then Majka is likely to play lieutenant, maybe enough to score points but in an HC-finish surely he’s being paid to help Contador get ahead. The same with Movistar where Alejandro Valverde is supposed to be on duty to help Nairo Quintana. What’s needed is an autonomous rider free from team duties….
Pierre Rolland is an obvious but scary choice in case he goes for the full measles outfit, a horrific sight in 2013. He’s a proven force over three weeks and aggressive too. However he’s prone to something going terribly wrong and will lose minutes across both of the time trial stages which gives him room for manoeuvres. Team mate Thomas Voeckler is getting back into form and could end his career with a high.
If things go wrong for Thibaut Pinot or Romain Bardet in the opening week then the polka-dot jersey will become a welcome Plan-B, especially as it lands certain popularity on TV and the crowds. Warren Barguil isn’t being tipped as much for the overall but could try too, but is he regular enough? Trek Factory Racing’s Julian Arredondo had a great 2014 season but hasn’t quite built on it yet but the mountains competition could be just his thing as he sprints so well uphill, he’d do it via breakaways and taking maximum points on intermediate climbs in the Pyrenees. Dan Martin could do the same, he’s yet to convince as GC contender but is a gifted climber and attacking rider. Louis Meintjes is another climber and he was on the attack in the Dauphiné rather than playing for a GC position.
It’s hard to see Joaquim Rodriguez going for the overall, he’s been close before but the combination of the opposition and his advancing years mean poaching stage wins and the jersey could be more successful. Rui Costa has time on his side but his record in grand tours isn’t good, as if he’s not been consistent enough. He has protected leader status now which he didn’t get before but still, perhaps he’s another candidate.
One impossible factor to predict is who will be the third week hero, the kind of rider who seems to run wild while others are flagging. Cast your back to the Giro and think of Steven Kruijswijk or Ryder Hesjedal who rode as if they had motors in the frames, it’ll certainly be hard to do this all over again in July. Who will be the energy bunny of July?
|Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome|
|Alberto Contador, Romain Bardet, Pierre Rolland, Dan Martin, Joaquim Rodriguez|
|Arredondo, Barguil, Meintjes, Valverde, Wellens, Rui Costa|
The yellow jersey can make a rider but sometimes it’s the rider that makes the mountains jersey. A champion winner adds lustre to the polka dots whereas a lesser rider having a great third week can struggle to convince they’re really the best climber. As contests go this one blows hot and cold.
It’s easy to set out the points above but hard to pick a winner as circumstances decide what happens. A rider might have great legs but find the move they go clear in on an Alpine stage is chased down and someone else gets clear in the following move to scoop maximum points. This all points to the jersey being a breakaway contest rather than a contest of Watts per kilogram, the empirical way to measure the best climber.
If Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome are to win the Tour they’ll surely do it by summit finishes and therefore collect maximum points when it matters. Otherwise the likes of Pierre Rolland, Dan Martin or Joaquim Rodriguez fit the profile of potential winners.