Tour de France Jerseys Explained – What Do They Mean?

Tour de France Jerseys
Photo: Steffen Trumpf/dpa - Photo by Icon sport

The Tour de France, the prestigious and gruelling cycling race, is renowned for its iconic jerseys that symbolize various achievements and classifications during the event. Let’s take a closer look at the different jerseys and what they represent.

The Yellow Jersey (Maillot Jaune)

The Yellow Jersey is arguably the most coveted jersey at the Tour de France. It signifies the leader of the general classification, which is determined by the overall time taken by each cyclist in the race. The rider with the lowest cumulative time across all stages gets to wear the Yellow Jersey. It represents consistency, endurance, and excellence. The wearer of the Yellow Jersey is considered the race leader and often becomes the centre of attention throughout the event.

It was “officially” introduced in 1919 before the background to be able to identify the leader of the general classification more easily on photographs and later on television. Before the maillot jaune, the overall leader wore a green armband. However, the Belgian rider Philippe Thys argued that he was forced to wear a yellow jersey in 1913 by his sporting director Alphonse Baugé. He argued that yellow is the colour of the team’s sponsor (Peugeot) and thus he agreed to wear it.

Yellow Jersey Tour de France

The official history of the Tour de France has Eugène Christophe as the first rider to wear a yellow jersey on July 19, 1919, on the stage from Grenoble to Geneva. The colour was chosen because of the colour of the newspaper L’Auto, which was the main sponsor of the race.

The rider who has worn it the most days is Eddy Merckx, one of the most prolific Tour de France winners. His record stands at 95 days in yellow, followed by Bernard Hinault on 75. Both have won the Tour five times each. The third place on this podium goes to Miguel Indurain with 60 days. He could still be deplaced as Chris Froome in fourth place has 59 days to his tally and since he is still active – though not racing this year – he could theoretically still try to get to third place.

It is currently (July 2023) worn by Jonas Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma.

The Green Jersey (Maillot Vert)

The Green Jersey is awarded to the leader of the points classification. Points are awarded at intermediate sprints and stage finishes based on the cyclist’s performance. The more challenging the stage, the more points are available. Sprinters, who excel in flat stages and possess a burst of speed, often target the Green Jersey. It symbolizes sprinting prowess and the ability to accumulate points consistently throughout the race.

Initially, riders in the Tour de France were placed according to a points system and the one with the lowest score, would be the leader of the race. However, in 1912, the time-based system was established. The points classification was re-introduced in 1953 for the 50th anniversary of Le Grand Boucle, this time as an additional classification.

During each stage, there are intermediate sprints at which there are points to be won. The same goes for the sprint finish of the Tour. The Green Jersey has since become associated with the fastest sprinter of the Tour. For a stage win in a flat, i.e. sprint stage, 50 points are awarded to the winner, while at a high mountain stage, only 20 points are up for grabs.

Green Jersey Tour de France
Photo by Icon Sport

The undisputed king of the sprinters is Peter Sagan, who has won this coveted price seven times. He has worn it for a total of 100 days. The highest points score was achieved in 2022 by Wout van Aert with 480 points, surpassing Sagan with 477.

At the Tour de France 2023 the Belgian Jasper Philipsen is wearing it.

The Polka Dot Jersey (Maillot à Pois Rouges)

The Polka Dot Jersey is adorned by the “King of the Mountains.” It is awarded to the cyclist who has accumulated the most points in the mountain classification. Points are given based on the difficulty of the climbs and the position of the rider at the summit. The Polka Dot Jersey celebrates the climbers who conquer the challenging ascents and excel in the mountains. It represents strength, endurance, and a relentless pursuit of conquering the highest peaks. The maillot a pois rouge was introduced in 1975.

Each climb is given a category, based on the length and gradient of the ascent. There are five categories and for each, there are points allocated for the riders crossing the line on the summit.

1. HC: 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2pts
2. 1st: 10, 8, 6, 7, 5, 1pt
3. 2nd: Five, three, two
4. 3rd: two and one point
5. 4th: one point

Polka Dot Jersey Tour de France
Photo by Icon Sport

The record winner of this classification is the French rider Richard Virenque with seven overall victories in this category, followed by Lucien van Impe and Federico Bahamontes, with six wins each.

The American rider Neilson Powless is wearing this shirt in 2023.

The White Jersey (Maillot Blanc)

The White Jersey is given to the best young rider in the general classification. It is restricted to cyclists who are 25 years old or younger. Similar to the Yellow Jersey, the White Jersey represents overall excellence but within the young rider category. It showcases the talent, potential, and promising future of the young riders competing in the Tour de France.

Tadej Pogačar is currently (July 2023) wearing this shirt.

White Jersey Tour de France
Photo by Icon Sport

Tour de France Jersesy – Conclusion

It’s important to note that in the case of multiple jerseys being held by the same rider, a hierarchy is established. For instance, if the current Yellow Jersey wearer is also leading the points classification, they will wear the Yellow Jersey, and the Green Jersey will be passed on to the second-ranked cyclist in the points classification.

The jerseys at the Tour de France symbolize different achievements and classifications, providing spectators and participants with a visual representation of the race’s different aspects and current Tour de France standings. Each jersey carries its own significance and adds excitement to the world’s most prestigious cycling event.

There is one rider, and only one rider who has won the yellow, the green and the polka dot jersey all during one edition of the Tour de France: he goes by the nickname the Cannibal. Eddy Merckx. He won the Tour on five occasions and in most cases won at least the points classification, too.

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