Here’s Exactly What Each Tour de France Jersey Means
There are four jerseys awarded during the course of the Tour de France each year. Most fans know about the big one: the overall race leader’s yellow jersey. But the other three—the green, polka dot, and white jerseys—also play significant roles, and winning one can not only serve as a stepping stone to greater glories for a pro rider, but can also be considered an important victory unto itself.
Here’s a simple breakdown of what each jersey means, and what a Tour rider must do throughout the race to wear it.
For most, the race’s fabled yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, stands above all else, as it designates the rider who leads the General Classification. After each stage, officials calculate who has the fastest time across the entire race. The jersey then goes to the overall leader, who gets to wear it in the following stage. And because it’s based on time and not points, the yellow won’t necessarily go to the given day’s stage winner.
Contenders for yellow—and, therefore, the overall Tour de France title—are well-rounded cyclists and smart tacticians with skills in both climbing and time trialling. They must also show enough strength to hold the pace of the peloton, especially as rival teams work together to drop the leader at every possible opportunity.
The green jersey, or maillot vert, goes to the leader of the Points Classification. Riders can earn these points at intermediate sprints that come mid-stage, though most are won at the stage finish for the first 10-25 riders who cross. The amount of points given depends on the day’s stage profile—whether it’s flat or mountainous, for example.
While known as the “sprinter’s jersey,” the green will ultimately go to a well-rounded and consistent rider. Although most points are traditionally gained at the finish of the flatter stages (where the sprinters can shine), the competition has also gone to riders who show tremendous persistence, picking up points where they can.
Polka Dot Jersey
The polka dot jersey goes to the leader of the Mountains Classification, otherwise known as King of the Mountains. Points in this contest are awarded to the first riders who reach the summit of designated climbs on each stage.
Tour de France climbs are ranked from category 1 (most difficult) to category 4 (least difficult). A fifth class, hors catégorie (“beyond category”), is reserved for the most challenging ascents. The amount of points awarded depends on the difficulty of each climb, though sometimes shorter or milder climbs will join a higher category if they come at the end of a stage.
Of course, the rider in polka dots must be strong climber. Often, it goes to small, lightweight guys with very high power outputs. The KoM competition comes into its own once the race heads into the mountain stages, where most points are available.
The white jersey, or maillot blanc, goes to the General Classification leader who is 25 years old or younger (on January 1 in the given race year). Put simply, it goes to the best young rider with the lowest overall time. For young, ambitious all-rounders in the race, winning the white jersey is like winning yellow.
Two other classifications exist that are not awarded with a special jersey: the Combativity Award and the Team Classification.
Although largely a token prize, Combativity Award winners still get a podium appearance when the race wraps up in Paris. After every stage excluding time trials, a panel decides the day’s most aggressive rider. Not necessarily the stage winner, it could be someone who has consistently attacked, instigated a breakaway, or been a key player in the stage outcome. This rider then wears a red race number (instead of black) in the following day’s stage. A Super Combativity Award is given on the final stage for the most aggressive rider throughout the entire Tour.
The Team Classification is based on the collective time of the three highest-placed riders in the General Classification from each team. The best team then wears its race numbers against a yellow background, rather than a conventional white background, and also has the option of wearing yellow helmets.