What do the Tour de France jersey colors mean?
Most everyone knows about the coveted yellow jersey of the Tour de France, worn by the rider who has accumulated the least time in the race. But what about the other hotly contested Tour de France jersey colors – green, white, and polka dot?
The battle for the honor of wearing each of the Tour de France jerseys can be just as intense as that for the overall leadership, making for a series of races within the race.
Not too surprising really. The distinction of winning any Tour de France jersey boosts appearance fees for seasons afterward, along with the status it brings.
Tour de France Yellow Jersey, or Maillot Jaune – for the General Classification
At the start of each stage, the rider with the shortest time so far wears the “Maillot Jaune” for that day. At the end of the race the yellow jersey goes to the overall winner, and they have the distinction of wearing a yellow arm band in any future TDF they ride in.
In fact, the G.C. leader only wore a yellow armband in the early Tours, 1903 onward – the yellow jersey wasn’t introduced until 1919.
Tour de France Jersey Fun Facts – Yellow Jersey
- The leader was distinguished by the color yellow because the original race sponsor’s newspaper, l’Auto, was printed on yellow paper.
- It’s possible to win the tour overall without ever winning a stage, since it’s the accumulated time that counts, and not placement in stages. That has happened seven times, most recently by Chris Froome in 2017.
- It’s also possible to never wear the yellow jersey until after the race. Just two riders have done that, decades ago, both attaining the shortest overall time only on the last stage.
- Eddy Mercx has the record for the most days wearing the yellow jersey – 96. If Chris Froome manages to lead the race for 2 days this year he will surpass Miguel Indurain to reach 3rd place on that list. Indurain spent 60 days in yellow, while at #2, Bernard Hinault racked up 75 days. Looks like “The Cannibal’s” mark is safe for a while.
- Fabian Cancellara spent the most days in yellow without actually winning – 29 days over 6 Tours.
Tour de France Green Jersey, or Maillot Vert – for the Points Classification
Points are awarded for finishing in the first few places at the end of each stage, and at key intermediate sprints during most stages. It’s not the time that counts, the keys to the green jersey are finishing consistently well in high scoring stages, and being close to the front of the race for as many intermediate sprints as possible.
It’s often thought of as the sprinters’ prize, because more points are up for grabs in the flatter stages. In fact it is more often won by an all-rounder, someone who can sprint on both flat stages and short steep hill finishes (a “Puncheur” in cycling lingo), and even do well in the mountains.
Tour de France Jersey Fun Facts – Green Jersey
- Recently Peter Sagan has dominated the Tour de France Green Jersey competition, winning 5 times in the last several years, and looking to defend in the 2018 Tour de France as well. If he manages it he will tie Erik Zabel for most Green Jersey wins.
- The jersey is green because the original sponsor of the points prize was a lawn mower manufacturer.
- The green jersey became the red jersey for just one year, 1968, following the corporate color of that year’s sponsor.
- Only two riders have won both Points and Overall classifications – Eddy Mercx and Bernard Hinault, both in the 1970s.
Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey, or Maillot a Pois Rouges – for the Mountains Classification
The polka dot jersey is worn by the King of the Mountains, or KOM. Like the other jerseys, it is calculated each day, this time by winning points at the top of climbs along the route.
The mountains of the Tour de France are rated by difficulty, with most points available on the hardest climbs. A category 4 mountain will have a single point for just the first rider to cross the line. Category 1 and the “off the charts” HC, or Hors Categorie (which translates as beyond classification) will offer many more points for up to the first 10 places.
Like the sprint points, KOM points can be won at each of the summits along a route that includes several climbs, so quite a bit of strategy and calculation come into play.
Tour de France Jersey Fun Facts – Polka Dot Jersey
- Occasionally, the G.C. winner also wins the KOM competition. Chris Froome did this most recently in 2013.
- Richard Virenque holds the record for most Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey wins – seven.
Tour de France White Jersey, or Maillot Blanc – for the Young Rider Classification
This is the equivalent of the yellow jersey, but only for riders under 26 years of age.
Tour de France Jersey Fun Facts – White Jersey
- The Young Rider Classification was introduced in 1975. Before that a white jersey was awarded in the Combination Classification, for the rider best placed across all the Points, Mountains and G.C. categories.
- Only four riders have won both the General and Young Rider classifications in the same year: Laurent Fignon (1983), Jan Ullrich (1997), Alberto Contador (2007), and Andy Schleck (2010).
Other colorful awards in the Tour de France
Most combative – red number
The rider who races most aggressively, or shows the most “fighting spirit,” gets a prize and wears a red number with white digits the next day. It is often awarded to the rider who does the most to keep a breakaway clear of the peloton, but the judges recognize many different displays of spirit. Michael Matthews won it when he completed a stage in agony two days after breaking his ribs in a crash in 2015.
An overall prize for Super-Combativity is awarded at the end of the race. Eddy Mercx leads the pack in that category – “The Cannibal” won it four times, including the first time he raced the Tour de France in 1969, when he swept the Points and Mountains classifications as well. He’s still the only rider ever to do that.
Team classification – yellow number
Awarded to the team with the lowest accumulated time for its top three riders – yellow numbers with black digits, and the option of wearing yellow helmets.
And – sort of – the Lanterne Rouge
The last placed rider still in the race is the lanterne rouge, like the red light on a caboose. In some tours they carried a red light on the bike, and there was actually competition for the honor.
Our own “Yellow Jersey” – Sun Goddess Sleeveless in Vendee Gold – still a few sizes left, don’t wait!
You can still score our “Green Jersey:” Breakaway Mesh Sleeveless in Vendee Jade – still a few available in limited sizes, don’t miss this classic!
Also, the “Polka Dot Jersey” Terry-Style – Sun Goddess Sleeveless in Painted Ladies of the Tour – still a few sizes left, don’t wait!
See the complete Terry TDF collection here.
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