road cycling logo

Kiwi News


Favourites for Taupo: Ruby Livingstone

News image

Nov 25th, ’15.  Ruby Livingstone comes to the Elite Women’s race at the Contact Lake ... read more

Favourites for Taupo: Aaron Gate

News image

Nov 25th, ’15.  We raised a few eyebrows when the announcement was made for the ... read more

New Zealand’s Cambridge World Cup team announced

News image

Nov 24th, ’15.  The world champion men’s team pursuit will headline a strong New Zealand ... read more

Home > RaceTalk > Tour de France > Tour de France demystified Part 1

Tour de France demystified Part 1

tourdefrancelogoJul 2nd, 09. Measuring success: Yellow jersey, white jersey, polka dots, points, General Classification, what does it all mean?

 wants to help demystify the Tour de France, to help shed some light on the Tour complexities and help those readers who haven't spent every July pouring over the Tour de France to understand more about this fantastic event.

Tour de France demystified Part 1 - Evaluating success

by Sarah,  a non-cyclist

Who wins the Tour de France?

The overall winner is the individual cyclist with the quickest time after adding up all the times from the 21 stages. The overall winner is the winner of the General Classification, or GC.  The GC is updated after every stage to show who are the top contenders. The leading rider must wear the yellow leader's jersey, or maillot jaune, until another rider takes over the top position.

Competitions within the Tour de France

As well as the GC, there are many other titles to aim for during the Tour de France. Most cyclists dream of winning a stage in the Tour de France - crossing the finish line with their arms in the air saluting victory.

Besides overall and stage wins, the other competition categories are;
  • Green jersey - "Points leader".  The rider with the highest number of points.  Points are awarded for the first riders across the finish in each stage of the Tour.  Flat sprint stages have higher points awarded to them than climbing stages which is why the leader of the Green jersey is often referred to as the "Sprint leader".  As well as finish line points, most stages have points associated with interim sprints. A rider must finish the Tour de France to win this overall title.
  • White jersey - "Best Young Rider". The rider with the lowest overall time who was born after 1 Jan 1985.
  • Red polka dot jersey - "Best Climber" or "King of the Mountain".  The rider with the highest number of climbing points.  Climbing points are awarded at each mountain and hill pass on a sliding scale relative to the climb difficulty. A rider must finish the Tour de France to win this overall title.
  • Best team - the Team Classification is determined by adding the GC times of each team's top three riders.  The team with the lowest overall time is the Best Team.
  • Most competitive rider - at the end of each stage the Tour Director awards this title to the rider who has made the greatest effort and has demonstrated the best qualities of sportsmanship.

The leader must race in the appropriate leader's jersey until another rider takes over as the category leader.  

Why stage placings and GC placings don't necessarily indicate how a rider is performing.

There are lots examples of how a rider can finish many minutes or perhaps hours behind the leaders in the GC and still have had a fantastic and successful Tour de France. Six examples are examined below.

1. Domestiques - the workers. On a hot day a domestique may be required to slow down, wait for the team car, fill his jersey up with water bottles and/or food, then fight his way back through the peloton to pass the bottles back to the leader(s).  He may do this many times during a stage. On a wet day his role may be to take wet weather gear between the team car and the leader.  His role is to allow the team leader to hold his race position without the normal concerns riders have.

The domestiques play a crucial role in a team and often race many more kilometres than their leaders.  They usually finish lower down on the GC as some days they rest at the back of the peloton after exerting themselves to help their leaders the day before. Where they come on the stage and GC is an irrelevant measure of their value.

2. Leadout riders. Julian Dean is a sprinter, all of New Zealand would love to see him win a stage in the Tour de France but his role is primarily to help leadout his teammate Tyler Farrar to win the sprints.  [2010 update - but with Farrar injured, Dean may get his chance!] 
Whether a leadout rider gets 80th, or 8th on a sprint stage is not necessarily an indication of whether he did his role well.  

In a typical example, a leadout rider will work with a group of three or four riders who each take a turn at the front to pull their sprinter close to the finish line without the sprinter exerting too much energy.  They'll give 100% effort out the front for a few hundred metres, as soon as they feel their power fading they pull off for the next rider to continue.  That leadout rider will then fade into the background, no doubt swallowed up by the peloton riders who haven't had to exert so much solo energy. Their job is done. They ride slowly to the finish line and hopefully get to congratulate their sprinter. Their own stage placing is not relevant.

3. Sprinters.  As a general rule, sprinters do not climb well.  The extra power they need for sprint success usually requires a bigger frame. Climbers are the tiny riders in the peloton.  Sprinters enter the Tour de France to win stages and to contest the Green Jersey.  When the mountain stages hit, the sprinters forget their rivalry and work together to get through the mountains, their only concern is riding over the finish line within the time cutoffs set for each stage.  Stage placings on non-sprint stages do not  matter and overall GC placings are of no consequence to the sprinters. They either win, or they don't.

4.  Breakaway riders. Sometimes a leader from a competing team will attempt to break free ahead of the peloton.  Teams will try and send their own rider to the break in order to know what is going on and secondly to work to disrupt the break and slow down progress. 

These riders may be expected to ride solo up to the break, or to stay in a small break where the exertion level is much higher than sitting in a large peloton.  These riders are not riding to maximise their own chances of a GC place, although if the break goes free then they get their chance for stage victory, they are working for the sake of their leaders and may suffer the next day due to their efforts.

5. Chase riders. Another role related to breakaway riders are chase riders.  To illustrate this point, let's say Cervelo don't want to let a breakaway bunch ride away to the finish line and win the stage. It may be that a rival to Cervelo's team leader is in the break,  or perhaps Cervelo wants the chance to set their sprinter up for a stage win.  Either way, Cervelo (in this example) will set up a chase to bring back the break bunch.  The Cervelo leader will stay protected in the peloton, away from the wind and benefitting from the massed peloton speed whilst other Cervelo riders work at the front of the chase.  These riders work much harder than the rest of the peloton and can suffer later in the Tour from these efforts.

6. Team players. Team strategy often calls for self sacrifice.  If a team's first priority is to get their leader to the podium in Paris the team members may have to sacrifice their own chance of stage glory to protect their leader.  Perhaps a sprinter will be forced to use too much energy early in a sprint stage working for his leader, perhaps a climber stays back with his leader to help pull him up a mountain pass rather than go off for a solo victory.

Many riders don't even make it to the finish line in Paris.  Even that does not mean they have had an unsuccessful Tour de France.  Cycling is a team sport, for most riders you cannot measure individual success by looking at the scoreboard.

So how do you measure success?

To understand how a particular rider is doing in the Tour de France requires an understanding of that rider's role.  Julian Dean is a lead-out rider.  Most times his role is not to win, although Dean is likely to have a few chosen opportunities to go for individual success later on in the Tour.  If Dean's team sprinter, Tyler Farrar, competes well in the stage sprints, Dean has succeeded.  Do not look to his stage or GC results to see how he is performing.

Hayden Roulston's role is a little more complex.  He is the rookie for his team, the only rider not to have raced a Tour de France before.  On the sprint stages Roulston will be part of the lead-out for team-mate Thor Hushovd.  If Hushovd does well in the sprints, Roulston has succeeded.  

On the non-sprint stages, Roulston also has a role helping his team leader, defending champion Carlos Sastre.  Roulston may well be asked to jump up to a break group, or to use his track power to pull the team up to a breakaway.  Whatever Roulston's role, his GC placing won't measure his success.  His success will be measured by his team,  on whether he did what was asked of him.

If you disagree with anything here, or want to suggest an addition, join the This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and have your say.