Tour de France analysis: Who will win the polka dot jersey?

Image courtesy of Fredrik Kessiakoff

The polka dot jersey is perhaps the most iconic in cycling – with the exception of the maillot jaune, of course. The question now, as we head into the Tour’s final week, is who will have the honour of becoming the meilleur grimpeur on the Champs-Élysées next Sunday?

The fight for this classification is hotting up, with numerous riders still in contention with the big climbs which are yet to come. It seems like this year the best climber will go to a rider outside the main contenders, and is currently led by Astana’s Fredrik Kessiakoff.

The Swedish former mountain biker is almost an hour-and-a-quarter behind the race leader, but leads the mountain classification by 14 points:

Current standings

1. KESSIAKOFF Fredrik 187 ASTANA PRO TEAM 69 pts
2. ROLLAND Pierre 29 TEAM EUROPCAR 55 pts
4. VOECKLER Thomas 21 TEAM EUROPCAR 37 pts
5. SCARPONI Michele 41 LAMPRE – ISD 33 pts
6. FROOME Christopher 105 SKY PROCYCLING 32 pts
7. PINOT Thibaut 146 FDJ-BIGMAT 32 pts
10. CASAR Sandy 141 FDJ-BIGMAT 20 pts

How are points awarded?

According to the official 2012 Tour de France regulations:

The general best climber ranking is established by adding together the points obtained on all passes and hills, according to the following tables:

  • ‘Highest level’ (HC) passes: 25,20,16,14,12,10,8,6,4,2 points respectively to the first ten riders to reach the summit.
  • Category 1 passes: 10,8,6,4,2,1 points respectively to the first six riders.
  • Category 2 passes: 5,3,2,1 points respectively to the first four riders.
  • Category 3 passes : 2, 1 points, respectively to the first two riders.
  • Category 4 passes: 1 point to the first rider.

Points awarded are doubled for the summit finishes on stages seven, 11 and 17. In the event of a tie between two riders in the general best climber ranking, the rider with the most first places at HC summits is declared the winner. If the riders are still tied, the first places obtained in the category 1 passes will be used to determine the winner. If necessary, the first 38 places achieved at the summits of category 2, category 3 or category 4 passes or hills will be taken. As a last resort, the final general time ranking will be used. Riders must finish the Tour de France in order to appear in the best climber ranking.

What does this mean?

Put simply, there is still all to play for. Fredrik Kessiakoff may be getting comfy in the polka dots, but it’s highly likely that in order to keep it up until Paris, he’s going to have to get himself in a breakaway on one of the remaining mountain stages. Having executed such an energy-sapping manoeuvre twice this Tour already, that’s easier said than done.

Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

Pierre Rolland lurks dangerously in second place (image courtesy of Europcar)

Pierre Rolland (Europcar), currently in second place, is the biggest threat, mainly due to his climbing ability. He is better at ascending than the current classification leader, and adding a third career stage win (and second at this year’s Tour) on stage 17 would see him into the lead of the competition. But, with the tendency towards breakaway success at this year’s Tour, that mightn’t be possible. In addition, at eighth place in the general classification, he may be a little too dangerous for the peloton to allow him to escape.

One exception to the rule that a favourite won’t win the polka dot jersey is Chris Froome. He has shown himself to be the strongest rider in the race, and may fancy adding to his earlier stage win with another in the mountains. In all likelihood this wouldn’t be enough to dethrone Kessiakoff, but it’s a possibility.

The next few stages will prove crucial in determining the overall winner, and it largely depends on how Kessiakoff is feeling. If he has enough left in the tank for another long breakaway in the mountains it’d likely be enough to secure the maillot à pois rouges. All will become clear over the next two stages – which respectively offer a maximum of 70 and 62 points – after which there are no big points up for grabs.

Tour de France: Stage 14 review

Stage 14: Limoux to Foix, 191km

Looking at the stage classification following today’s run from Limoux to Foix and you’d think it had ended in a routine – and predictable – breakaway victory, won by one of this Tour’s most impressive riders, Luis Leon Sanchez.

With 50km of the stage remaining, I’d have thought the same too – before Cadel Evans (BMC) punctured and punctured again, the victim of carpet tacks spread over the road. In an impressive show of etiquette, Sky and Liquigas agreed to neutralise the descent, allowing BMC to pace their leader back into the main field, with the peloton finishing almost 20 minutes down.

