To a first-time viewer, the Tour de France can be a minefield. It’s not just as simple as the first rider across the finish line in Paris — and what is a polka dot jersey?
Here’s our full guide to how the Tour de France is won; the classifications, the jerseys, previous winners and prize money.
Tour de France classifications explained — what do the different jersey colours mean?
The Tour de France consists of four classifications that individual riders can win: the general classification (GC), mountains classification, points classification and young rider classification. There is also a team classification.
The classifications are essentially different categories that riders compete for, and whoever comes out on top wins. This is done on a stage-by-stage basis (whoever is leading the classification after each stage), as well as overall at the end (whoever tops the classification after the final stage in Paris).
The different classifications are signified by coloured jerseys — yellow, polka dot, green and white — with the leader of the classification after each stage wearing the jersey on the following day. If they continue to lead, they continue to wear the jersey until someone knocks them from the top of the classification.
What is the Tour de France general classification (GC) ?
Geraint Thomas wearing the yellow jersey at the 2018 Tour de France Chris Graythen/Getty Images
This is the oldest and most coveted classification in the Tour de France, and is led by the rider with the fastest cumulative time.
Each rider’s time is recorded on every stage and the GC ranks the entire field. The leader of the general classification after the final stage in Paris is the overall winner of the Tour de France.
Tour de France yellow jersey explained
The GC comes with the coveted yellow jersey — or maillot jaune — which is worn by the leader of the classification until their cumulative time is bettered by another rider. The yellow jersey then passes onto the new leader of the GC, and so on.
Tour de France yellow jersey prize money
For each day a rider wears the yellow jersey, they are awarded €500. At the end of the race the overall winner of the GC (and, therefore, the Tour de France champion) wins a prize of €500,000.
The 18 riders to follow are awarded smaller incremental amounts, with every finisher from 20th place onwards earning €1,000.
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money awarded to the ten overall fastest riders:
Previous Tour de France winners
In 2018, Geraint Thomas of Team Ineos (then Team Sky) was the overall general classification winner. This year he returns to defend his title.
Thomas’ team-mate, Chris Froome, has won the Tour de France four times, but is absent from this year’s race after crashing at the Critérium du Dauphiné in June.
Since the beginning of the Tour, four riders have won the general classification five times in their career: Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
Meanwhile, Fabian Cancellara is the rider who has worn the yellow jersey for the most days without ever winning the Tour.
Tour de France mountains classification
Julian Alaphilippe wearing the polka dot jersey at the 2018 Tour de France Tim de Waele/Getty Images
What is the mountains classification?
The mountains classification was introduced in 1933 as a secondary competition within the Tour de France.
The first riders to reach the top of categorised climbs in the Tour are awarded a certain number of points according to their position across the summit. The climbs are categorised from 1 (most difficult) to 4 (least difficult), and measured based on factors such as the climb’s length and gradient, with more points up for grabs on harder climbs.
As well as categories 1–4, there are climbs listed as hors catégorie, which used to mean ‘uncategorised’ but now effectively refers to climbs that are more difficult than category 1.
The rider with the highest cumulative points total leads the mountains classification and wears the polka dot jersey. At the end of the Tour, the overall winner of the classification is the King of the Mountains.
Tour de France polka dot jersey explained
The mountains classification is signified by a white jersey with red polka dots (known as the polka dot jersey or maillot a pois). Vicente Trueba was the first winner of the King of the Mountains competition in 1933.
Tour de France King of the Mountains prize money
For each day that a rider wears the polka dot jersey, they are awarded €300. At the end of the race the overall winner of the mountains classification wins a prize of €25,000. The seven riders to follow are awarded smaller amounts.
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money awarded to the eight overall fastest climbers:
Additional prize money is available for the first rider to the top of each categorised climb — the more difficult the climb, the more cash on offer: Cat 4 climbs = €200; Cat 3 climbs = €300; Cat 2 climbs = €500; Cat 1 climbs = €650; HC climbs = €800.
Riders can also boost their pay packets by winning the Souvenirs Henri Desgrange and Jacques Goddet, which are the prizes awarded to the first rider to the summit of two key climbs chosen by the race organisers.
