Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005

Spotted glory: Who will claim the red and white?

After the departure of Monsieur Virenque, the Tour's Mountain King at the end of 2004, there'll definitely be a new king of the mountains crowned in 2005. Jeff Jones looks at the riders who could take home the maillot à pois.

He won the polka dots seven times.
Photo ©: Caroline Yang
Click for larger image

The polka-dotted mountains jersey (maillot à pois) has a long history in the Tour, with the competition being initiated in 1933, making it 20 years older than the points jersey. It has always carried a good deal of prestige with it, although in recent years, most of the really good climbers have chosen to ignore it and focus on the yellow. With one or two exceptions.

Past winners of the spotty jersey include Fausto Coppi, Federico Bahamontes (six times), Charly Gaul, Eddy Merckx, Lucien Van Impe (six times), Bernard Hinault, Luis Herrera, Claudio Chiappucci, Laurent Jalabert, and Richard Virenque. The latter has claimed the jersey a record seven times, but has now retired and the competition is wide open this year. Like the green jersey, the mountains jersey also requires consistency, but not in the same way. Most of the time, a rider wanting the dots will get in a breakaway on one of the first big mountain stages and win most of the points. The defense of it usually requires another long breakaway, but polka dot contenders don't have to concentrate on every single bonus like the sprinters do, because the big climbs are worth so much more than the small ones.

Without Virenque as the standard, searching for maillot à pois contenders is not easy. Lining up this year is the 2000 polka dot winner Santiago Botero (Phonak), who looks to be more interested in a stage win and a good GC placing. But if the cards fall his way, he may chase the dots; as it's always an honour to stand on the final podium on the Champs Elysées.

Iban Mayo's unbeatable on his day
Photo ©: Christine Grein
Click for larger image

Similar arguments could be applied to Francisco Mancebo and Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), who are very good climbers but will be looking to the GC (Valverde might even aim for green). And the climbers in the top GC teams such as Discovery Channel, T-Mobile, Liberty Seguros, and CSC will probably be called into help their captains in the mountains, rather than riding for themselves.

Given that French riders have won the jersey for 10 out of the last 11 years (thanks largely to Virenque), we should expect that a little bit of national pride will convince a few of the French riders to go for the dots. Thomas Voeckler and national champion Pierrick Fédrigo (Bouygues Telecom) fall into this category, as do Sylvain Chavanel and David Moncoutié (Cofidis), and Patrice Halgand (Credit Agricole). All are talented enough to be able to battle it out in the mountains without relying too heavily on long breakaways. Conversely, none of them are likely to be in a position to challenge for the Tour top three, so there should be no obstacles on that front.

There are plenty of these to climb...
Photo ©: Sirotti
Click for larger image

The Spanish have always produced excellent climbers, with the aforementioned Bahamontes being the country's greatest Tour de France climber. In this year's Tour, the brilliant but inconsistent Iban Mayo is part of Euskaltel-Euskadi's line up, and although he didn't look to be at his best in the Tour de Suisse, another four weeks should see him able to perform well in the mountains. On his day, he can outclimb everyone, but he will still have to ride an aggressive race to win the polka dots. The time trials in the first week should set him back several minutes, so he'll have all the necessary motivation to attack in the mountains.

Mayo's teammates Iñigo Landaluze and Haimar Zubeldia are less well known for their climbing exploits, even though Landaluze recently won a tough edition of the Dauphiné Libéré. Again, if either of them make the climber's jersey their goal, they are in with a good chance.

Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) is another Spaniard who goes uphill well, although he may be called in to help Landis and Botero in the mountains, or even become the team's GC rider depending on his time trialling. German Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner) also falls into this category. A winner of the mountains jersey in the Giro d'Italia last year, Wegmann is a talented young rider. But with Gerolsteiner riding for Levi Leipheimer, Wegmann's role will probably be to protect the captain.

Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval)
Photo ©: Russell Standring
Click for larger image

Saunier Duval is known as a team with opportunistic ambitions, and although it has Juan Manuel Garate to ride for on GC, the 25 year old José Angel Gomez Marchante is one to watch on the mountains. Marchante finished top 10 in the Dauphiné, Volta a Catalunya, and Paris-Nice, and has shown that he likes the hills.

Finally, speaking of opportunists, Danish rider Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is one of the outsiders for the KOM competition. He does climb well, but he is also very good at getting himself into long breakaways. Although a stage win is probably foremost on his mind, the mountains jersey might beckon.

The Tour's mountain competition has been smothered a little in the last 10 years, but 2005 could see the proper, open battle that it deserves.

2005 Tour home
Other Cycling Features