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Tour de France

Michael Woods vs. Nairo Quintana: Your guide to the Tour de France’s polka dot jersey battle

Wout Poels, Michael Woods, Nairo Quintana, and Wout van Aert are all battling for the Tour de France's polka-dot jersey.

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Who is the best climber at the 2021 Tour de France: Michael Woods, Nairo Quintana, Wout Poels, or Wout van Aert?

We don’t know quite yet, and the battle for the race’s mountains classification prize is likely to reach a boiling point on Wednesday and Thursday, as the race features two punishing summit finishes in the Pyrénées on stages 17 and 18.

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While Tadej Pogačar holds an iron grip on the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, the battle for the Tour’s famed polka dot jersey is still wide open, and any of the four stars have a chance to snap it up in the next two days.

Here’s a look at the current top-10 standings of the mountains classification after 16 stages.

  1. Wout Poels, Bahrain-Victorious, 74 points
  2. Michael Woods, Israel Start-Up Nation, 66
  3. Nairo Quintana, Arkéa-Samsic, 64
  4. Wout van Aert, Jumbo-Visma, 64
  5. Bauke Mollema, Trek-Segafredo, 41
  6. Kenny Elissonde, Trek-Segafredo, 27
  7. Tadej Pogačar, UAE-Team Emirates, 26
  8. Ben O’Connor, AG2R-Citröen, 24
  9. Sergio Higuita, EF Education-Nippo, 24
  10. Julian Alaphilippe, Deceuninck-Quick-Step, 20

Look, I’m not going to lie — the fight for polka dots isn’t one that I followed too closely during my time covering the Tour de France. If I’m honest, in recent years this jersey seemed to be the consolation prize for whichever French hero has fallen out of the GC hunt, such as Warren Barguil (2017), Julian Alaphilippe (2018), and Romain Bardet (2019).

Still, the battle for the KOM prize will give us a true race to follow over these next two stages, as the peloton ascends three categorized climbs on Wednesday’s stage 17, before tackling four climbs — two of them Hors categorie — on Thursday’s stage 18.

Why are these days so important to the KOM battle? Both stages end with Hors Categorie summit finishes, meaning the usual points awarded for the HC climbs are doubled.

That, and there are plenty of early climbs to give our KOM hunters points to battle for.

Here’s a handy chart to help you tally the points on offer for the Tour’s categorized climbs.

Category 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th 8th
Double HC 40 30 24 20 16 12 8 4
HC 20 15 12 10 8 6 4 2
Cat 1 10 8 6 4 2 1
Cat 2 5 3 2 1
Cat 3 2 1
Cat 4 1

So, what can we expect to see from our KOM-hunters on Wednesday’s stage 17 to the Col du Portet?

There are a whopping 216 total KOM points available. So whoever wants in is going to need to attack.

A breakaway containing the KOM favorites is likely to go — the only question is when, and how long into the stage. There’s plenty of flat before the ramps of the Col de Peyresourde, so it’s likely that the KOM favorites will need to attack on the flats, recover, and then prepare for the climbs. The opening climbs, the Col de Peyresourde and the Col de Val Louron-Azet, come in rapid succession, before the final push to the Col du Portet. A top climber might gamble on attacking over the Peyresourde to gain the maximum 10 points and then continue the move onto the Val Louron-Azet. But such a move might empty his reserves for the final push to the Col du Portet, where there are a whopping 40 points on offer to the winner.

The other dynamic the KOM riders will need to manage is whether the yellow jersey group intends to fight for the stage win, or whether the GC favorites are content to let the breakaway gain a big enough gap early on to contest the wins. In 2018 Nairo Quintana won atop the Col du Portet. If he were to score another big win, it could boost him past Woods and Poels and into the KOM lead.

He who wins on Wednesday’s stage 17 will also need to recover and be ready to break away on stage 18 the next day. Whoever takes the KOM prize is going to have to battle for points on both days.

On Thursday there are 233 total points up for grabs, so it’s another day for the KOM contenders to break away. Rather than meter their efforts on the Col du Tourmalet, the top climbers are likely to charge for the summit on the soaring climb and then recovery on the long and twisting descent. And a similar dynamic greets them on Thursday, which is whether or not the yellow jersey group will fight for the stage win, or just the time. If it’s the latter, then he who wins atop Luz Ardiden could take the polka dots into Paris.

Tour de France stage 18. Photo: ASO

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