Polka dot Powless: Neilson Powless fulfills a childhood dream

Powless is the first American to wear the climber's jersey since 2017, and the sixth American ever. Can you name the Americans that wore it before him?

Neilson Powless (ED-Education-EasyPost) in the Tour de France Polka Dot jersey
(Image credit: Getty Images)

American Neilson Powless (EF Education-Easypost) will be leading out the Tour de France peloton in the eye-catching polka dot jersey for a fourth straight day tomorrow. The 26-year-old from Northern California spent most of day three in a two-person breakaway with Frenchman Laurent Pichon (Arkea-Samsic) and defended the so-called King of the Mountains or climber's jersey with confidence across four classified climbs.

"It was a successful day. I got some points today; it didn't cost too much, so I'm happy, "he said in the post-race interview.  

Neilson Powless (ED-Education-EasyPost) in the Tour de France Polka Dot jersey

The green, yellow, polka dot and white jerseys of the Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Best Year Yet

Now in his fourth year with the pink EF Education squad, Powless is having his best year yet.

He kicked off his spring campaign with a win at Grand Prix Cycliste de Marseille as well as the overall at Étoile de Bèsseges. He then impressed at his Flemish cobbled classics debut, finishing third at Dwars door Vlaanderen and fifth at the Tour of Flanders. Going into this year’s Tour de France, there are high hopes for Powless. The climbing talent gave Americans something to cheer for in 2023 when he came within seconds of the yellow jersey last year, earning two top-five finishes and ending 12th overall. The team’s goal for this year’s ride across France was clear: win a stage. And while wearing the iconic polka dot jersey had not been the plan but now that he has it, he’ll give it his all to hold on to it for as long as he can. 

"The Tour de France is the biggest bike race in the world and I grew up watching it, with the polka dot jersey always riding at the front of the race. Now I get to wear that jersey. I’ve fulfilled a childhood dream. We knew it was a possibility, yet not an easy one as we needed many things to come together,” Powless commented after the opening stage. 

Powless earned his first polka dot jersey with an all-out effort on the hardest climb of stage one — a category 2 climb called Côte de Vivero. In order to hold onto the King of the Mountains jersey, he knew that he’d have to make the breakaway on stage 2, the Tour’s longest stage at nearly 130 miles with plenty of testing climbs. Sure enough, Powless made an early move, powering his way into a break of three, and made sure he was the first to cross the summit line for the first four climbs, earning maximum points. 

He spent more energy than he would have liked but he’s prepared to fight. With stage four being a flat stage, Powless will use the stage to conserve his energy as best as possible before the star of the Pyrenees and the real mountains. 

“The [Pyrenees] is a really big goal for the polka dot jersey but also for the stage win for the team as well. Luckily I’ve had teammate that have been resting up quite well and they are also looking forward to the Pyrenees,” Powless said.

“If I miss one break in the mountains it will be gone, and we are still a long way from reaching Paris. It’s very nice to be in the lead. I’m already in love with this polka-dot jersey. I fell immediately in love with it, indeed. Let’s see how long I can wear it.”

About the Polka Dot Jersey:

Neilson Powless (ED-Education-EasyPost) in the Tour de France Polka Dot jersey

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The white jersey covered in red dots — a.k.a the Polka Dot Jersey— signifies the rider who is currently leading the mountains classification. This classification is a race within the race, with points being awarded to those who reach the summit of each classified climb first. The harder the climb, the more points are on offer.

Climbs are divided into five categories: 1 (most difficult) to 4 (least difficult) - then there's the 'Hors Categorie', denoted by HC which represents the most challenging of ascents. 

Points are  awarded as follows:

HC: 20, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2pts  

Category 1: 10, 8, 6, 7, 5, 1pt 

Category 2: Five, three, two.

Category 3: Two and one points 

Category 4: One point 

The first climber's award was given out in 1933, and the jersey arrived on the scene in 1975. Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk was the first to wear the “maillot à pois rouges” but never won the overall King of the Mountain Classification.  The jersey —and the popular free t-shirts handed out to spectators— is now sponsored by the supermarket, Leclerc.

At the end of the Tour, the rider that leads the mountain classification will officially win the King of the Mountains title and walk away with €25,000 in prize money. The classification’s runner-up is awarded €15,000, and third place gets €10,000. Cycling being a team sport, prize money is usually distributed among the team and staff.

Previous American Polka Dot jersey wearers

While an American has yet to win the overall mountain classification, there are those who have held onto the jersey for a day or two. Powless is only the fifth American ever to wear the climber’s jersey. Those that have come before him are:

Nate Brown (Cannondale Drapac) wore the polka dot jersey for two days in 2017

American polka dot wearers at the Tour de France

Nate Brown (Cannondale Drapac) donned the polka dots after taking it from his teammate, Taylor Phinney. 

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Taylor Phinney (Cannondale-Drapac) wore the climber’s jersey for one day 2017

American polka dot wearers at the Tour de France

Not a climber but wearing the jersey all the same, Taylor Phinney was surprised to wear the King of the Mountain jersey for a day in 2017

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tejay van Garderen (HTC High Road) - one day in 2011

Van Garderen is technically the first American to ever wear the polka dot jersey. Greg Lemond briefly led the mountains classification in 1986 but because he was also the overall leader at the time, he wore the yellow jersey, not the polka dot kit.

American polka dot wearers at the Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Greg LeMond (La Vie Claire) - 1986

Because he was also leading the General Classification, LeMond never actually wore the polka dot jersey. 

American polka dot wearers at the Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Marianne Martin (Team USA) - 1984

Martin won both the Mountain and General Classification of the 1984 Tour de France Féminin. She rode herself into the polka dot jersey on stage 12 and held it, along with the GC lead two days later, until Paris. 

Marianne Martin at the 1984 Tour de France

Marianne Martin alongside men's winner Laurent Fignon at the 1984 Tour de France

(Image credit: Getty Images)

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