Tour de France Mountains Competition

Last year’s mountains competition in the Tour de France was exciting with several riders in contention until the contest was accidentally won by Tadej Pogačar. Now the system has been changed to make this kind of inadvertent win less likely.

As well as influencing the organisers, Pogačar is having wider effect with many big name riders coming to the Tour de France with the stated aim of winning stages and the mountains prize rather than go for the overall classification. This should make the mountains competition more lively too so here’s a closer look at the mountains competition for the Tour de France and some of the likely contenders.

The Tour de France mountains competition was interesting last year, at least until it wasn’t. Wout Poels had the polka dot jersey, Nairo Quintana, Michael Woods and Wout van Aert were close behind and all were scrapping for the jersey. Then Tadej Pogačar won Stages 17 and 18, these had the “double-HC” climbs of the Col du Portet and Luz Ardiden with twice as many points on offer and he collected 2 x 40 = 80 points to shoot to the top of the competition without thinking of it as he was just aiming for the stage wins.

Let’s be petty for a moment: this is not the best climber competition, it’s a points competition awarded in the mountains. The mountains jersey is not a test of who might have the highest VAM on Alpe d’Huez. It’s arguably better because of this, with riders tasked with thinking about how to outwit rivals in breakaways and we get to see riders sprinting each other for the white line at the top of a pass, something you wouldn’t get if they just used timing chips for every climb or Strava PBs.

The Rules
Points are awarded for categorised climbs and mountain passes, graded from the easier 4th category to the hors catégorie, literally “beyond categorisation” because they’re so hard, a touch of hype in an era when we can classify everything from elementary particles to exo-planets. In reality these gradings are subjective although there is an algorithm and if you want to know more about how the climbs are rated, see How Are Climbs Categorised? This year’s points scale is as follows:

  • Hors Catégorie (7 in total): 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2 points
  • Category 1 climbs (10): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
  • Category 2 (6): 5-3-2-1 points
  • Category 3 (16): 2-1 points
  • Category 4 (22): 1 point

New for 2022
This year’s Tour has two significant changes. First, recent editions of the race have had double HC-climbs, meaning selected HC climbs offered double points, 40 points to the winner, typically the last climb of the day. These double climbs have gone meaning the 2022 competition is less tilted to the stage winner.

Second, there are three summit finishes with HC-rated climbs but the other four HC climbs come in the middle of a stage, tilting the competition further to breakaway raiders who can collect points on the way rather than the summit finish.

The Contenders
There are three types of contenders. First is the accidental type, the GC rider who stands to take the competition on their way to wearing yellow in Paris just like last year. For reasons set out above, this is less likely here but less likely, not impossible.. So if other contenders cancel each other out then the obvious picks are Tadej Pogačar (UAE) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) because they both pack a punch for a stage win, more so than Jonas Vingegaard.

The second type is the involuntary challenger, someone who started with bigger ambitions but a crash or another problem has caused them to settle for another goal. David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is the sort of rider who could fall into this bracket but then excel, he’s got a sharp sprint to collect points, Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) as well. Adam Yates (Ineos) could be here too although if the Tour doesn’t work for him, he might be working for others. This relies on something going wrong and that’s hard to predict, it’s not to say Gaudu, Quintana or Yates are accident-prone, just that their ambitions of a high GC finish are a big ask to start with so a reset might be needed mid-way.

Then come those who’ll just aim for the jersey. Dylan Teuns (Bahrain) is very punchy, his challenge might be the longest and highest climbs. Michael Woods (Israel) wants a stage but the polka dots suit, he’s got a good kick to collect points but can be error prone at times with tactics and descending.

Ruben Guerreiro (EF Education) has won the Giro’s mountains competition and is in great shape after winning the Mont Ventoux Denivelé Challenge. Geoffroy Bouchard (Ag2r Citroën) has gone better, taking the Giro and Vuelta prizes and now wants to complete the set. But both he and Guerreiro will find much tougher opposition here.

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is stage hunting so he’ll aim to be up the road on the mountain stages. He seems the obvious pick for the polka dots but his technique of winning mountain stages often relies on letting others get carried away before he makes his move, so he might not be sprinting for every sign to start with. His chances for the mountains competition might depend on whether he can get a stage win in the Alps, if so he can then use the Pyrenees to go points hunting.

Romain Bardet (DSM) rides but not for GC given the long time trial on Stage 20 and his post-Giro form, so he’s bound to be contender, having won the competition in 2019 before.

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) is another past winner but (update) he won’t start as while he’s made a fast recovery from his crash on the road to Liège, his team need him to be at 100%. Max Schachmann (Bora-hansgrohe) is a punchy rider similar to Alaphilippe who was looking good until struck by Covid in the Tour de Suisse.

Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) is doubling up from the Giro where he was caught out between GC ambitions and stage wins. So what about the mountains instead? He’s a great climber but his weakness is a lack of punch to take the points. A similar story for Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who can win stages but sprinting again and again is harder… (update) but his team mate Giulio Ciccone could be worth watching as he can sprint well and seems to be back to his best.

