Talking Tactics: Who will win the King of the Mountains competition?

As the 2014 Tour de France enters its final week, the most intriguing and tactical battle is the one for the polka dot jersey denoting the King of the Mountains leader. The outcome of this competition will be determined over the next three days in the Pyrenees. So, what’s going to happen?

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Talking Tactics: How to win the polka dot jersey at the Tour

Over the next three Wednesdays I’m going to cast an analytical eye over the races within the race at the Tour de France, to explore where key battles will be won by the mass of riders whose objective is something other than the yellow jersey.

I’m starting with an examination of the battle for the polka dot jersey, awarded to the winner of the King of the Mountains classification. When is the action likely to occur and why?
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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.