fan uncovers the secret of tour de france scoring

Tour de France Rules Summary - Cover Photo
Chapter and verse: Summary of the rules of the Tour de France. photo: Le Tour de France
A vexed cycling fan unravels the mysteries of Tour de France scoring and rankings.

So I’ve been following the Tour de France and as the riders headed into the Alps for Stages 8 and 9 last week I began to feel that there was something missing.

Knowledge, to be exact. My own.

During nightly prime-time TV broadcasts by Versus, the veteran commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin referred fleetingly to numbered red icons that represent climbs on the alpine stages. I know that the rider who accumulates the most points on these hills and passes is awarded the red polka dot jersey as the general best climber. But how do those red markers on the maps translate into points and rankings? I felt frustrated by my cluelessness.

I wondered: Am I alone in a seeming poverty of understanding when it comes to races other than the battle royale for the yellow jersey, which at this writing is being led by Andy Schleck of Luxembourg and Alberto Contador of Spain?

“Hey, do you understand the Tour scoring?” I ask my friend Larry on a morning club ride. “You know, the points riders accumulate for each of the stages?”

“No, not at all,” he replies. “I just care about the yellow jersey.”

Even the A riders who are sitting astride about a million bucks worth of bikes and wheels at the rest stop, cough up a few wobbly stats in response to my query and then — not unkindly — refer me to the official Tour de France website.

So I log onto the Le Tour home page. And here begins my fitful, but ultimately triumphant, quest for the finer points of the red polka dot jersey.

I search the site for the equivalent of Tour de France 101. In my fantasies, it’s a primer for earnest fans who wish to better themselves. But what am I thinking? The creators and curators of this website are French. That brings with it certain…assumptions. Would a nation that has maintained a French Academy as the official authority over its language since 1635 lower itself to Le Tour for Dummies? Non!

Armed with the fundamental understanding that I’m on my own, I drill down. The All About the Race menu tab looks promising, but that turns out to be a route overview. Oh, I see, the scoring must be under History. Well, lots of stats here — Spectators spend an average of 6 hours at the roadside! — but no rules. Mmmmm, I L-O-V-E these vintage photos in the Pictures section.

Wait. Stop. This isn’t what I’m looking for. I navigate to the Historical Guide pdf. Oops, it’s only in French.

(Would somebody be good enough to pass me a musette bag of tortilla chips and guacamole? This search is sapping my energy.)

Finally, I press the Standings tab. There’s a submenu called Rules. Jackpot. It offers a downloadable pdf. I click on the teeny-tiny red type and, Voila!, up pops Regulations of the Race.

My gift to you. Print it out, laminate it and display it ostentatiously on your coffee table. Feel the power.

Article 24, Section C, on page 37 sets out the General best climber ranking. I’m feeling official – so very Madame Insider. Though god knows it took me forever to get here.

Tour de France Stage 8 map
Stage 8 route map. photo: Le Tour de France

In descending order of difficulty, the hills and passes are ranked by the Tour from UC (uncategorized) to Cat. 4.  Riders are able to accumulate points toward the red polka dot jersey based on their performance on these climbs. For example, on the most demanding ascent, UC, the first ten finishers are rewarded with points numbering: 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 7, 6 and 5. On the easiest hill, Cat. 4, only the first three riders to finish accumulate a relatively paltry 3, 2 and 1 points. If the final pass of a stage is UC, Cat 1. or Cat 2, then double points are awarded. You follow?

So let’s break it down, using the Stage 8 route map (see above). Serious hills here include two Cat. 1s — one at the finish. Using the Rankings page for reference, I calculate 248 best-climber points at stake on Stage 8. And they are snatched up mostly by the veteran, 30-year-old Frenchman Jerome Pineau of team Quick Step, who accumulates 44 points to hold the red polka dot jersey, which he acquired in Stage 2. [Pineau loses the jersey in Stage 9, but regains it by a 1-point margin during Stage 10.]

Those King of the Mountain climbing points matter in terms of prize money, as well.  I refer you to the chart on page 22. Hungry for more? Then dig into the individual points ranking for the green jersey on page 36.

Listen, I’m not going to sit in front of the TV with a calculator, but when I see the little red polka dot icon on the Le Tour or Versus websites, I feel differently now. In fact, with all this newfound empowerment, I can’t even sustain my crankiness toward the French. So my next question is, “Hey Versus, what’s your excuse for not including Le Tour for Dummies on your website?”

Top photo: photo: Le Tour de France

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  • I couldn’t agree with you more. Come On Versus. It’s bad enough we struggle to get people interested in cycling at all…they need more basic illustrations of how pro cycling works. I noticed that London broadcasts like ITN often explain some basic stuff. I’ve been really enjoying the live coverage through the They have a constant feed with good written commentary. You can also post questions along the way and get answers. Its almost like live chat. Plus they are posting pictures and videos too.

    During the race tune into:

  • Very helpful, who would have thought to look there while busy carbo-loading during the grueling ‘watching of the race’?

  • pfffoufff . . . keeping a bit of the mystery & just going for the yellow jersey has its rewards. you can dream on & just go for the winner or winning team . . . been following the TDF from my home in France . . . wishing I could see it on in order not to listen to the endless horrendous French comments . . . from the Two major TV reporters . . . who’s favorite target is Lance Amstrong . . . both despise the man “openly” & hope he’d be done for: ASAP! Painful, it is. Didn’t Amstrong put the TDF on the International sports map: with 180.000.000 viewers around the world? Rules or no rules: it just makes you think that “perhaps” this Tour was specially designed to wrong Lance? 🙂

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