To properly comprehend the Tour de France, you need to understand that at any given moment, a number of different races are actually taking place simultaneously. There are different jerseys for the different competitions. Here’s a quick rundown.
Yellow jersey – general classification
The maillot jaune is the one everyone knows. It is worn by whoever boasts the lowest time for the stages completed thus far. Basically, it’s for the overall leader.
Green jersey – points classification
The maillot vert is the second most important jersey. It is worn by whoever is leading the points competition. This is distinct from the general classification in that it primarily rewards riders for their finishing positions. This is not the same as the overall because you can win five sprint stages and not gain a second on the other riders, whereas you could win one mountain stage and gain minutes.
The green jersey winner is usually a sprinter, but part of the intrigue lies in the fact that all-round riders can gain points when flat stage specialists cannot. It’s also possible to supplement your points total by going for the intermediate sprints, which are pseudo-finishing lines which appear midway through a day’s stage where a smaller number of green jersey points can be won.
Polka dot jersey – mountains classification
The maillot à pois rouges is worn by the grandly named ‘King of the Mountains’. This is slightly misleading however, because the wearer is rarely the best climber. Instead, he is likely to be the kind of rider who frequently defies common sense by getting into the day’s break (the small bunch of riders out ahead of the main peloton who are invariably reeled in before the finish line). The reason for this is that mountain points are awarded to the first few riders over each summit and so there aren’t usually any points left by the time the peloton passes over them.
White jersey – young rider classification
This is basically the same as the yellow jersey, except it’s only open to riders under the age of 26.
There is a daily combativity award, the winner of which is selected by a jury. This tends to reward aggressive riding and basically encourages people to make illogical racing decisions in the name of foolhardy glory. At the end of the race, there is a super combativity award, which is basically a means of recognising the biggest nutcase.
There is a team classification which is derived by adding up the times of the three fastest riders from each team each day and keeping a running total and there is also the lanterne rouge (red lantern) which is the name for the guy in last place. You don’t really compete for that one, but there’s still honour in it because it means you haven’t dropped out.