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The Tour de France is a stage race, which is a multi-day competition consisting of individual races — or stages — where prizes are awarded for both each day’s competition and for the cumulative overall results.
The primary competition is time-based: The first man across the line each day wins the stage. But the biggest battle at the Tour is for the yellow jersey: The rider with the lowest time overall after the 21 stages wins the Tour de France.
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There are races within the race: The King of the Mountains competition, the Points competition — often referred to as the sprinter’s jersey — and the Best Young Rider competition. As with the overall race lead, the leader of each of these competitions wears a special jersey throughout the race.
The Tour de France is a grand tour, which is the most prestigious type of stage race in the world and lasts for three weeks. The Giro d’Italia in Italy and the Vuelta a España in Spain are the other two grand tours. The Giro and the Vuelta have similar jersey competitions, but with different colored jerseys.
Here is what the colored jerseys of the Tour de France mean.
Yellow (General Classification)
After each stage, the rider with the fastest cumulative time is awarded the yellow race leader’s jersey to wear the following day. The cumulative time is what is known as the general classification, as opposed to each day’s stage result. While it is prestigious to wear the yellow jersey on any stage, it is only the final, cumulative result after three weeks that wins one rider the Tour de France — and €500,000 in prize money. The other podium finishers also ride away with a decent financial bonus with €250,000 going to the runner-up and €125,000 for third place.
Polka-dot (King of the Mountains)
Mountain points are awarded at the summit of all categorized climbs. The rider with the most cumulative mountain points wears the polka-dot jersey throughout the race. The overall winner earns €25,000 in prize money.
Points in the competition are graded by the severity of the climbs, with the tough ascents offering up the most points. Climbs that are deemed hors catégorie, or beyond categorization, are the hardest, and fourth category ascents are the easiest. Crossing the line first on an hors catégorie climb can earn a rider 20 points down to two for eighth across the line, while a fourth category only offers one point for the first rider.
Green (Points competition)
Points are awarded each stage (other than individual time trials) at intermediate sprints and at the end of every stage finish. The rider with the most points wears a green jersey, and the rider who finishes with the most points takes green and €25,000 in prize money.
How the points are allocated has been altered over the years with much more weight given to the flat sprint days in recent years. Currently, riders get 50 points for a win on a flat day compared to 30 on a hilly stage and 20 when the race goes through the high mountains. As well as at the finish, there are points on offer in the intermediate sprints, the allocation of which remains the same each day.
Peter Sagan has the record for number of green jersey’s won after claiming his seventh in 2019, while Erik Zabel was the previous record holder at six.
White (Best young rider)
The rider with the fastest cumulative time who is 25 or younger wears the white jersey. The overall winner earns €20,000 in prize money. It was introduced in 1975 and many riders that have won this jersey have gone on to win the Tour de France outright, and in recent years, the yellow jersey has been the winner of the youth classification as well.
Two-time winner Tadej Pogačar and 2019 victor Egan Bernal were both under 25 when they took the overall win.
Other prizes and symbols at the Tour de France
Winning a stage of the Tour de France represents a career-affirming accomplishment for a pro cyclist. Every year there are 21 stages up for grabs, and each one pays €11,000 to the winner.
A panel of experts picks the most aggressive rider during each stage; this rider wears a white number with a red background on his jersey the next day and earns €2,000. At the end of the race, the panel will award one rider with the “Super Combativity” prize and €20,000.
After each stage, the cumulative times of the three best-placed riders on each team are tallied, excluding any time bonuses or penalties. The team with the lowest cumulative time at the end of the race wins the Team Classification and €50,000.