If you are watching the Tour de France this month you might be wondering about the different colored jerseys riders are awarded at the end of each stage.

Here’s a quick primer on what each of the jerseys represent and how riders earn them:

Tour de France Yellow JerseyYellow Jersey

The yellow jersey, known in French as the maillot jaune, is the most prized jersey of the Tour. It is awarded to the rider with the lowest combined race time up to that point in the race. While the yellow jersey was first awarded in 1919 to make the race leader stand out, the color itself was selected as a bit of a marketing gimmick. Yellow was the page color of the race sponsor’s magazine, L’Auto.

Tour de France Green JerseyGreen Jersey

The green jersey, known in French as the maillot vert, is awarded to the cyclist with the highest number of sprint points. Points for this jersey are awarded to riders who finish first, second, etc., at the end of each stage. The number of points for each place and the number of riders rewarded varies depending on the type of stage. Flatter stages are more likely to result in a sprint finish and result in the winner earning 35 points down to 1 point for the 25th rider. Medium mountain stages give the winner 25 points down to 1 point for the 20th rider. High mountain stages give the winner 20 points down to 1 point for the 15th rider.

Points are also awarded for individual time trial stages: 15 for the winner down to 1 for the 10th rider. Additional points are available at intermediate sprint contests, usually occurring 2 or 3 times in each stage at pre-determined locations. Intermediate winners earn 6 points with 4 and 2 points going to the 2nd and 3rd place finishers respectively.

Tour de France Polka Dot JerseyPolka Dot Jersey

The Tour’s best climber is called the King of the Mountain and wears a white jersey with red dots (known as the maillot à pois rouges in French), which is commonly referred to as the “polka dot jersey”. Although the best climber was first recognized in 1933 as the “King of the Mountain”, the distinctive polka dot jersey was not actually introduced until 1975. The colors were decided by the then sponsor, Poulain Chocolate, to match a popular product.

At the top of each climb in the Tour points are awarded to the riders who are first to the summit. Climbs are divided into categories, from 1 to 4, based on difficulty with 1 being the most difficult, measured by steepness and length. A fifth category, called Hors categorie (outside category) is formed by mountains even more difficult than those of the number 1 category. In 2004, the scoring system was changed so that the first rider over a fourth category climb was awarded 3 points while the first to complete a hors category climb would win 20 points. Further points over a fourth category climb are only for the top three places while on a hors category climb the top ten riders are rewarded. 

Tour de France White JerseyAlso, beginning in 2004, the points scored on the final climb of the day were doubled if such a climb was at least a second category climb.

White Jersey

A lesser classification is that for the white jersey (known as the maillot blanc in French), which is like the yellow jersey, but only open for riders who are less than 25 years old on January 1 of the year the Tour is ridden.

Other Jerseys

Rainbow Jersey

Current world champions are allowed to wear the rainbow jersey while competing in the Tour de France. This year that rider is Philippe Gilbert of Belgium.

National Jerseys

The current national road race champions can wear their national jerseys in “ordinary stages”, while the national time-trial champions are allowed to wear their national jerseys in the time-trial stages only.

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