Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey Contenders

This one’s hard to predict because of the points scale and a lottery touch, getting in the right breakaway can count for so much. Here’s a look at the competition for 2018 with the contenders and what’s new with the points scale.

Polka dot: also known as the “King of the Mountains” jersey, points are awarded at the top of categorised climbs and mountain passes, with these graded from the easier 4th category to the hors catégorie climbs which are supposedly so hard they are off the scale. There is an algorithm to measure the climbs but it’s subjective too, miniscule hills are elevated to “mountain” status early in the race, later a 5km mountain pass in the Alps isn’t worth a single point. Again the rider with the most points wears the jersey. It is sponsored by Carrefour, a supermarket.

  • Hors Catégorie passes (9 in total): 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2 points respectively for first eight riders
  • Category 1 climbs (10 in total): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
  • Category 2 (7): 5-3-2-1 points
  • Category 3 (9): 2-1 points
  • Category 4 (18): 1 point

Points are doubled for the final climb in each of the Stages in the Pyrenees: the Portillon (1st category so 20-16-12-8-4-2 points), the Portet and the Aubisque (both HC so 40-30-24-20-16-12-8-4).

Raider or GC rider? The mix matters because the balance of points early and late in the start tilt the balance between the raiders who go in search of the jersey and the big names going for the overall classification who win points accidentally. It’s a difficult balance for the organisers, to reward a rider who goes on an audacious raid but not to give the jersey to someone who manages to pick off the points over two early mountain passes before being caught and dropped; to reward the best climber in the race but via a competition rather than an overall contender collecting the jersey by arithmetic accident on their way to the yellow jersey.

Last year saw the points doubled on the final summit finish on the Izoard, this year’s system with three climbs offering a lot of points tilts the competition back towards the GC riders or at least puts them closer in running. Warren Barguil was the model victor last year, going in the breakaways but also able to match and even outclimb the GC contenders and won by a big margin.

Warren Barguil has been invisible, he’s not had the results he wanted and starts the Tour de France without great expectations. Yes, that’s where he was this time last year only to have a dream race with two stage wins and winning the mountains competition with more than double the points of his nearest rival. Can he do it again? Yes in that he’s not going for GC at all and if he’s lacked lustre this season then note that while others almost have a second home atop Mount Teide he hadn’t even been once on training camp in the mountains until mid-June. Still he seemed to have such great legs last summer that repeating the form, let alone the breakaways and tactical success won’t be easy, especially now he’s joined Fortuneo-Samsic, a small team that hasn’t won a single pro race this year and the pressure is on him to start delivering.

Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) is a past winner of the competition in 2014 and back after a horror crash on the first mountain stage last year. He’s one of those climbers more likely to be chasing glory than the stealthy pursuit of UCI points. But the Bison of Zegartowice isn’t a certain prospect, his win rate is low.

Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) was sixth overall last year but if the TTT goes wrong for him he’ll have more room for stage wins and racking up mountain points. It’s still hard to see him on a long raid but he can hang with the main contenders and then dart off for the stage win – and the points – just as he did in the Dauphiné last month. Team mate Darwin Atampuma could have a go too.

Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) can go on the breakaway raids and mop up a lot of points this way but his challenge is building up a big enough lead to hold off those taking the big points in the Pyrenees, or for he himself to save energy for a raid in the Pyrenees that takes him over the Aubisque in first place. Team mates Tiesj Benoot and Jelle Vanendert could feature too.

Pierre Rolland (EF-Drapac) is a contender, able to go on big raids but he’s tried before, notably in 2013 and lost out, mercifully sparing us the eyesore of him in full polka dot kit. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) has the jump to sprint at the top of a mountain pass, he just needs to get there and he seems to be on the limit on the long mountain passes. Both are French and this counts, there’s a roadside communion with the French public.

Mikel Landa (Movistar, pictured) is a great climber which is necessary but not sufficient to take the jersey. If things go wrong for him along the way then the polka dot jersey could be a consolation prize but more likely he has to work for Nairo Quintana or Alejandro Valverde. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) could win two ways, one via his bid for the overall classification and another as insurance in case things go wrong in the first week for him. What about Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida)? He’s not starting the race to win the polka dot jersey but if he wants to win the Tour he’s got to take a risk or two and going clear over a mountain pass ahead of the others is an obvious route. Otherwise Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) are safe picks to rack up a lot of points.