It was a day in which a very strong breakaway went away, including Rabobank’s Sanchez, Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Gorka Izaguirre (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sandy Casar (FDJ-BigMat) and Cyril Gautier (Europcar). With a lead of over 15 minutes the major headache for the better climbers in the group was the presence of Sagan, who would inevitably beat them in a sprint. Recognising this, on the final climb of the Mur de Peguere – a tough 9.3km at 7.9% – Sanchez forced the pace. Initially, it appeared his attempt at cracking Sagan had worked, but as the climb went on the Slovak began to grind his way up towards the leaders, and astonishingly had caught them by the time they’d reached the summit – with Sanchez and Gilbert beginning to drop backwards.

Three-time Tour stage winner Casar then attacked, but Sagan and Izaguirre quickly caught him on the descent, with Gilbert and Sanchez rejoining with around 15km still to go. Around 4km later, Sanchez made an individual bid for glory, jumping from the group to try to win solo – and he did. The four behind were unable to close down the Spaniard’s punchy attack, as he won his fourth career stage at the Tour. Sagan won the sprint for second to increase his stranglehold on the green jersey.

VeloVoices rider of the day

After a relatively anonymous 2011 – with the exception of a win at the Tour – it was terrific to see Luis Leon Sanchez picking up a victory. He’s tried incredibly hard throughout this year’s edition to secure a win for an otherwise-anonymous Rabobank outfit – who are now down to just four riders – and he’s finally achieved it. It’s a well-deserved victory, especially after all the work he did in trying to crack Sagan and then dragging himself and Gilbert across to the lead group – and still having the energy to launch a successful 11km solo move.


The real interesting fallout from today’s stage will be which disgruntled individual or organisation was responsible for spreading the tacks all over the road – said to be responsible for 30 punctures throughout the stage. Rumours that it was Chris Froome aiming for the wheels of Dave Brailsford’s Jaguar are as yet unconfirmed.

On a more serious note, neutralising the descent to allow Evans to catch up was a very magnanimous move from Bradley Wiggins and Sky, and one recognised by the BMC riders as they waved thanks to the Liquigas and Sky team cars on their way to rejoining the peloton. Pierre Rolland (Europcar), however, chose this moment to attack, having not realised what was happening behind him. He later sat up to allow the others to catch up to him and finished in the pack.

Astana’s Robert Kiserlovski was less fortunate, however. He crashed near the summit – seemingly as a result of the sabotage – and is thought to have broken his collarbone.

The rainbow jersey of Mark Cavendish was again visible carrying out domestique duties, distributing rain capes to his teammates and even pacing the peloton up the climbs. Whatever may be being said in private in the Sky hotel, the world champion is publicly fulfilling his promise to ride in support of a potential British winner.

Tactical analysis

It wasn’t a stage of great tactical interest, with no changes to any of the jersey classifications. Peter Sagan won the intermediate sprint to collect the maximum 20 points and extend his lead, with his grip on the points classification becoming tighter and tighter with every passing stage. He now leads Andre Greipel by 97 points, and as long as he makes it to Paris the green jersey now seems assured.

Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) continues to hold on to the polka dot jersey, 14 points ahead of Rolland, his nearest rival. Tejay van Garderen remains in white, leading Thibaut Pinot by 1:54.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website

Pierre Rolland (image courtesy of Europcar)

Tour de France: Stage 11 review

Stage 11: Albertville to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles, 148km

Europcar’s Pierre Rolland picked himself up off the tarmac to take a terrific win, while Cadel Evans (BMC) was the big loser, dropping off the podium and likely out of contention to take the yellow jersey in Paris.

There were numerous attacks on the Col de la Madeleine – an hors catégorie climb which kicked off a brutal day in the saddle with four categorised climbs, three of which were classified over category two. Initially there were over 20 riders in the lead group, with Sky’s Mick Rogers sitting on the front of the peloton ensuring they didn’t get too big an advantage. By the time of the second HC climb, the Col de la Croix de Fer, the group had dramatically reduced in size, but their lead had grown to over four minutes.

It was on this ascent that Evans tried an interesting move, with 64km still to go to the finish. Having sent teammate Tejay Van Garderen up the road earlier, he bridged across and join the American. But they were never able to open up a meaningful gap, and an elite chase group of the major GC contenders formed. By the time they hit the hairy descent from the second category Mollard, only four men remained out front: Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) and Robert Kiserlovski (Astana).

