Last week we kicked off our Tour de France preview series with a route and stage guide followed by a green jersey points classification preview. Now it's time for the mountain goats to come home to graze.
Sponsored by the French supermarket chain Carrefour (for one last year), the red-spotted "King of the Mountains" jersey is awarded to the rider who has picked up the most points over the race's 53 categorised climbs.
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The breakdown of the points is as follows:
  • Hors Categorie (9 in total): 20-15-12-10-8-6-4-2 points respectively for first eight riders
  • Category 1 (10 in total): 10-8-6-4-2-1 points
  • Category 2 (7): 5-3-2-1 points
  • Category 3 (9): 2-1 points
  • Category 4 (18): 1 point
Double points are up for grabs for the final climb in the three Pyrenean stages: the Cat.1 Col du Portillon, the HC Col du Portet and the HC Col d'Aubisque.
There was a time when riders of questionable climbing ability – such as Thomas Voeckler in 2012 and Anthony Charteau in 2010 – could play the system to win the polka dot jersey. Thankfully, those days seem to be over: the last five winners have been formidable climbers in the mould of Nairo Quintana, Rafal Majka (twice), Chris Froome and Warren Barguil.
Last year, Barguil was quite brilliant en route to winning two mountain stages with panache while proudly sporting the polka dots – in Foix, on Bastille Day, and on the Col d'Izoard, the highest ever finish on the Tour. But does the Frenchman have what it takes to double up? And who will be his main rivals this time round?
Let's take a look at the main contenders and their ratings…

FIVE STAR: Barguil, Majka

Warren Barguil au sommet de l'Izoard

Image credit: Getty Images

Warren Barguil left Team Sunweb for Fortuneo-Samsic not so he could be a team leader and GC contender as much as being able to continue riding to the beat of his own drum. Stay at Sunweb and he'd be shoehorned into a domestique role for Dutch duo Tom Dumoulin and Wilco Kelderman, but joining his native Brittany team meant Barguil could continue doing his own thing.
Time will tell whether a drop down to Pro-Continental level will prove shrewd or folly. So far, the 26-year-old has hardly set the world alight and his new team have rather embarrassingly been forced to switch to BH bikes following a mid-season split with Look. If all this hardly bodes well, then the Tour will be the ultimate barometer with which to measure Barguil.
He says he's not going for yellow and instead is after the stage wins in the mountains that would inevitably put him in the frame for a consecutive polka dot triumph. Therefore, Barguil has a five-star rating by being one of the few riders who is probably targeting this jersey.

Rafal Majka NOT IN FRA & ITA

Image credit: Imago

One could put Rafal Majka in the same bracket were it not for the Pole's ambitions to finish high on GC. That said, the 28-year-old's previous four top 10 finishes in Grand Tours have come in the Giro and Vuelta, not the Tour, where he has usually been used as a foil for the likes of former team-mate Alberto Contador.
With Bora-Hansgrohe splitting their ambitions between Peter Sagan and Majka, he may find himself having to freelance a bit – which could put him in the window for a third polka dot jersey over any unlikely dreams of yellow (or even, to be fair, the top five).

FOUR STAR: Quintana, Valverde or Landa

Nairo Quintana

Image credit: Getty Images

Something has to give at Movistar. With Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa supposedly all entering the race on an equal footing, it's pretty much inconceivable that this trio will do for the Spanish team in the Tour what Gewiss did in the Fleche Wallonne or Domo-Farm Frites and Mapei did in Roubaix.
With that in mind, the polka dot jersey could be a consolation prize for one of the riders should they falter on the cobbles – or even for all three, should the team make a right hash of the TTT around Cholet. What's more, a polka dot jersey can easily come by either winning the Tour (ask Chris Froome) or pushing hard for the maillot jaune (as runner-up Quintana proved in 2013). Which puts one of these riders, by default, in the picture. But which one?

THREE STAR: Froome, Bardet, Uran, Porte, Nibali, Martin, Roglic

Romain Bardet et Chris Froome au sommet de l'Izoard.

Image credit: Getty Images

There may only be three summit finishes this July but the demanding route nevertheless includes the fabled climbs of Alpe d'Huez, the Col d'Aubisque, the Tourmalet, Aspin, Madeleine, Croix de Fer and Colombiere, as well as the relative novelty of the Plateau de Glieres, La Rosiere and the Portet.
In short: the rider that wins the Tour will have to be an exceptional climber. So, it follows that the strong contenders for the polka dot jersey should come from the main core of GC riders.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) showed his climbing pedigree in the Giro d'Italia and if his quest for a fifth Tour win falls apart then he could take consolation with a second polka dot jersey.
Meanwhile, the likes of Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Richie Porte (BMC), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) all fit the mould: superb climbers who could pick up KOM points simply by targeting the yellow jersey, or go all-in for a consolatory tilt at the polka dot jersey should they come a cropper in the opening week of the race.
Australian Porte is seen as the best climber in the peloton on his day, and while doubts still linger surrounding his ability to close out a three-week race as a major GC contender, he'll be a good horse to back in the polka-dot battle. Provided he doesn't crash out – which is far from a given.
An interesting rider here is Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo): the Slovenian is not one of the favourites for the Tour – he's relatively unproven over three weeks – but his form in the mountains has been nothing short of excellent all season, plus he's a proven winner over the Galibier.

TWO STAR: Fraile, Fuglsang, Pantano, Atapuma, Izagirre brothers

Omar Fraile

Image credit: Getty Images

Spaniard Omar Fraile (Astana) has twice won the Vuelta's mountains classification before and consistently proves his worth when the road heads up – although his quest could be compromised by a support role to team leader Jakob Fuglsang. It is also his Tour debut so perhaps the 27-year-old may find himself out of his depth.
The names of Colombian duo Jarlinson Pantano (Trek Segafredo) and Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) always seem to crop up when talking about the mountains – even if they often struggle for consistency. Pantano perhaps has the edge over his compatriot by virtue of his team not having an out-and-out GC rider (sorry, Bauke Mollema). Atapuma, meanwhile, was fourth in last year's KOM competition but often falls short of winning on the big stage.
Meanwhile, Ion and Gorka Izagirre (Bahrain Merida), while no mountain goats, are capable on the steep stuff – and should Nibali's yellow dream fade, they could be given licence to roam.

ONE STAR: Rolland, Calmejane, Kruijswijk, Zakarin, De Gendt

Pierre Rolland - Europcar

Image credit: Eurosport

The best thing that happened to Pierre Rolland since joining EF Education First-Drapac was to admit that his GC days were over; the worst thing, perhaps, has been the corresponding resurrection of Rigoberto Uran. As such, while having no pressure to perform on the flat and in time trials, Rolland will be called on for mountain duties in support of the Colombian.
But should Uran crack or crash out, Rolland – who came close to holding onto the polka dot jersey in 2013 – could spring a surprise. More likely is that his compatriot Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) manages to get in some early breaks to snare the requisite KOM points to put him in the picture. Calmejane, it's worth remembering, donned the polka dot jersey after winning Stage 8 in his debut Tour last year.

Lilian Calmejane, maillot à pois sur le Tour 2017

Image credit: Getty Images

Another rider who, like Calmejane, should be allowed into many breaks is the combative Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal). Already a winner on the Stelvio and Ventoux, the 31-year-old should have licence to roam. Indeed, he notched almost 1,000 breakaway kilometres in last year's race.
And finally, GC conundrums Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) have the climbing ability to feature if the circumstances play into their hands.