It's all change in this year's King of the Mountains as organisers do away with the system which saw Frenchman Anthony Charteau win last year's polka dot jersey despite being largely anonymous over the big hills.
This year, the emphasis is on the HC climbs and summit finishes in a bid to reward the pure climbers. There are still 20 points up for grabs for the first man to conquer an HC peak, but the total points spread is distributed to the first six riders over the top, as opposed to the first 10. These points are doubled for the four HC summit finishes on the race.
Under the new system, only the first rider over the top of a fourth category ascent will get one miserly point. This should see the end of the recent tradition of the winning polka dot jersey rider wrapping up the competition early on in the race on transitional stages which include a raft of lower category climbs.
Here is a breakdown of the new points system:
HC: 20, 16, 12, 8, 4, 2
Cat.1: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, 1
Cat.2: 5, 3, 2, 1
Cat.3: 2, 1
The upshot of these changes should mean whoever wins the polka dot jersey will most probably be one of the main GC contenders - or even the yellow jersey himself. Let's take a look at the men in line to be wearing the red spots this July, separating them into five distinctive groups.
The race favourites:
Given that both Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) will have to ride consistently strong in the mountains if they are to emerge victorious in the race, the most likely scenario is for one of the two to take the maillot a pois rouges. And with four HC summit finishes offering double the points, get used to seeing one of these men in yellow and the other in red polka dots. But don't forget solid climber Ivan Basso (Liquigas) - the Italian skipped the Giro this year to concentrate on the Tour and, while the overall win may be beyond him, he may trade it for the mountains classification.
The pure climbers:
Of course, another likely scenario is for one of the race's mountain goats to win the polka dot jersey - the kind of men who may not threaten the big three in the GC and as such may be allowed a little leeway over the high cols of the Alps and Pyrenees. The obvious candidates here are Euskaltel pair Samuel Sanchez and Egoi Martinez, although Rabobank duo Robert Gesink and Juan Manuel Garate could be just as mouthwatering a possibility. David Arroyo (Movistar) usually excels in the mountains, while bald pocket Hercules John Gadret (AG2R) proved in May's Giro that he's a force to be reckoned with.
The consistent mountain riders:
The criminally underrated Vasili Kiryienka (Movistar) is a consistent force in the mountains and the Belarusian recently tamed the slopes to Sestriere on the way to winning stage 20 of the Giro in May. Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek) should also feature highly in the mountain as he rides in support of his brother Andy, whereas the same could be said of Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) who, despite working for team leader Bradley Wiggins, is a better climber than the Briton. Finally, former team-mates Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Cadel Evans (BMC) are once again team leaders on separate outfits and should be there or thereabouts when the roads head upwards - although the Australian has been partial to the odd bonk in recent years.
A three-times winner of the mountains classification in the Vuelta, David Moncoutie (Cofidis) is clearly a climbing talent, but ironically the Frenchman isn't so much at home on the high roads of France. Moncoutie is the kind of rider who suited the previous points system and he will find it hard now there are less rewards for the lower-category climbs. Damiano Cunego (Lampre) is focusing on the Tour this year but, while the Italian can often delight in the mountains, so often we are used to seeing him fall off the back of the peloton as soon as the gradient ramps up - why should 2011 be any different?
The Frenchman and his team might argue otherwise but it's safe to say that - given the points system changes - Anthony Charteau (Europcar) will not be repeating his polka dot feat of last year this July.
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- Anthony Charteau