BILBAO, Spain — The time for Neilson Powless to secure points to earn the prestigious King of the Mountains Jersey was the best of times and the worst of times for the U.S.-registered squad at the opening day of the Tour de France.
In the same time frame, leader Richard Carapaz crashed. Carapaz lost 15 minutes and all hopes of a podium run when he crashed along with Spain’s Enric Mas. Mas was forced to abandon due to his injury, and the bad news came later for Carapaz, who was also out.
But Powless earned a spot on the day’s winner’s podium by securing the King of the Mountains jersey. It’s a reward for Powless who returns for his fourth Tour de France after a string of close calls and encouraging performances in his first three Tour appearances.
Powless’ ride into the polka-dots follows the script from last year’s start in Copenhagen, when Magnus Cort also wore the King of the Mountains jersey in the opening stages in Denmark.
The key was the penultimate summit at Vivero. The team worked to reel in an early breakaway to set up Powless and a charge for the prime line.
So who wears the polka dot jersey in the Tour de France? The polka dot jersey is worn by the rider leading the mountains classification – aka the King of the Mountains. Points are awarded at the top of climbs during stages, with more on offer for tougher ascents.
Powless is emerging as one of the team’s leaders, and holds the unique distinction of becoming the first tribally recognized Native North American indigenous rider to ever race the Tour de France.
The podium spot is well-deserved for Powless, who’s finished in the top-5 on four occasions in breakaways.
With 12th overall last year, the 26-year-old Powless came into the Tour as one of the team’s secondary options behind Carapaz.
For now, he’s going to enjoy his moment on the podium and try to defend the climber’s jersey in Sunday’s challenging stage featuring the first category Jaizkibel.