The Tour de France, cycling’s most famous event, is here. With it are three weeks of grueling competition and beautiful views of the French countryside.
While the faces on the podium may change from stage to stage and year to year, one thing fans can always count on are a few iconic jerseys near the front of the pack, most famously the yellow jersey.
The 23-day, 21-stage race spanning spanning 3,480 kilometers (2,162 miles) from Brussels, Belgium to Paris consists of 22 teams of eight riders each, typically in uniforms plastered with various sponsors. A few standout cyclists, however, will earn the right to wear something a little more special.
Below is a list of some of the special jerseys, numbers and what they mean.
The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, is the most famous of the cycling jerseys and is awarded to the cyclist with with the lowest aggregate time prior to the start of that day’s stage. Only three times in the history of the Tour de France has the same rider worn the yellow jersey for the entirety of the race.
Five-time Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx holds the record for most days in a yellow jersey at 97 days.
The same cyclists each year usually wear the yellow jersey for several stages. The highest amount of different cyclists to wear the yellow jersey in a single year is eight, which occured in 1958 and ’87.
The green jersey, or maillot vert, is worn by the rider leading the points classification and is typically synonymous with the best sprinter.
Both the number of points and number of cyclists awarded points varies by stage, with flatter stages having more points than mountain stages and lend itself to more of a sprinter’s finish than do the climbs of mountain stages.
Winners of a flat stage are awarded 35 points, with the cyclist coming in 25th earning just one point. A medium mountain stage, for example, may only award the top finisher 25 points, while the rider in 20th earns just one.
Frequently the leader of the general classification also leads the points classification. If that is the case, he will wear the yellow jersey, and the rider with the second highest total in the points classification wears the green jersey.
Erik Zabels holds the record for green-jersey wins with six.
Polka dot jersey
The polka dot jersey, or maillot à pois rouges, is given to the rider leading the King of the Mountains category.
Riders are awarded points for the order in which they cross the summit of climbs. Mountains are graded according to steepness, length and position on the course, with points corresponding to the grade.
The jersey is white with red polka dots. The dots are red because the original sponsor of the jersey was Chocolat Poulain, whose candy wrapper was covered in red polka dots.
Richard Virenque is the historical King of the Mountains. He won the polka dot jersey four times in a row from 1994-97, and added three more in ’99, 2003 and ’04.
The white jersey, or maillot blanc, goes to the best young rider.
The jersey is worn by the fastest overall rider who is under the age of 25 on Jan. 1 of that year’s race. It is based on the same system as the yellow jersey.
The white jersey was not established until 1975, but had it been, Eddy Merckx would have been the only rider in the history of the Tour de France to wear all four jerseys simultaneously during his 1969 ride.
Although token in comparison to the aforementioned jerseys, there are a few other special numbers and jerseys that riders earn the privilege of wearing.
A white number on a red background (instead of the standard black background) is awarded to the most combative cyclist after each stage. Since 2003, a jury of eight cycling specialists selects the most aggressive cyclist of each stage (excluding time trials) who consistently attacked, instigated a breakaway, or was a key figure in the stage outcome.
Special numbers for the team with the three highest-placed riders in the general classification are also awarded. Cyclists on this team wear black numbers on a yellow background.
World champions also get to wear special rainbow-colored jerseys. The reigning world champions of the road race and individual time trial will wear a white jersey with green, yellow, black, red and blue bands around it in those respective stages of the Tour. Tom Dumoulin will wear the jersey during the individual time trial, while Alejandro Valverse will be wearing it for the road races.
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