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Best of the Rest of the Tour: Polka Dot Madness!

Get up early Saturday for the last truly fun part of the Tour

110th Tour de France 2023 - Stage 17
Ciccone and Gall
Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Today in Succinct Updates to Succinct Previews... remember before the Tour when I said that someone will go chasing after the KOM jersey aaaand... not much else? Well, we have the blanks filled in now, and it’s pretty much the single most explosive, exciting aspect of the Tour de France!

Backing up, I also predicted before the Tour that the white and green jerseys were sewn up, while the yellow was going to be a see-saw battle to the end. I was right about white, and at best half-right by accident about green, where that too is a done deal, but rather than Wout Van Aert (dominating for years on end) it’s actually Jasper Philipsen who has the points honors sewn up. And as to yellow, well, it was a fun battle while it lasted. Also Jumbo have a 27-minute lead in the teams comp. Gotta think that’s a wrap too.

But the battle for the Tour’s most fun jersey rages on! Maybe! Here are the relevant standings:

  1. Giulio Ciccone, Lidl-Trek, 88 points
  2. Felix Gall, AG2R, 82
  3. Jonas Vingegaard, Jumbo, 81
  4. Neilson Powless, EF Education, 58
  5. Everyone else, out of contention

Basically you have four theoretical combatants who, in order, are highly motivated, questionably motivated, probably indifferent, and would be extremely motivated if there were a chance. Let’s go in reverse order.

110th Tour de France 2023 - Stage 15 Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Powless: We know how much he enjoyed wearing the jersey for most of the first two weeks of the Tour, and you can bet anything he’d love to have it back. Can he find 31 points? Yes! But it would rely on Ciccone being asleep at the wheel. There are three cat-2 climbs (5 points to the winner), one cat 3 (2 points) and two cat-1s (10 points max), which puts 37b points out there to anyone who can win every single joust along the way. I would bet my one remaining intact fibula that Powless will join the early break on Saturday, because it would be malpractice not to get up there and give it a go. But he would need a group of at least 6 riders, none of whom is Ciccone or Gall, to have a chance. Prediction: No bueno.

Vingegaard: Hmm... I think he has to try. For starters, he actually is the best climber here, and with no remaining concern over his main objective, can he afford to just walk away from a prize that comes with a check for €25,000? Tour winners tend to spread cash around to their helpers and this extra money would get passed right along, I am sure. Also in 2022 he moved into a slight lead for the KOM on the last mountains stage, though the circumstances were quite different and required him to go all out.

We will know his intentions halfway up the Petit Ballon climb, the first of the two remaining cat-1s. If at that point Gall and/or Ciccone are up the road and Jumbo isn’t chasing, then he will have been mathematically eliminated — unless the other two have company who steal the points out from under them. Prediction: Arguable favorite to win but I’ll say no.

110th Tour de France 2023 - Stage 17 Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Gall: Within the first 10km of the stage we should know the Austrian’s intentions. If Ciccone attacks and Gall fails to mark him, then he is either letting the jersey go and focusing on maintaining his 8th place overall, or he is playing a cagey game to see if Ciccone can exhaust himself before the two cat-1s where the real money will be made. This is a pretty good strategy for Gall, who looks like one of the very best climbers in the Tour, certainly above Ciccone’s stature — I love Giulio but he’s more of a puncheur than a high mountains guy. Surely his French team would love him to be on the top step Sunday, and 7th place is pretty anonymous. So for me, the only question is whether he gets aggressive early or plays the waiting game. Prediction: My pick to win.

Ciccone: Did you know he won the KOM comp at the Dauphine, and came in third in two other such competitions at the Tirreno and Valenciana Tours? He also picked up a points jersey in the Vuelta a La Communitat Valenciana, so it looks like this is his thing now (he was third in the ‘22 Tour and second in the ‘22 Giro KOM comps too). The only question is whether he can finish off the biggest secondary jersey plot of his career. And basically it will come down to who has the legs, Ciccone or Gall? If Gall never comes out of the pack, then it’s because he is too worn out to chase down KOM points and is forced to ride for his top ten. If he feels good, well, Giulio is going to have to feel even better. With a six point lead he can afford to finish second to Gall in both of the cat-1 sprints, and maybe he will have padded his lead before then. But if he cracks on the Little Balloon, it’s probably over. Prediction: Pipped at the post.

I am setting my alarm to go off early and see how this unfolds, because it should be exciting from the gun. Enjoy!