Finally Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels) won the jersey in the Dauphiné and is in great shape with talk of him ending his career soon he’d like to finish with a flourish. Easier said than done but look to see if he can get into the jersey early in the race and build up a small points lead.

  • In case you’re wondering there’s 120, 50 and 25 UCI points for the first three on the mountains classification in Paris, the same for the points competition

53 thoughts on “Tour de France Mountains Competition”

  1. Looking at the first week of the Tour, the polka dots could almost be on anyones back by its end?
    I guess it’s possible to engineer yourself to lose time so as to contest the mountains jersey in week 2 but, just a thought, does the UCI points relegation etc thing change the dynamic of this competition at all?

    • there are certainly some teams/riders who may find their GC bid faltering but stick with it in order to bank some points for a highish GC finish despite it being well below what they’d hoped for or would normally consider worth working for, thus reducing the field of “involuntary challengers”.

      12th on gc still gets 125 points so better than winning the mountains jersey.
      the montains points drop to 50 for 2nd which is equivalent to 20th on gc and 3rd = 40th gc so the points price of switching focus to mountains and not quite getting it is big compared to gc where there is a gentle slide down the rankings.

      • I could see Guerreiro winning polka dots, but that would really depend on whether or not he’s given free reign early in the race. I’d expect him to be riding for Uran, but would it be better to have a handful of of possible stage wins (with Cort and Powless) plus a mountains jersey, or to have a top ten in GC with Uran? If they gamble on stage wins they could be left with nothing, whereas Uran is a pretty good bet for a top ten. These decisions wouldn’t be so important if they weren’t in dire need of points. I don’t think it was the UCI’s intention, but relegation is definitely going to add a completely different element of drama to the race.

        • Perhaps one way to create more depth in the competition for polka dots (and the green jersey) would be to award more UCI points?
          With the relegation battle now a consideration, would we see a more heated competition if points were awarded down to 5th place, or even 10th place?

    • TBH, this year it won’t be exactly difficult to “engineer” a time loss in the first week with the pave stage and the one over the mad crosswind bridge in Denmark. Anyone intending to chase the KoM jersey will back off a fraction to stay safe and inevitably lose a boatload of time, only to turn around and find they have a bunch of new rivals for polka dots as a quarter of the GC hopefuls find themselves in the same situation accidentally!

      • there will be no crosswinds over the bridge. pretty incredible how it was hyped so much when the chance of crosswind always was very small.

  2. not a comment for here but I’m loving that Filippo Zana won the Italian Road Race and Filippo Ganna won the Italian Time Trial

  3. Bardet, I think, is the favourite for the KOM jersey (if he’s still got the Giro form) – it would be fun though to see him and Pinot fight it out. Guerreiro is in good shape otherwise. Pierre Rolland and a B&B Hotels “Team Attack” reprise could also liven things up. (120 UCI points for the KOM champ, 50 for the runner up & 25 for the third man on the podium- which are the same for a stage win, second and third.)

  4. This is hugely unpredictable. How about some double pointers early on for lesser climbs to tilt it a bit further still away from accidental GC hijacking.

    • The problem is trying to engineer the outcome too much. The Tour has changed the format over the years, they want a champion to win the competition but someone who has fought for the points rather than collecting them on the way. This year could see “the right” outcome given the sheer number of riders opting out of the GC competition rather than the points scale being changed. We’ll see.

      • Not crazy so much as a measure of how cycling has changed. It used to be a simple competition when the best climber, the king of the mountains, would be much less likely than now to be a very strong contender for the overall, when huge chunks of time would be lost on flat stages and in time trials.

  5. Worthy mention for Ide Schelling winning the jersey from Anthony Perez in aĺl those early stages of last year’s Tour. If only for his delight on winning and keeping the maillot à pois.

  6. As a kid I remember being more interested in the mountains competition than the yellow jersey. Would be great to see a battle for it this year, hopefully without (accidental) hijacking by the GC.

    • Latour’s great uphill but has had real problems on descents after two horror crashes, I think he’s still working his way through these issues. Ciccone though, I’ve only just seen he’s on the start list and that’s an intriguing pick as at his best he’s got a good sprint but has been inconsistent at times but the Giro showed he’s back on track. Will add his name above for the next reader.

      • In the same way that we saw how Matthews and Barguil were able to form a dynamic duo that assisted each other in their respective Green & Polka Jerseys wins in 2017, I wonder if Sagan and Latour could try something similar here?
        And Sagan would act as guide on the descents..

        • Don’t want to spoil the party, but I am afraid there is barely a chance Sagan would be good enough for the green. Perhaps he’ll return to his old form (I doubt it), but he’s certainly not there yet and the sprinting competition will be tough. And the steeper finishes or finishes after a climb seem to be too hard for him this time.

  7. What about Quinn Simmons, who easily won the mountains jerseys in both Suisse and Tirreno. I’d be very surprised if he is not going for it.

    • He’s so young that it’s hard to say what his speciality is right now, but last year I saw him as much more of a powerful and punchy all purpose rider and not a climbing specialist. I can’t see him taking HC climbs, especially in this field, but I haven’t watched him that closely.

