Wheels in motion: The Tour de France explained

Cycling’s crown jewel is a bit like a babushka doll. Every stage of the Tour de France is a race within a race.

The Tour – involving 23 teams of eight riders each – is comprised of 21 stages raced over 23 days. The terrain of each stage varies to suit the peloton (the main pack of riders), which is made up of sprinters, climbers, time triallists, domestiques (support riders), and super domestiques (the lead riders’ main lieutenants), all of whom have a job to do for their team – whether it be winning, themselves, or supporting a teammate to victory.

Mathieu Van Der Poel, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, fist-bumps Tadej Pogacar, wearing the best young rider’s white jersey, with Ide Schelling in the best climber’s polka dot jersey, before the start of the sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.Credit:AP

This year’s Tour features 27 mountain passes, climbs, or summit finishes, eight flat stages, five hilly stages, six mountain stages, and two individual time trials.

There is the competition for the stage wins, and then within that a long-term game for four classifications that are decided on the last day – July 18. In every stage riders competing for one of the classifications have opportunities to improve their position on the leaderboard. For the green jersey, that may be sprinting for maximum points at an intermediate sprint “prime”, and at the stage finish. For a yellow jersey contender, that would be staying safe on flat stages so they don’t get caught in a crash and lose time, and then, on a mountain stage, climb the quickest, for example.

The leader in each classification wears that jersey (yellow, green, polka dot or white) during the race, and whoever is at the top of the table when the race returns to Paris takes that jersey home. Current national road champions competing in the race wear their country’s colours on their Tour team’s jersey, while the reigning world champion’s jersey features distinctive horizontal stripes.

Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar won the yellow, white, and polka dot jerseys in last year’s Tour.

Mathieu Van Der Poel in the overall leader’s yellow jersey.Credit:AP

Yellow jersey
General time classification
The yellow jersey, or maillot jaune, is won by the race leader and eventually awarded to the winner of what is known as the general classification. The Tour winner is the person who has the lowest cumulative finishing time at the end of the three-week race. The winner will receive €500,000 (AUD $792,993.52), with second and third place taking home €200,000 ($317,197.41) and €100,000 ($158,598.70) respectively.

Contenders: Tadej Pogacar (Team: UAE Emirates), Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)

Green jersey (maillot vert)

Mark Cavendish, wearing the best sprinter’s green jersey, after winning the sixth stage.Credit:EPA

General point classification
The green jersey, or maillot vert, is awarded to the person who tops the points classification. This competition is usually reserved for sprinters or more versatile riders known as puncheurs. Contenders for the green jersey collect points on intermediate sprints (sprints that take place at designated sections during a stage), and at stage finishes, with maximum bonuses on offer for those who win each. The person with the most points come Paris wins.

Contenders: Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Michael Matthews (BikeExchange), Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe)

Polka dot jersey

Ide Schelling in the best climber’s polka dot jersey.Credit:AP

Best climber classification
The polka dot jersey is awarded to the climber who accumulates the most points from the categorised climbs throughout stages. Points awarded at each depend on the severity of the ascent. Climbs are categorised by a number, ranging from most difficult to least difficult. Riders who crest first take the maximum points on offer. At Tour’s end, the overall winner of the classification is known as the ‘King of the Mountains’.

Contenders: Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic).

White jersey

Tadej Pogacar, the overall Tour winner last year, in the best young rider’s jersey.Credit:AP

Best young rider classification
The white jersey is given to the rider who wins the best young rider classification. It works the same as the yellow jersey competition but only riders under the age of 26 are eligible.

Contenders: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates)

Team Classification
This is decided on the cumulative times of the teams’ three best-placed riders per stage. Teams that have multi-pronged attacks when it comes to the general classification are typically best-placed to take out the overall Team Classification. Yet riders who may not feature near the front of the field could still be vital for their teams’ chances. Riders of the team leading the team classification can typically be identified by black jersey numbers on a yellow background.

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