Stat Attack: Tadej Pogačar's white jersey domination

As the Slovenian races the first stage race where he's not eligible for best young rider, Cillian Kelly looks back on just how tight his grip on white was

Clock12:52, Friday 22nd March 2024
Tadej Pogačar won the white jersey at the Tour de France four years in a row

© Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar won the white jersey at the Tour de France four years in a row

Some things in cycling are just correct. These correct things will be different for everyone. For me, it’s Thomas De Gendt in the breakaway. Peter Sagan in the rainbow jersey. Miguel Induráin in the yellow jersey. Richard Virenque in the polka dot jersey. These are the things that happen that fit perfectly in my brain when I see them.

A more recent correctism is Tadej Pogačar in the white jersey. UAE Team Emirates have been doing their best to fool us with their kit this year into thinking that Pogačar is still in white. But even the fact that he is now wearing the predominantly white jersey of Slovenian national road race champion can’t change the fact that Pogačar is now finally, finally, no longer eligible for young riders jersey classifications.

Having spent the best part of four summers swanning around France in the white jersey (whenever he wasn’t in yellow), Pogačar has taken a step towards joining the rest of us in middle age. The Volta a Catalunya is the first stage race of his professional career where he’s just another regularly aged rider and he can only compete for the other three jerseys on offer (all of which he will probably win). Lenny Martinez is the rider currently wearing white, if you were wondering.

This end of an era got my statistical engine into gear and I wondered which riders have spent the most time leading young riders jersey classifications in the various stage races of the WorldTour, since that series of races became a thing back in 2005.

Let’s start with Pogačar’s absurd record. Since he turned professional in 2019, he has ridden 16 stage races at WorldTour level and he has won the youth classification in all but three of them. The exceptions were his first ever pro race at the 2019 Tour Down Under, followed by the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné which was won in dramatic fashion by Dani Martinez, who was also eligible for the white jersey. Pogačar’s third and final defeat in these contests was by his arch nemesis Jonas Vingegaard at the 2021 Tour of the Basque Country. This is the only race in which Pogačar wore the young rider’s jersey but didn’t end up winning it.

In total, while Pogačar was eligible for young rider’s jerseys he has ridden 166 WorldTour level stages and he wore the white jersey in 119 of those stages. The closest challenger to Pogačar’s stranglehold on being king of the youth has been Egan Bernal who has led white jersey classifications for 80 stages. Beyond Bernal there is a sharp drop-off down to Miguel Ángel López with 55 days and Remco Evenepoel with a paltry 49 – although Evenepoel will still be eligible for another couple of years.

Pogačar’s first WorldTour white jersey win was at the 2019 Tour of the Basque Country when he was just 20 years old. To highlight just how long Pogačar has been winning these jerseys for, and at the very highest level, he is the only rider to have won one of these jerseys in five different seasons. The only other rider who has even worn a young rider’s jersey in five different seasons is, again, Egan Bernal.

From stage 13 in 2020, Pogačar has held the Tour de France white jersey after every single Tour stage since that day. That is an astonishing 71 consecutive stages. He won 10 stages of the Tour de France while leading that classification. Even if we are harsh on Pogačar to give everyone else a chance here – he only won seven of those stages while actually wearing the white jersey (not just leading it), but still. Every other rider in the history of the Tour combined only managed to win seven stages in the white jersey.

Pogačar’s domination of the white jersey has contributed massively to his tally of 119 stages as leading young rider. Even if we remove Grand Tours from the entire scenario, he is still the rider with the most jerseys, but only just – 37 days in the lead, compared to the 33 managed by, yes, obviously, Egan Bernal.

Ultimately, these are all just different ways of stating what we all knew to be true already, that Pogačar is very good at cycling his bicycle and he wins a lot. But something that I didn’t expect to learn while compiling this bunch of facts is the evolution of the youth classification in general over the course of the WorldTour.

In Pogačar’s favour since he began winning in 2019 is the sheer volume of young rider’s jerseys that have been available to him. This skews the figures somewhat in his direction. This series of races began in 2005 as the ProTour and in that first year there were 13 stage races but only two of them actually bothered to award a young rider’s jersey. Compare that to 2023 when there were 15 stage races in the series and 14 of them had a best young rider, the exception being the Tour of Poland.

The number of stage races at this top level of men’s cycling hasn’t changed hugely since 2005. The number increased from 2017 to 2019 as the UCI experimented with expanding the series to include the likes of the Tour of California and the Tour of Turkey. And of course in 2020, the number shot down because several races simply didn’t happen. But other than that, it’s hovered consistently at 13 or 14 stage races.

In contrast, as this shiny graph shows, the number of young rider’s classifications has increased steadily from the meagre two it started at to there being almost one in every race.

Pogačar has been undoubtedly excellent at stage racing since he began his career, but that career has coincided with the boom time for young rider’s jerseys. Even a race as big as the Vuelta a España didn’t bother with one until 2017. And even then it was just a classification, the leader of it didn’t get given an actual jersey until 2019. That was Pogačar’s first ever Grand Tour, in which it probably now goes without saying, he won the young rider’s jersey.

Click here to read all of Cillian's Stat Attacks, breaking down the numbers, records and statistics in pro cycling.

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