Anyone with interest in professional cycling sees knows that in each of the Grand Tours (the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, and the Vuelta a España), the race leader wears a certain jersey to distinguish themselves from the rest of the peloton.
The most famous of these is le maillot jaune – the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, awarded to the race leader at the end of each stage.
Each of the other two Grand Tours also has their equivalent jerseys to Le Tour’s yellow jersey, but the General Classification isn’t the only area in which riders compete, and there are three other jerseys awarded at the end of each stage of every Grand Tour.
The Vuelta a España is no exception, and there are four different jerseys up for grabs in the race.
But what are they? And what history lies behind them?
In this article, we’ll give you all the information you need to know about La Vuelta’s four jerseys and a little history about each one. We’ll be covering:
- Vuelta A España: What Are La Vuelta’s Four Jerseys?
- General Classification: The Red Jersey
- Points Classification: The Green Jersey
- Mountains Classification: The Polka-Dot Jersey
- Young Rider Classification: The White Jersey
- Special Mention Awards
Let’s get started!
Vuelta A España: What Are La Vuelta’s Four Jerseys?
Founded in 1935, the Vuelta a España – or La Vuelta – is the youngest of the three Grand Tours.
La Vuelta a España translates roughly to “The Tour of Spain”, in a similar way to the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.
Despite it being the newest of the Grand Tours, it is often touted by some to be the most challenging, with many consecutive brutal mountain stages in the sweltering late summer Spanish heat.
The Vuelta, like the Giro and the Tour, has four jerseys on offer to winners of different categories. These are:
- General Classification: Red Jersey
- Points Classification: Green Jersey
- Mountains Classification: Polka-Dot Jersey
- Young Rider Classification: White Jersey
With the Vuelta a España just around the corner (commencing on the 26th of August 2023), here’s a deeper dive into the meanings and histories of each of these jerseys.
General Classification: Red Jersey
The Vuelta a España’s red jersey – El Maillot Rojo – is the most important jersey in the race, and is awarded to the overall race leader at the end of each stage, to wear in the subsequent one.
The overall race leader is the rider with the shortest cumulative time in the race so far – or, in other words, the rider in first place in the General Classification.
It seems fitting for the Vuelta’s GC jersey to be red, a color so often associated with combativity, in arguably the most combative Grand Tour of the three.
However, the Vuelta’s leader wasn’t always donned in red, and the inaugural edition of the Vuelta in 1935 featured an orange GC jersey.
The following year, the race was halted by the Spanish Civil War, for the next five years.
Upon its return in 1941, the organizers experimented with a white jersey, but this only lasted one year and the jersey returned to its original orange in 1942. World War II necessitated a further break in the race, until 1945.
However, upon its return, the race returned to a white GC jersey, which continued until the next 5-year hiatus in 1950, due to post-war economic difficulties in the country.
Bizarrely, the organizers essentially copied the Tour’s yellow jersey for over forty years between 1955 to 1998, with a one-year exception in which they returned to orange in 1977.
In 1998, the jersey switched once more to a golden sunset color, but this only lasted until 2010 when, finally, the familiar red jersey came into play.
Spain’s tumultuous economic history during the 20th century is mirrored in the erratic indecision of the Vuelta’s GC leader color, changing many times throughout the era.
The most prolific red jersey (or red jersey-equivalent) wearer is Swiss rider Alex Zülle, who has worn the GC jersey on 48 individual stages, despite only winning the Vuelta two times.
The most “final” red jerseys overall have been won by legendary Vuelta veteran and Spaniard Roberto Heras, who claimed the Vuelta title on four occasions between 2000 and 2005.
However, Slovenian Jumbo-Visma rider and three-time Vuelta champion Primož Roglič will be chasing Heras’ record as he seeks his fourth overall red jersey off the back of his first Giro d’Italia win this year.