  8. I might be the only one, but I didn’t have a problem with last year’s KOM. Double the final climb points was a bit much, OTOH a KOM going to the best climber in the race is fine by me, whether said rider targets the jersey or not. There’s more than one definition of a worthy KOM so I’m fine also with the KOM rewarding the riders who make it to the top of the most climbs first, but in the end it’s the great climbers we remember, and ultimately the ones who validate the jersey.

    • I’m in agreement. I get tired of seeing non climbers win the climbers jersey just by getting in the break everyday and being the only one who cares about the KOM sprints.

      • 1991 : Claudio Chiappucci
        1992 : Claudio Chiappucci
        1993 : Tony Rominger
        1994 : Richard Virenque ·
        1995 : Richard Virenque
        1996 : Richard Virenque
        1997 : Richard Virenque
        1998 : Christophe Rinero
        1999 : Richard Virenque
        2000 : Santiago Botero
        2001 : Laurent Jalabert
        2002 : Laurent Jalabert
        2003 : Richard Virenque
        2004 : Richard Virenque
        2005 : Michael Rasmussen
        2006 : Michael Rasmussen
        2007 : Mauricio Soler
        2008 : Carlos Sastre
        2009 : Egoi Martínez
        2010 : Anthony Charteau
        2011 : Samuel Sánchez
        2012 : Thomas Voeckler
        2013 : Nairo Quintana
        2014 : Rafał Majka
        2015 : Christopher Froome
        2016 : Rafał Majka
        2017 : Warren Barguil
        2018 : Julian Alaphilippe
        2019 : Romain Bardet
        2020 : Tadej Pogačar
        2021 : Tadej Pogačar

          • Not too many whom I’d call non-climbers.
            And even those like Voeckler, Barguil or Alaphilippe all won the mountains competition by virtue of winning not just KOM sprints but winning two (2) mountain stages.

            I have to agree it is always a fine balance or finding the right point on a scale between the best climber and the most active and succesful breakaway artist on mountain stages, but I cannot remember thinking that for example Barguil getting it quite early in the race and keeping it to the end as either particularly dull or loweing the vlue of the maillot a pois.

            Opinions differ, tastes vary and so on – but at this point I still think that this year promises to satisfy every taste!

          • Call me old fashioned, but I never will think of Jalabert as a climber and have been bitter ever since he won. Also I must clearly be thinking of other GT’s more recently.

          • Interesting that his jerseys stand the test of time. Maybe that collective shrug is a reflection of the relative importance of the polka dots competition in the eyes of the authorities and in the people’s imagination.

        • True to say it’s only since Froome that the polka dot and yellow jerseys could be combined by anyone. This isn’t because of Froome or Pogacar but because ASO made it so. The race could be structured like it used to be, so that a climber could never win the whole thing.
          – And isn’t this the whole point of having a separate competition for the best climber?

          Or are these riders so capable that ASO simply couldn’t devise a race they can’t win…

        • That list is obviously for the Tour de France. It is arguable that this race is the one where the competition is closest to its original roots.

          Make the same list for the other two GTs. Notice the difference. Then make the same list for the other races on the World Tour with significant climbing in them and the difference gets much bigger.

  9. They doubled the points at arrivals some years ago because it was becoming more a most combative rider than best climber, after Charteau took it if I remember well (and everyone was complaining it had nothing to do with meilleur grimpeur and more with more attacking frenchmen). Now they change it the other way around…
    It’s funny, each solution has its bad sides and it’s very hard to find the perfect solution, so after a year where the bad side really shows we go back to what it was. But this year as you say it should be a very good climber.

  10. Would it help if the GC winner was not allowed to win any of the other jerseys as well rather than just lending jerseys because they were wearing yellow.

    Might give rise to interesting tactics of a climbers team riding to support the GC leader to preserve their own hold of the mountains jersey.

  11. Simon Yates is supposedly targeting stages then GC sp perhaps if he ends up near it after some breakaway stages he may go for it and is a name to watch. The team needs the points.
    Of course the team says he’s targeting stages but they need the points and even 12th place is worth 125 points so maybe A GC run will be more tempting anyway than stages.

    • Let’s be petty for a moment: this is not the best climber competition, it’s a points competition awarded in the mountains. The mountains jersey is not a test of who might have the highest VAM on Alpe d’Huez. It’s arguably better because of this, with riders tasked with thinking about how to outwit rivals in breakaways and we get to see riders sprinting each other for the white line at the top of a pass, something you wouldn’t get if they just used timing chips for every climb or Strava PBs. (cit.)

      • Even the Giro’s recent efforts to award KoM points during a timetrial haven’t really worked, because you can’t tell which riders are going for it. This version of the competition does at least sometimes see riders sprinting for the hilltop “finishes”.

  12. Pinot has in a recent interview indicated that he really wants to win the polka dots. Other than him I only see Bardet, Rolland and Quintana making a real bid. Perez, Louvel, Lafay, Simmons, Van der Hoorn and Bonnamour will be giving it a good try in the first week. EF and Israel have some wildcards. But I think they will either be not good enough or they will have to fight for every minor GC position because of the WorldTour points. Other than that I’m guessing it’s just GC riders hoovering up points as they go along.

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