Courtesy Tour de France
The Polka-Dot Jersey, the Maillot Pois. Is there a more romantic jersey in cycling? Professional cycling, particularly the Grand Tours, is synonymous with the great mountain ranges they traverse. The peloton, grinding its way up vertiginous climbs, is the over-riding image many of us hold in our minds when we think of stage racing. Whether it be the iconic climbs of the Tour, the legendary ascents of the Giro or the brutal peaks of the Vuelta, man against gravity is where the sport truly comes alive. It is no accident that many of the most loved riders in history were bird-limbed climbers, Coppi, Bahamontes, Gaul, Pantani: all came to life in the hills and brought millions out on to the slopes of Europe's mountains to marvel at their exploits.
And these are exploits us mere mortals are keen to emulate. A whole tourism industry has sprung up offering us the chance to ride the great climbs. "Climb the Mighty Tourmalet!", "Conquer the Ventoux!, "Tame the Alpe!", they cry, "follow in Coppi's pedal strokes!" for they know that it is this that truly captures our imagination.
It is somewhat strange then that the climbing classification at the Tour is often the most overlooked of the major jerseys on offer. Clearly the Yellow Jersey dominates, as of course it should, but surely the Polka-Dot jersey deserves, at the very least, parity with the sprinter's Green Jersey.
But the competition is a victim on more than one front. Firstly, recent past winners have had more than a whiff of controversy about them. Michael Rasmussen won the jersey in 2005 and 2006, Bernard Kohl took it in 2008 and Franco Pellizotti last year, all of whom have subsequently faced suspensions. Secondly, that the jersey is awarded to the best climber in the race can be said to be debatable in the least; would anyone seriously argue that Pellizotti was a better climber than Contador or the Schleck's last year? Despite often offering double points on the final climb of the day, a Polka-Dot jersey contender's plan is generally to attack from the off on any stage where a large number of points are on offer early on, rack up a bunch of points on the early climbs and then fall back as the GC contenders come through. That tactic is normally enough to guarantee multiple days in the jersey and consequently on the podium.
All of which makes it quite a task to predict who is going to do well in KoM competitions. If you are a GC contender then you have bigger fish to fry; if you are a climber in a team with a GC contender then have to help him to fry those fish and so dashing off up the road on a big mountain day just ain't gonna happen if you want dinner with your team-mates that night. So, to win the King of the Mountains then you need to be a strong climber, who can't really time-trial in a team with no serious contender for the top ten overall. So just who does that leave then?
2010 Form Guide: 1st KoM Criterium du Dauphine
The bookies favourite, Martinez finished second in last year's Tour KoM competition to the now suspended Franco Pellizotti. This year he has already claimed victory in the KoM classification in the Criterium du Dauphine by employing the necessary tactics described above (his highest finish was 5th on the stage to Grenoble whilst coming in a lowly 59th on Alpe d'Huez. Nevertheless both performances clearly demonstrate he knows how to win this competition. He is a bit of a KoM specialist recording no fewer than five KoM titles. He is by some distance the favourite to be in the Maillot Pois come Paris.
Martinez in the Dauphine's Polka Dot Jersey
Photo © 2010 Foto Sirotti
Team: Lampre-Farnese Vini
2010 Form Guide: 5th La Fleche Wallonne, 6th Amstel Gold, 11th Overall Giro d'Italia
Italy's Little Prince. Perhaps a surprising inclusion but after targeting the overall in the Tour and falling short in years past, perhaps it is time for him to reset his sights a little. Cunego has always been a talented climber and if he focuses on the KoM competition it could well be within his grasp. The question is will he value a stage win over a prolonged assault on the climbing classification (stage two could have him licking his lips). He has had a decent if unspectacular year so far, recording solid results in the Ardennes classics and placing just outside the top ten in the Giro.
Cunego makes chase in last year's Giro
Photo © 2009 Foto Sirotti
Team: Omega Pharma-Lotto
2010 Form Guide: 1st KoM Giro d'Italia
With one Grand Tour KoM victory already under his belt this year, Australia's Matthew Lloyd clearly has the ability to win the maillot pois. The 27 year-old had a great Giro, claiming a stage win on the rolling stage to Fidenza-Carrara. With one GT already in his legs it might be too much to ask for him to claim a second GT KoM title in succession, but the pedigree is certainly there.
2010 Form Guide: 5th Overall Tour de Suisse
A young, classy rider, Robert Gesink already has a string of impressive results behind him, including 6th overall in last year's Vuelta a Espana. A future GT winner in the making, Gesink is a great climber who could do well in the KoM if it is on his radar. His situation is complicated a little by having a top ten contender in his team. Denis Menchov didn't miss defending his 2009 Giro d'Italia crown this year for nothing, he has genuine aims of doing well in this race, which means he will expect his young team-mate to be there in the mountains with him late on in stages. For his part Gesink may well have to target a stage win whilst supporting his team leader, but if Menchov's chances are hit early on (remember he is partial to a crash or two and there is a nasty cobblestoned stage in the first week), the Dutch team may give Gesink licence to ride for himself. And then the KoM could well be within his grasp.
2010 Form Guide: 1st Overall Volta a Catalunya
Another contender with pedigree in KoM competitions - Rodriquez won the mountains classification in the 2005 Vuelta a Espana. He has had a good year so far in 2010, with a string of top ten finishes including second place in la Fleche Wallonne and third in Vuelta al Pais Vasco to go with his win in Volta a Catalunya. He is a strong climber that can also perform well in classics, meaning he is well placed to pick up points on fourth and third category climbs to keep his tally ticking over. In Vladimir Karpets his team has a relativley decent top ten shot but in all reality that shouldn't be too much of a distraction for him. Again, if given the licence to go for it, he could well claim his second GT KoM title.
Of course the title could come as a by-product go to someone who has the overall GC has their main focus. All the main contenders are good climbers, otherwise of course they wouldn't be a contender for the GC, so the jersey could well end up on the shoulders of any one of Contador, the Schlecks, Basso, Armstrong, Wiggins et al. Outside of the GC favourites, others that could do well include Euskaltel-Euskadi's Amets Txurruka, Caisse d'Epargne's Christophe Moreau, Francaise des Jeux's Sandy Casar and Milram's Linus Gerdemann
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