But last year’s winner, Remco Evenepoel will do everything in his power to defend his title and also led the Giro d’Italia (and by extension, Roglič) until stage 10 when he was forced to abandon the race due to COVID-19.
Points Classification: Green Jersey
Just like in the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España’s points classification jersey is green in color.
However, with the 2023 update to the Tour’s points jersey, the Vuelta’s is much lighter in color than the equivalent in Le Tour.
The green of La Vuelta’s points jersey is due to the sponsor of the category being the car manufacturer Škoda.
Points are accumulated at finish lines and intermediate sprints. However, unlike the Tour de France, the green jersey in the Vuelta hasn’t been dominated by sprinters.
This is largely due to the more even split of available points between flat and mountain stages, which predictably results in a strong correlation between red jersey winners and green jersey winners.
For example, Chris Froome won the green jersey in 2017, and although he is clearly an elite cyclist, he’s not exactly known for his sprinting. Alejandro Valverde is another example in this regard who has won the jersey four times.
During two out of his three Vuelta wins, Roglič has also taken the green jersey too, in 2019 and 2020.
However, the 2022 edition of the Vuelta came with some changes to the points system, which included a more traditional favoring of flat stages against mountain stages for available points. Mountain stages now offer 30 points at the finish, whereas flat stages offer 50.
This change resulted in a demonstrable difference in green jersey favorites, with Danish rider Mads Pedersen winning the green jersey in 2022, who is well-known for his sprinting ability.
Mountains Classification: Polka-Dot Jersey
Another jersey reminiscent of its Tour de France equivalent, the award given to the leader of the Mountains Classification is the polka-dot jersey (also referred to as the “King of the Mountains” jersey).
However, in contrast to the red-and-white of the Tour de France, the Vuelta’s polka-dot jersey is white with blue polka-dots.
Similarly to the points classification, the mountains classification is awarded based on the accumulation of “mountains points” which are up for grabs at various points throughout the race.
Usually, these are available at the top of every categorized climb (though there are just three categories in the Vuelta rather than the usual five), as well as at the finish line on stages with a summit finish or particularly brutal mountain stages.
Last year’s King of the Mountains was Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz (pictured above).
Young Rider classification: White Jersey
Again, just like the Tour de France, the Vuelta a España’s white jersey is awarded to the best young rider in the race or the highest-ranked rider born after 1st January 1997 (for the 2023 edition) in the general classification.
In 2022, for example, Remco Evenepoel won both the red jersey and the white jersey, since he was born after 1st January 1996.
However, the switch to a young rider’s classification is a relatively new introduction to the Vuelta (since 2019) as the competition used to feature a “combination classification” which was fairly unique to the race.
The combination classification was an award that attempted to measure the best “all-rounder” in the race and was calculated by adding up each rider’s position in each of the other three jerseys, and the rider with the lowest score won.
For example, a rider who was 4th in GC, 10th in the points classification, and 3rd in the mountains classification would have a combination score of 4+10+3 = 17. Remember, the lowest score won in this competition.
However, the combinatorial effect, combined with the fact that winners of the Vuelta are often excellent climbers and that the points classification often overlapped with the red jersey meant that usually the white jersey winner was also the red jersey winner.
So, the Vuelta organizers made the switch to the young rider’s classification the white jersey.
However, last year (and the recent Tours de France) demonstrated that younger riders are beginning to dominate pro-cycling and this may also often result in the white and red jerseys being won by the same rider.
Special Mention Awards
The Vuelta also has three different awards on offer that are not rewarded with a jersey.
The Team’s Classification is awarded to the Team with the lowest overall cumulative time among the team’s finishers.
The Stage Winner, of course, is the winner of each of the individual stages, but, just like in the other Grand Tours, doesn’t get to don a special jersey for the achievement.
The Combaitivity Award is the only such award to be decided by the TV viewers of the competition and is handed to the rider that, according to the race’s viewers, put up the best fight in each stage, or perhaps were the most aggressive and interesting rider of the day.