Tour de France
The Tour de France: Maillot a Pois predictions (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

The Tour de France: Maillot a Pois predictions

The 2020 version of the Tour de France is upon us. Finally.

Whilst the first few stages of Le Tour are traditionally played out on flatter lands, suitable for the sprinters (be sure to check out my Maillot Vert predictions), the riders will face the intimidating mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees soon enough. So who are the riders most likely to compete for the King of the Mountains crown and the polka dot Jersey: the Maillot a Pois.

Like the Maillot Vert, the King of the Mountain is crowned based on points awarded throughout the 21 stage tour. Like all stages, points are awarded for crossing the finishing line inside the top group, although for mountain top finishes, it’s at most the first 8 riders across the line that gain points. Mountain climbs are classified by the difficulty of the climb: the length, gradient and technical requirements of the ascent. The higher the category, the more points awarded.

As there are climbs throughout a stage, points are attributed to those intermediate climbs, as well. Like the mountaintop finishes, the higher the climb classification, the more points there are to be won.

The field for the Maillot a Pois is strong and deep, with a cadre of contenders focusing solely on this title, and also the strong possibility of general classification switching their focus to the climbers title should their yellow jersey tilt go awry.

The French have been starved of a general classification winner for decades, yet they’ve dominated the Maillot a Pois in recent years, with 3 different Frenchmen taking the crown in the past 3 years, and winning 5 of the past 10. The standout this year is Julian Alaphilippe, the 2018 winner of the polka dot jersey.

The 28 year old Alaphilippe is a formidable climber, able to sustain his pace on the most daunting ascents, whilst also having considerable technical ability as a descender. Despite a surprise Maillot Jaune run last year, he lacks the overall power to make his mark in the individual time trials, making the Maillot a Pois his sole focus. If I was a betting man, I’d be destitute (thank you, thank you…I’m here all week). If I was a smart betting man, I’d be placing exactly zero dollars on anyone in this event, such is the depth of competition, but if you must name a favourite, it’s Alaphilippe.

His compatriots Warren Barguil (winner of the 2017 title) and Romain Bardet (the reigning climbing champion) will provide stiff competition. Barguil is the key domestique for Arkea-Samsic teammate Nairo Quintana, though the Colombian brings poor form off the back of health issues into this year’s tour, meaning Barguil could be let loose to chase the Maillot a Pois if Quintana doesn’t show something in the first few mountain stages.

Bardet isn’t taking his best form into Le Tour, but he is the holder of the polka dot jersey and will ride hard to protect it.

Thomas De Gendt is a genuine contender for this title, but in the most backwards way. The Belgian is an outstanding breakaway rider which should allow him to pick up ‘cheap’ points on some of the smaller climbs, especially early in the tour. De Gendt is an excellent all round cyclist, with the stamina and aerobic capacity to climb, as well as the power to sprint against all but the very quickest. The course this year is designed for breakaways through the mountains, which could play into the veterans hands.

A genuine outsider that can still pull a surprise is the oldest man in the field, 40 year old Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard is a whip smart rider who always seems to find himself in the right breakaway and avoid the wrong part of a peloton. He’s aging, but is still a formidable climber and will be ready to pounce if any of his younger adversary’s slip up.

Finally, let’s take a look at Mitchelton-Scott leader Adam Yates. The Brit is probably the man most likely to eclipse the favoured Alaphilippe for the Maillot a Pois. After making a run at the Maillot Jaune last year, Yates has categorically stated that the King of the Mountains is his sole focus for this season. After experiencing poor health at the start of 2020, Yates’s solid showing in the Criterium du Dauphine indicates he is rounding into form. A wonderful climber, a healthy Yates is one to watch in the mountains.

Stage 6 contains the first serious climb of this year’s course, though stage 8 is when the real fun starts, with a pair of category 1 climbs surrounding an Hors category (the hardest climb category) ascent up the Port de Bales.

Bon velo!