The Tour de France is a stage race, which is a multi-day competition consisting of individual races — or stages — where prizes are awarded for both each day’s competition and for the cumulative overall results.
The primary competition is time-based: The first man across the line each day wins the stage. But the biggest battle at the Tour is for the yellow jersey: The rider with the lowest time overall after the 21 stages wins the Tour de France.
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There are races within the race: The King of the Mountains competition, the Points competition — often referred to as the sprinter’s jersey — and the Best Young Rider competition. As with the overall race lead, the leader of each of these competitions wears a special jersey throughout the race.
The Tour de France is a grand tour, which is the most prestigious type of stage race in the world and lasts for three weeks. The Giro d’Italia in Italy and the Vuelta a España in Spain are the other two grand tours. The Giro and the Vuelta have similar jersey competitions, but with different colored jerseys.
Here is what the colored jerseys of the Tour de France mean.
Yellow (General Classification)
After each stage the rider with the fastest cumulative time is awarded the yellow race leader’s jersey to wear the following day. The cumulative time is what is known as the general classification, as opposed to each day’s stage result. While it is prestigious to wear the yellow jersey on any stage, it is only the final, cumulative result after three weeks that wins one rider the Tour de France — and €500,000 in prize money.
Polka-dot (King of the Mountains)
Mountain points are awarded at the summit of all categorized climbs. The rider with the most cumulative mountain points wears the polka-dot jersey throughout the race. The overall winner earns €25,000 in prize money.
Green (Points competition)
Points are awarded each stage (other than individual time trials) at intermediate sprints and at the end of every stage finish. The rider with the most points wears a green jersey, and the rider who finishes with the most points takes green and €25,000 in prize money.
White (Best young rider)
The rider with the fastest cumulative time who is 25 or younger wears the white jersey. The overall winner earns €20,000 in prize money.
Other prizes and symbols at the Tour de France
Winning a stage of the Tour de France represents a career-affirming accomplishment for a pro cyclist. Every year there are 21 stages up for grabs, and each one pays €11,000 to the winner.
A panel of experts picks the most aggressive rider during each stage; this rider wears a white number with a red background on his jersey the next day and earns €2,000. At the end of the race the panel will award one rider with the “Super Combativity” prize and €20,000.
After each stage the cumulative times of the three best-placed riders on each team is tallied. The team with the lowest cumulative time at the end of the race wins the Team Classification and €50,000.