Who will win the famous Tour de France polka dots?

It's been the most exciting battle for the mountains classification in a generation, and with four riders looking at fighting it out for the jersey the key mountain stages loom in the coming days at the Tour de France.

It's a competition that divides fans, some decrying it as an 'afterthought' competition, something to put into the race to keep the sponsors happy, while others are passionate about the fight for the unique polka dot jersey, see Bonjour Le Tour's Christophe Mallet for proof. 

This year, no one could deny the battle for the 'king of the mountains' prize has been one of the most thrilling in decades. In the past, it has been the fall-back prize, the one for the climber who has fallen off the general classification standings, but still has the legs to go in the breakaways. Where there have been close battles, they have mostly been between riders on the general classification and the breakaway artists. 

Last year's jersey was taken by Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) in his impressive suite of the yellow, white and polka dot red on the Paris podium, deputising some mannequins to wear them in his stead. That 'battle' was very close, the result came down to the final time trial with Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) just needing to finish faster than the race leader up the climb of the Planche des Belles Filles. Of course, no one was faster than the youngster on that famous day and he duly won the jersey, but there was no head-to-head battle at all. Pogačar picked up points as he was riding for yellow and there was no interest in the competition.

107th Tour de France 2020 - Stage 21
Tadej Pogacar claimed three jerseys and Sam Bennett one on the final Tour de France podium Source: Getty

This year it's been an all-out fight between current mountains jersey holder Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). The tally is tight, Poels has 74 points, Woods 66, Quintana and van Aert both on 64. 

Over the next two days of racing, there is a potential maximum of 60 points for Stage 17 and 62 points on Stage 18. In both cases, the summit finishes of each stage hold 40 points and whoever places well on those finishes will immediately put themselves in a strong position on the standings.

For that reason, it's possible that Pogačar could sweep from the clouds and claim back-to-back mountains jerseys at the race, if he were to win both summit finishes, he'd be propelled to 106 points total, a tally that would likely prove hard for the breakaway riders to match.

While he's of course exceptionally good, UAE Team Emirates have shown that their focus is more on keeping things controlled so he can win yellow, stage wins haven't been a high priority for the 22-year-old. 

So out of the other high-flyers, who will take it? 

Poels has an eight-point buffer and the pedigree to win in the high mountains. He's best known for his surprise Liege-Bastogne-Liege win in 2016, but he also has 19 professional wins, two top-ten overall finishes in the Vuelta a Espana and a long period as a super domestique with Team Sky. He's back to riding for himself, and his poise combined with his explosive power in the final few hundred metres on the mountain sprints has been very impressive.

Woods is his nearest competitor, the Canadian a noted classics rider like Poels, but perhaps more of a pure climber. The Woods/Poels battle has been the biggest fight so far in the polka dot match-up, with them swapping wins in ding-dong battles on stages 14 and 15. The 2018 World Championship podium-finisher at times has issues descending and positioning in the peloton, if there's a battle for the breakaway that he misses or a descent that gets mucked up, it could spell an end to the mountains challenge for the likeable Canadian.

Quintana is a regular contender for the overall win at the Grand Tours, but he's transitioned to more of a stage-hunting and mountains jersey-targeting role. Out of all the riders in the frame for the win, he's the best credentialled, 47 professional wins, a Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana winner, in addition to finishing second overall twice at the Tour de France. He'll be the best suited to the hors categorie climbs that conclude Stages 17 and 18, his challenge might be making the break, with the move likely to come on the flat early parts of those courses.

Van Aert won't face any such challenge, his flatland power is just as good as his climbing and he'll be in any early move if he wants to be. The question with the Jumbo-Visma rider is if he will commit to riding for his team or for himself. Vingegaard is in a good position overall and could leap up onto the podium with a few good rides over the coming days, and van Aert is a selflessly dedicated teammate. He's not a pure climber, but he's that good that it likely doesn't matter. Just go back and watch him ride away from the 20-kilogram lighter rider, Kenny Elissonde, on Mont Ventoux. 


This jersey will be decided in the next two days, there are just two points left available in the final three stages, so the race would need to effectively be tied heading after the finish atop the Luz Ardiden on Stage 18.

Stage 17 of the Tour de France looms as another huge test for the riders with two category 1 climbs before a brutal summit finish atop the Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet. Coverage starts from 7:45pm AEST on the SKODA Tour Tracker and 8:30pm AEST on SBS and SBS On Demand. 

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6 min read
Published 14 July 2021 at 5:19am
By Jamie Finch-Penninger