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Tour de France jerseys: Colors and meanings explained

The fanciful jerseys that cyclists wear during the Tour de France aren’t simply fashion choices.

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty One Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As the Tour de France continues, some riders can be seen sporting jerseys in yellow, green, and white with red polka dots.

No, their jerseys are not a fashion decision. The color of the jerseys actually reflects where a handful of the riders stand in the competition, or their previous success in other races heading into the Tour.

So, what do all the colors of the jerseys mean?

Yellow Jersey:

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Twenty One
Christopher Froome celebrating his overall victory on the Champs-Élysées in Paris in 2017.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The yellow jersey is worn by the overall time leader of the Tour de France. This jersey is the most coveted of all the jerseys worn by a rider in the Tour.

The jersey is awarded after each stage of the race. The riders’ total times are added up, and the rider who has completed the stages up to that point in the least amount of time earns the yellow jersey. The overall leader then wears the yellow jersey during the following day of racing, and every day he is still in the lead.

Green Jersey:

Le Tour de France 2016 - Stage Twenty
Peter Sagan celebrating after receiving the green jersey after Stage 20 in 2016.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The green jersey signifies the leading cyclist in stage points. Riders who finish among the top 15 riders at the end of each stage are awarded points based on position, with first earning the most points.

The number of points awarded for each stage depends on the terrain of the stage. The flatter the stage, the more points awarded to those top positions. As a result, the leaders of the green jersey competition tend to be the best pure sprinters.

There are other opportunities for riders to earn points that contribute to their standing on the points classification. Points are also awarded during the individual time trial stages, and intermediate sprint contests that take place in the midst of traditional stages. These intermediate sprint contests occur at least once during each stage, and are usually worth fewer points than the stage finishes.

Polka Dot Jersey:

Le Tour de France 2014 - Stage Fourteen
Joaquim Rodriguez climbing to the finish to regain control of the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey during the 2014 Tour de France.
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The white with red polka dot jersey, also known as the King of the Mountains jersey, is awarded to the cyclist who is the best climber. Points are awarded to the cyclists who top the categorized climbs of the Tour first. The number of points given to the riders depends on the category of the mountain.

The climbs are divided in five categories based on the steepness and length of the climb. An Hors Catégorie climb is literally an “outside category” climb, and is the most difficult type of climb on the Tour. From there, climbs are rated 1-4, with a Category 1 climb being especially difficult, and a Category 4 climb being relatively easy.

The harder the climb, the more points riders can earn at the summit. The points earned from all the climbs of the Tour are added together at the end of each stage, and the jersey is awarded to the rider with the most mountain points.

White Jersey:

Le Tour de France 2016 - Stage Eighteen
Adam Yates in the white jersey during Stage 18 of the 2016 Tour de France.
Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

The white jersey is awarded to under-25 cyclist who has completed the race in the least amount of time. It is similar to the yellow jersey, but only for this certain age group.

Rainbow Jersey:

2018 Tour Down Under - Stage 4
Peter Sagan celebrating in the rainbow jersey after after winning Stage 4 of the 2018 Tour Down Under.
Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

The rainbow jersey is not awarded to a rider during the Tour. It can be worn by the reining men’s road race world champion, however — as determined at the UCI Road World Championships during the previous summer — as he competes in the Tour. The world champion in time trials also can wear the rainbow jersey during the time trial stages of the Tour. This year, the individual time trial takes place on Stage 20.

National Champion Jerseys:

Le Tour de France 2017 - Stage Four
Arnaud Démare winning Stage 4 of the 2017 Tour de France while wearing the French national champion jersey.
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Current national road race champions can also choose to wear their national team jerseys during the individual stages.

If a rider wins the yellow, green, polka dot, or white jersey while wearing the rainbow or national team jersey, he can choose which one he wants to race in. During the current Tour, Peter Sagan is both the reining world champion and green jersey leader at the moment, so he’s choosing to wear green as he competes in the Tour.

Other Awards:

Le Tour de France 2015 - Stage Eleven
Daniel Martin receiving the award for the most combative rider after Stage 11 of the 2015 Tour de France.
Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

There are other awards handed out to certain riders throughout the Tour. The most combative rider — meaning, someone the race jury decides displays a “fighting spirit” during the individual stages — gets to wear a white-on-red number during the following stage.

There is also a team classification, which is based on the times of the top three riders of each team in the overall time standings at the end of every stage. The leading team wears black-on-yellow numbers, and have the option to wear yellow helmets.