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Tour de France

Tour de France explainer: Simon Geschke closes in on King of the Mountains victory

Rejigged prime system and aggressive racing by breakaway riders change dynamics of best climber's competition.

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Although he won a mountain stage in 2015, Simon Geschke was far from being a favorite for the King of the Mountains title when the Tour de France began in Copenhagen.

A previous best of 19th overall in that competition in 2020 didn’t suggest that the German would be in the running for the polka-dot jersey. However with just two mountain stages remaining he is comfortably ahead of his rivals, and on track to be crowned top climber in Paris.

The Cofidis rider ended Tuesday’s stage with a total of 58 points, 19 more than Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and 21 clear of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost).

It’s a solid advantage, boosted by the 10 points he gathered for winning the prime atop the first-category Port de Lers plus the two points for fifth on the Mur de Péguère.

Speaking after the stage, Geschke said that it was a clear tactic to chase those points rather than to think of the stage victory.

“When I was on the break, my big goal was to get as many points as possible for the KOM classification. Then of course I acted differently as to how I would have acted if I had been trying to win the stage,” he explained. “The stage win was very far away, with a very strong breakaway that tactically was also super hard to play. I focused on the points, and I’m happy with how it turned out.”

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This year, the final outcome in the King of the Mountains competition will depend in part on what happens in the battle for the general classification.

After stage 16 last year Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) had collected 74 points, and was eight points clear of closest rival Michael Woods (Israel Start Up Nation).

Tadej Pogačar was back in seventh and had just 26 points to his name. That all changed when he won stage 17 atop Saint-Lary-Soulan/the Col du Portet and leaped up to second, then triumphed again the following day at Luz Ardiden.

Those successes lifted him clear of Poels and he was, for the second year running, the King of the Mountains winner in Paris.

Rule changes mean the German is in pole position to win

Seeking to address this, Tour organizers sought to tweak the rules in order to ensure general classification riders didn’t end up winning the mountains jersey inadvertently when targeting yellow.

The double points awarded atop some of the HC climbs last year are gone, meaning that crossing the prime line first on those mountains will net 20 points, not 40.

Also, the route this year has a bias towards breakaways, with the three HC summit finishes being balanced by four other HC climbs appearing in the middle of stages.

It means that early attackers are rewarded, with those striking out a long way from the finish being handed a proportionally greater chance when compared to last year.

This time around, leading GC rider Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) is fourth, 22 points behind Geschke. Pogačar is back in ninth in that competition, a full 32 points adrift.

With the first-category summit finish of Peyragudes on Wednesday awarding 10 points and Thursday’s HC summit at the Hautacam finish doling out 20, not 40, it’s mathematically more complicated for the general classification riders to find themselves in the polka-dot jersey in Paris.

That’s not to say it couldn’t happen. Vingegaard and Pogačar may light things up Wednesday and Thursday in their battle for yellow, making it possible that they will both hoover up points as they are taking digs at each other.

But Geschke knows the odds are in his favor if he can get up the road early and continue collecting points.

“Our only goal now is to keep the polka-dot jersey for as long as possible,” he said after stage 16. “There are two stages left with big points to score. We will try to keep it going like this … and why not win it instead of just keeping it?

“Paris is still far when you look at the stages remaining. Today has been an important day, because I got a lot of points and my competitors didn’t score any. It was a good day.

“I hope I can recover as good as possible, because tomorrow [Wednesday] and the day after are super important days for the mountains jersey and the GC. I hope to have luck by my side and recover well to take points tomorrow as well.”

If he’s still got a good buffer on Wednesday evening, Geschke and his team might start planning special celebrations for Sunday evening.

Taking that competition would be huge for French team Cofidis. It would also make up for Geschke’s nightmare experience at last year’s Olympic Games.