with increasingly precocious riders, is the white jersey still interesting?

Created in 1975, the white jersey, which rewards the best young under 25 in the general classification, sees its winner increasingly wearing the first places and sometimes the yellow jersey.

“They already play in the yellow jersey, while we, at that age, didn’t even think about it”. Sandy Casar’s career, second best young rider in 2004, does not go back to the time of the dinosaurs, but the former FDJ rider is keeping a keen eye on the new generation of cycling, which is fighting for the top positions in the increasingly young general classification. Three of the last four white jerseys have been won by the yellow jersey, Egan Bernal in 2019, and Tadej Pogacar in 2020 and 2021.

The Slovenian did not give up the jersey that rewards the best under-25 rider in the general classification from the 13th stage of the 2020 Tour (68 stages in a row, a record). Tthree drivers who can boast of it are present in the top 10 of the general classification (Pogacar, Rodriguez, Gall), proof of an earlier sporting maturity compared to a few years ago.

“The white jersey, in my day, was thanks to you being discovered and being able to become a leader. It still had great value. Today it’s different, because the youngsters are higher up in the general classification,” observes Sandy Casar, who finished 16th overall in 2004.“This jersey is perhaps something from the past when riders reached their peak around the age of 28. Today there are riders who win the Grand Tours at the age of 22 or 23”Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroën) abounds, 25 years old, 3rd in the classification of the best young riders, and winner of the queen stage of the Tour de France between Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc and Courchevel.

Professional conditions from the development teams

This precociousness at the highest level, Pierre Latour, the lowest white jersey of the 21st century (13th in 2018) tied with Vladimir Karpets (13th in 2004), explains it with the development of the reserve teams of the big formations. “I think the trend will continue in this direction, because the development teams are very professional now and they are making young people pass the levels much faster”, says the TotalEnergies team rider. Over the past decade, the white jersey finished at an average 3.7 place in the overall standings, higher than in previous decades.

“Today, 30-year-old runners say that 18-year-olds train like they do at 23. The situation has changed a lot and they are always ready earlier, in a sport that until then was considered a slow-maturing sport, where the best performance is achieved at 27-28 years of age, except for genes”.adds Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France. “I think I’m already an old man in modern cycling”jokes Felix Gall, preceded by Tadej Pogacar and Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos-Grenadiers), who failed to make this shirt a real goal.

Same thing for Mattias Skjelmose, fifth in the white jersey, more than an hour and forty-three minutes behind the Slovenian. “I would have liked to aim for it, but Tadej is simply too strong. This best young ranking may not be as relevant as it was a few years ago, but when Tadej gets too old for this shirt, I think it will be a better competition.”the 22-year-old Dane hopes.

“Not really interesting” lowering the maximum age to 23 years

Despite this rejuvenation of the champions, Christian Prudhomme defends the fundamental age of 25 for the white jersey. “Yes, we have a generation of new riders who have been showing up for three or four years, who are upsetting the established hierarchies, but I’m not in favor of moving like weather vanes in the wind. Today the rule is at most 25 years a year, and there are about thirty riders who can claim the white jersey. If we went down to 23, there would only be nine left with the current starting list, it wouldn’t make much sense.”he says.

Christian Prudhomme, who enjoys seeing the black and white jerseys fight together, hopes to see new faces battle it out next year: “Pogacar will turn 26 next year. This is the age at which Raymond Poulidor rode his first Tour de France. We will always have a Carlos Rodriguez, stage winner at 22 this year, a Juan Ayuso, who finished third in the Vuelta under 20 last year, or a Remco Evenepoel, winner of the Vuelta at 22.”. Waiting for the next generation, Tadej Pogacar is preparing to win the fourth consecutive white jersey, which would be a record in the history of the Tour de France.

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