Lotto-Jumbo bring a strong team Steven Kruijswijk, Robert Gesink and Primož Roglič, who was second on points last year. Gesink is a raider and if the GC bids implode the other two could aim for this but ditto lots of others like Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo). Omar Fraile (Astana), the Izagirre brothers (Bahrain-Merida) could feature. Finally other mentions go to Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), David Gaudu and Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) although they’d almost sign today for a couple of days in the jersey, let alone taking it to Paris.

Majka, Martin, Barguil
De Gendt, Landa, Froome, Quintana
Porte, Bardet, Alaphilippe

Comment: it’d sound great to make authoritative picks but it’d be dishonest. Nobody is a five chainring pick, even four seems generous so these ratings should be taken with a shovel of salt, it’s dependent on who gets into the right breakaways, eg the best climber could go in a move on a mountain stage that gets reeled back because another team chases it down leaving the climber fatigued an unable to jump in the successful move.


  • The term “best climber” began in 1905 when the L’Auto newspaper started to label a rider but this was merely a subjective award
  • 1933 saw the first formal classification
  • the competition got a dedicated jersey in 1975. 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 it’s become so symbolic that other races use a dotted jersey for the competition too.
  • Warren Barguil won last year
  • The record is seven titles, held by Richard Virenque

76 thoughts on “Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey Contenders”

  1. Barguil, because he’s probably just about the only rider who will actually be aiming for it – and almost certainly the best of those who will be (unless some GC contender loses a bundle of time early on and doesn’t have another GC contender on his team).

      • He’s a figure of mockery for most in France and beyond I suspect but still there’s a section who admire him as the “little guy” who tried to win at all costs, to beat the system etc and so buy the Festina watches he still promotes. He works as a pundit for Eurosport in July alongside David Moncoutié, “day and night” as they say in French. It’s a similar story all over the place, no? have Landis on speed dial for an opinion these days, the British TV commentary is led by David Millar, Boogerd has been a pundit in the Netherlands, Rasmussen works for Danish TV etc etc

        • Indeed, but my point is all nations seem to find excuses for their own, reward them by paying for their opinion or advertising their products, etc., but other people’s disreputable characters, well, they are just so much different, beyond the pail.

          Its a basic hypocrisy I think and Virenque stands out for me as a good example. How does anyone take his 7 polka dots seriously?

          • They surely come with as many asterisks as polka dots.

            Anyway, back to this year’s race please, I knew mentioning the record was risky as it might trigger people. I’d rather not start another doping extravaganza via the blog comments.

          • “other people’s disreputable characters, well, they are just so much different, beyond the pail”

            Beyond my bucket list, anyway…

    • Virenque was my first cycling hero. I based it mainly on the fact that he had the same name as me and was a good climber, and that always seems the most impressive bit when you first get into cycling. I could forgive him most things. No current rider looks as cool as he used to!

  2. Chris Froome will win it. He’s won it before and he just won the equivalent at the Giro. So we know that his desire for the top step can propel him to the KOM jersey too. The only reasons he won’t win it that I can see are that he always has a decent lead before the mountains and simply defends and that someone not going for GC consistently targets the jersey. I have a sneaking suspicion Froome may have targeted Alpe d’Huez too. After all, he has wanted iconic mountain wins in the past. Examples are Ventoux and the Zoncolan. The way the mountains are placed it seems reasonable that in this race Froome will want the gains before week three so he can defend them. A stage 19 raid this time is less likely.

      • I hope Froome doesn’t win it, it needs to be won by someone who can climb with grace and class, though we may have to wait a few years yet. watching a stick insect pushing a shopping trolley whilst on the phone to his other arf I find quite the most offensive sight in modern cycling.

        • RonDe – you write “Chris Froome will win it. ” and then declare that you’re “not saying it’s certain”?
          I’m going to put your comments in with Anonymous and family and just scroll past them from this point on.
          I’ll leave it to others to point out your Froome fan-boy bias and call you out for condescending comments like “I feel your pain”, “thoughts and prayers” etc.
          Vive LeTour!