Previous Tour de France mountains classification winners
Julian Alaphilippe was crowned King of the Mountains in 2018, and this year he will once again represent Deceuninck–Quick-Step in the Tour de France.
Richard Virenque won the title seven times in his career between 1994 and 2004, while both Federico Bahamontes and Lucien Van Impe have won it six times, from 1954–1964 and 1971–1983 respectively.
Seven cyclists have won the mountains classification and general classification in the same year: Gino Bartali, Sylvère Maes, Fausto Coppi, Federico Bahamontes, Eddy Merckx, Carlos Sastre and Chris Froome. Bartali, Coppi and Merckx have all done it twice.
Tour de France points classification
Peter Sagan wearing the green jersey at the 2018 Tour de France Tim de Waele/Getty Images
What is the points classification?
The points classification was introduced in 1953 as an incentive for sprinters, with Fritz Schär being the first to win it.
The first 15 riders to complete each stage are awarded points, with the most points going to the first rider and the following 14 receiving successively fewer points.
More points are on offer for flat stages, again as an incentive to the sprinters. Riders can also gain points by being the fastest to complete intermediate sprints.
Tour de France green jersey explained
The leader of the points classification is indicated by a green jersey (maillot vert), and the overall prize is awarded to the rider with the most points at the end of the Tour.
Tour de France points classification prize money
For each day that a rider wears the green jersey, they are awarded €300. At the end of the race the overall winner of the points classification wins a prize of €25,000. The seven riders to follow are awarded smaller amounts.
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money awarded to the eight overall fastest sprinters:
The top 20 finishers on each stage are also awarded prize money, as well as the first three riders at each intermediate sprint.
Previous Tour de France points classification winners
Erik Zabel and Peter Sagan are currently the only two riders in the Tour’s history to win the green jersey six times in their career.
This year Peter Sagan returns to hopefully secure a record-breaking seventh, having won the green jersey every year between 2012 and 2016, and again in 2018.
Tour de France young rider classification
Pierre Latour wearing the white jersey at the 2018 Tour de France Chris Graythen/Getty Images
What is the young rider classification?
The young rider classification was introduced to the Tour as a secondary competition in 1975. This year it applies only to cyclists born on or after January 1, 1994
Just like the general classification, it’s calculated using each rider’s cumulative overall time but is aimed at rewarding young riders in the early stages of their careers.
Tour de France white jersey explained
The youth classification is signified by a white jersey, and much in the same way as the other categories, the rider currently topping the classification wears it until someone else overtakes their lead.
Tour de France young rider classification prize money
For each day that a rider wears the white jersey, they are awarded €300. At the end of the race the overall winner of the young rider classification wins a prize of €20,000. The three riders to follow are awarded smaller amounts.
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money awarded to the four highest ranking young riders:
Previous Tour de France young rider classification winners
Frenchman Pierre Latour won the young rider classification in 2018.
Four riders have won both the white and yellow jerseys in the same year: Laurent Fignon in 1983, Jan Ullrich in 1997, Alberto Contador in 2007 and Andy Schleck in 2010. In 2013 Nairo Quintana won the white and polka dot jerseys in the same year.
Ullrich and Schleck have both won the young rider classification three times in their career.
What is the Tour de France team classification?
In 2018 the team classification went to Movistar team Chris Graythen/Getty Images
The team classification has been part of the Tour de France since 1930 but awards no coloured jersey. Instead the team is given race numbers with a yellow background, instead of white.
It’s not considered to be as important as the general classification, and teams don’t normally set out with an ambition to win it, though they may change their tactics during the race if they are in a good position to do so.
The team classification takes the time of each squad’s top three finishers on every stage (apart from in a team time trial, when the time of the fifth rider to cross the finish is counted, or the last if there are fewer than five riders remaining). The team with the lowest cumulative time across the race so far leads the classification.
Tour de France team classification prize money
At the end of the race, the winning team receives a prize of €50,000. The four teams to follow are awarded smaller amounts.
Here’s a full breakdown of the prize money awarded to the five highest ranking teams:
Previous Tour de France team classification winners
Movistar Team were the winners last year, and also won in 2015 and 2016.