As the Tour enters the Alps, the battle for the King of the Mountains is just starting to heat up. Here’s a look at some of the contenders for the polka dot jersey.
- By Whit Yost
In addition to winning Stage 10 in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine on Wednesday, Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler took the polka-dot jersey thanks to being the first rider over the initial “beyond category” climb of the 2012 Tour de France, the Col du Grand Colombier. As a result, Voeckler leads the King of the Mountains competition by seven points over Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff.
Expect more fireworks during Stage 11 as the Tour enters the Alps for what can only be described as a true mountain slugfest that ends with a summit finish at La Toussuire. So with the real climbing about to begin and the defending champion, Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez, already out of the event because of a crash, the race to be the Tour’s King of the Mountains is about to be blown wide open.
Here’s a look at some of the men who might contend for the maillot à pois rouges.
Thomas Voeckler (Europcar)
Losing so much time during the first week of the race might have been the best thing that could have happened to Voeckler’s 2012 Tour de France—at least in terms of his ability to win stages. Voeckler came to the start of the Grand Tour out of shape and slowed by a knee injury. But fortunes can change quickly in the Tour de France, and Voeckler’s early losses turned into big gains during Stage 10 as the peloton allowed the Frenchman to ride away to win two of the day’s three climbs and the stage itself. With plenty of points ahead, Voeckler will be riding with the confidence that comes from winning a stage and wearing a leader’s jersey. Look for him to try to defend it all the way to Paris.
Christopher Froome (Sky)
Stages 7, 11, and 17 end with summit finishes, and the men who win them receive double points toward the polka-dot jersey. Froome took advantage of this recent change to the scoring system when he won Stage 7 last weekend, giving him the polka-dot jersey for one day. Froome sits third in the overall standings and fourth in the King of the Mountains competition. Look for the Briton to score more mountain points as he escorts Bradley Wiggins through the Alps and Pyrenees—especially on days where double points are up for grabs.
Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol)
Van den Broeck’s hopes for a podium finish expired when a flat tyre at the base of the final climb of Stage 7 cost the Belgian more than three minutes . But that hasn’t stopped this aggressive rider from attacking the leaders in an attempt to claw back time in the mountains. He sits eighth overall and could easily grab a mountain stage win and more points toward the polka-dot jersey as he continues to drag himself back up the general classification.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana)
Like Voeckler, Vinokourov has lost a lot of time so far, but that gives him the freedom to challenge for stage wins and the polka dots. No longer a threat to challenge for a high overall finish, Vinokourov could set off in a stage that offers maximum King of the Mountains points early. For example, Stage 11 begins with two “beyond category” climbs, each offering 25 points to the first rider over the summit. Winning those climbs could be enough to give Vino the jersey by the end of the day, especially if he hangs on to score more points on the summit finish.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis)
Moncoutie has won the King of the Mountains competition four times at the Tour of Spain but never in his home Tour. The Frenchman usually picks one stage to target, escaping early in the day and winning as many climbs as he can before being caught close to the finish. He then defends his lead aggressively, attacking the peloton to scoop up points where he can, even if a small breakaway has already claimed the points awarded to the first couple of places.
Despite the efforts of Tour organisers to change things, the polka-dot jersey still can be won in a single day—particularly during a stage that offers several big climbs in succession. Thus, it is possible for a rider to come out of nowhere and win the competition with one big effort. Stages 11, 16, and 17 are the most likely launch pads, as all three offer several highly categorized climbs and two of them (11 and 17) offer double-points to the stage winner.
Look for a rider from Rabobank or Euskaltel-Euskadi to launch a surprise King of the Mountains attack, as neither team has yet to win a stage and both have seen their GC contenders either fall out of contention (Rabobank) or abandon the race entirely (Euskaltel-Esukadi). As a bonus, the Pyrenees are home turf for the Basque-sponsored Euskaltel squad, which should give the team a shot of motivation to win a stage and possibly the polka dots.
This is one competition that’s just starting to heat up.