        • RonDe – I really think there is no guarantee Froome will win the polka dot (or GC) this year. Look at it this way, he’s 33, started his 2018 peak in the end of May and there are a lot of fresh competitors at the Tour this year. The top mountain stages don’t come until late July, almost 2 months since he started his 2018 peak. Even assuming he scaled it back right after the Giro, it’s really hard to stay at a top level over a 2 month span for an athlete at any age, but he’s 33…. at the high end of the normal peak performance years.

          This is just me, and I’m applying a GC discussion to the polka dots competition, but I am hoping this is still relevant.

      • That point doesn’t exist – when Froome’s not doing well we hardly hear a peep out of him (see word count of his comments before and after Stage 19 of the Giro).

          • and when he doesn’t a gloryhunter will pick a new best rider to be their favourite, you have Bernal lined up already? #it’s my victory too

          • My problem isn’t with Froome winning, it’s with your unrelenting tediousness about it. Just the same thing over and over again. The weird thing is that you gloat – yet you’ve done precisely nothing.

  3. I think Yates might be in with a shot — if he approaches the TDF like his brother in the Giro, then it could be a consolation prize… He does hang at the back on climbs though so may not care

  4. I would go for a GC contender. A good number of the mountain stages are short with a preponderance of HC / Cat 1 climbs. They are very likely to be contested by the GC players much less opportunity for breakaways to mop up points. Picking up a few cat 3s & 4s is less likely to be a help though expect the usual wildcard fight to be in the jersey for to first part of the race. I think a good chance that whoever takes yellow will also take this jersey (I think Chris Froome did this a couple of years back).

    Warren Barguil did not look to be in a good place at the Dauphine. I accept that he could have simply been trying to build up to July similar to what Vicenzo Nibali has done in the past. However really not convinced about that and there is also all the pressure in leading a French team. Maybe a breakaway win (the short day in the Pyrenees?) but cant see anything beyond that.

    • Would like to see Dan Martin win the jersey. He’s a bookies nightmare though, can win LBL one minute or be more invisible than the Invisible Man.

    • I wouldn’t have thought any rider would consider themselves out of GC contention to the point of focusing on the mountains jersey unless they lost 10 minutes or more. Most riders seem to regard coming in, say, 7th on GC to be better than winning the polka dots (can’t say I agree with them – unless you’re up and coming – especially if you’ve done it once). So, I’d imagine Martin losing (again a guess) even 3 minutes in the TTT wouldn’t change his focus.

      • This raises an interesting question: When are UCI points worth more than the jersey?

        If Martin (or Bardet or you name it) is 5 minutes down, he can go for either I suppose. Finishing 7th in the overall or winning stages might be a way to get more points. Raiding for the jersey might be a way to get more visibility. For most riders, I think that this would be a team decision, and might it just be that the points are more important than the jersey?

        My bias is to say that the jersey is worth more to the team, but I had not thought this through before.

        • If you’re five minutes down and going in the breakaway you are still a threat to the guy aiming for a top 10. You need a lot more deficit to be let off the leash if you are someone of Bardet or Martin’s stature.

  5. With double points going to the final mountains in the Pyrenees (two of which are followed by descents) rather than mountain top finishes throughout the race, I think this will certainly be won by a breakaway rider rather than a GC rider.
    Majka doesn’t have much pressure on him and is largely free to do what he likes, so I’ll pick him.

  6. The question is which Rafael Majka shows up ? The rider who won KoM titles in the last two even numbered years (2014- 2016), or the guy who is trying to ride for GC ?

    • It doesn’t appear that Bora is making any real pretense of supporting Majka for anything more than a respectable GC finish. I suspect they’d be thrilled to have Sagan in green much of the Tour, and Majka in the dots.

    • Although no matter what polka-dot abomination Rolland’s team could come up with it would still be easier on the eyes than the current EF-Drapac kit.