It was pretty quickly three when Rolland rolled around a corner and off his bike. But, some even greater risks later, he rejoined, just in time for the final climb up to La Toussuire. Rogers continued to set the pace, with four Sky riders prominent at the front – including the maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins.

Almost as soon as the climb began the attacking started. Janez Brajkovic (Astana) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) jumped from the Wiggins group, while Rolland managed to distance his breakaway companions out front.

With around 10km to the finish, having fittingly lurked up near the front of the Wiggins group, the ‘Shark of Messina’ Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) kicked for the first time, only to be pegged back by an impressive Chris Froome (Sky). But he was the only teammate Wiggins had left, and as Nibali attacked for a second time, he appeared to crack.

For the first time in the Tour, Wiggins looked rather isolated. But not for long. Froome astonishingly rode back up to the front of the group, and began to claw back a dangerous-looking group now containing Brajkovic, Van Den Broeck and Nibali. The pace proved to be too much for Evans, who was sent backwards, nursed by the white jersey of Van Garderen.

With just under 4km left, Froome had done the astonishing, and ridden Wiggins back to the Nibali group. What he did next, was even more startling. He rode straight through the group and attacked, leaving the race – and his team’s – leader isolated. No doubt a few expletive-filled radio transmissions later, he stood down, as everyone – bar the leading Frenchman – came back together.

Out front Rolland managed to make it a second consecutive Europcar victory, while Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) out-sprinted Froome to take second, and round off a perfect couple of days for French cycling.

VeloVoices rider of the day

With Froome and Nibali both having been nominated earlier in the Tour, today’s award must go to stage winner Pierre Rolland. A couple of years ago, the future of French cycling looked very bleak indeed. After the retirements of Richard Virenque and Christophe Moreau, there was a desperate dearth of climbing talent – until last year.

Rolland won the stage at the summit of Alpe d’Huez en route to winning the white jersey, and today confirmed his credentials with another huge performance in the mountains, despite his crash earlier in the stage. With Rolland and Pinot climbing with the best riders in the peloton, to paraphrase a certain French multinational telecommunications corporation advert: the future of French cycling is bright. The future is yellow.


Wiggins and Nibali kiss and make up (not literally)

After the ongoing slanging match between the pair, it was nice to see Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali recognise each others’ efforts at the end of the stage with an on-bike embrace. Nibali let L’Équipe know in no uncertain terms what he thought of his British counterpart before the race began, with Wiggins returning the favour rather more subtly in post-stage interviews throughout.

Thus, it was nice to see a mark of mutual respect, with Wiggins recognising how hard the Italian had tried to force a gap, and Nibali how excellently Sky have ridden to defend the maillot jaune.

Tactical analysis

There’s no doubt as to who the day’s big winners and losers are. Bradley Wiggins has comfortably survived the toughest stage of this year’s Tour, whilst Cadel Evans‘ chances of taking the maillot jaune are now close to nil.

An enormous amount of credit must go to Chris Froome – without him Wiggins would have been completely isolated on today’s stage, and would most likely have lost time. But Nibali and Van Den Broeck will feel that even with his Kenyan-born teammate alongside him, they could – and should – have put time into the race leader today.

When they formed an extremely strong group with Janez Brajkovic – around 20 seconds ahead of Wiggins and Froome – they should have had the strength to open up a bigger lead. Three on-form climbers were together but didn’t seem to be riding in unison, when doing so would have had benefits for all.

No doubt there will be more opportunities for Nibali and co to make up time – but they’re fast running out of kilometres in which to do so. The way Sky fell away on the final climb will give them reason for optimism, but better racecraft is required if they are really going to put the yellow jersey under threat – especially when factoring in the final time trial.

As for the other classifications which were fought over today, Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana) did enough to retake the polka dot jersey after losing it to Thomas Voeckler yesterday – although after putting in such an effort today, how long he will be able to keep it remains to be seen. Rolland may well fancy a pop, just 11 points behind in second place.

Despite aiding his ailing leader Evans, Tejay Van Garderen is still comfortably in the white jersey of best young rider, almost two minutes ahead of Thibaut Pinot. In the BMC team bus tonight I’d imagine much of the discussion will be focusing around whether Van Garderen should ride for GC position rather than helping his weaker teammate in the upcoming stages.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of every stage on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Tour de France official website