      • I’m one of those who likes the EF-Drapac kit on it’s own terms, and especially for the ease of spotting their riders in the bunch. Remember, this is a sport with a history of mostly bland and ill conceived kit, and sometimes violently obnoxious and ugly outfits.

        I’m always struck when I see team-kit from a few years ago in the discount bin at the local bike shop – most of them I wouldn’t wear if they were given away for free.

      • Surely the most interesting subtext of the race is the battle to wear the polka dot skinsuit in the ttt?. Or maybe it should be to stay out of it!
        Rafa Majka battling to stay on Sagans wheel in the spotted monstrosity.worth the entrance fee on its own.

  7. One way to stop the GC contenders dominating the polka dot jersey is to increase the amount of time trialling, thus making the GC a true all-rounders competition.

  8. I’m not a fan of the double points or the reduction of points for 3rd & 4th Cat hills – tilts things in favour of the GC riders and increases the chance of a by-the-way win like Froome in 2015. I’d much prefer to see a battle between raiders like De Gendt or Rolland, with the odd GC contender who has fallen by the wayside like Landa at the Giro last year.

    • The points distribution has been modified a couple of times because people were complaining that not the best climber in the race wont it but rather an attacking rider with a penchant for maths. Personally I also like the idea of seeing it as a prize for a consistently strong baroudeur rather than a (consolation) prize for a GC.

  9. I’ve always thought this comp needed a revamp and Strava could sponsor it and instead of points have it based on times. Could be fun to watch with live timings whilst they go up the climbs. Extra bonus point if they take that particular climb’s KOM. It’s definitely the “coolest” jersey at the tour but too often the GC winner takes it as an add on.

    • The trouble here is you wouldn’t be able to see on TV who was fastest, the sprint at the top of the climb. Conceivably it could be a dropped rider drafting team cars who sets the fastest time or what about the GC contenders paced by a strong team rather than the heroic lone survivor of the break?

      • Exactly. Some of my own Strava bests are when I was able to tag onto a paceline for a few miles, or days with a healthy tailwind. 🙂

        • My idea in tatters already haha. Something needs to be done to encourage more Barguil style efforts, extra points for solo breakaways?

  10. it only starts to get a little bit lumpy on Stage 5… therefore I’d imagine every man and his dog (ex the big GC teams) will be looking at getting into the Day 1 break to snag the points over the Cote de Vix 30k from the finish… it might take quite a bit to snap the elastic on that first morning….

  11. My bet would be for Landa. Looking for revenge, redemption, freedom and victory. He’s got a lot to ride for. Whether he’s stabled as a super domestique for Quintana will determine just how much clean air he gets.

    I think that team has a weird dynamic. Quintana was basically the Anti-Froome pick a few years back and he was close to eclipsing the gangly lad. But now I wouldn’t trust him to hit podium.

    Valverde’s age is clearly putting his career trajectory downward and so is most likely to be a water carrier, so is Landa leader? Surely he can’t of left Sky to play second fiddle?

  12. Slightly off topic but I looked at that picture of Majka above and immediately thought of Neymar and the antics of all of those “tough” footballers we’re currently watching in the World Cup. Hilarious really.

  13. If there’s to be a GC guy switching focus after the first 9 stages then there’s a certain rider who’s bike handling is a concern and the cobbles maybe a step too far and that’s Zakarin. As you say a bit of a lottery but he’s very capable climbing and unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum when going downhill.

  14. Barguil looked pretty out of shape during the Dauphine. I enjoyed how he rode last year, but I can’t see him repeating last year’s success. De Gendt or a GC contender looks more likely.

  15. It’s a shame this competition isn’t more fierce and more independent of GC. The Green jersey seems to get ten times the attention.
    It’s not as bad as the silly Combined jersey in the Vuelta, which almost never goes to anybody but the GC leader, but I wish it had more teeth. I would very much support dropping that double-points rule on summit finishes, to help with this. After all, a stage win carries its own glory!

  16. Barguill seems very capable, but if Thomas de Gendt is aiming for it as well things are gonna get interesting, I would say Quintana has a shot at winning it as well, but that depends on his GC standing. But perhaps of all the competitions within the tour, this is going to be the hardest to predict.

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