In the sport of road racing, the maillot à pois, the polka dot jersey, is awarded to the best climber. Known as the King of the Mountains, the category was first created in 1933 but the actual spotted jersey wasn’t introduced until 1975. The inspiration for the red dots on a white background has been attributed to various sources. Some claim it was chosen by then Tour organiser Félix Lévitan, who selected the design based on jerseys he had seen at the Vélodrome d’Hiver in the 1930s. Others claim the design comes from the jersey’s original sponsor, Poulain, a chocolate maker whose product was packaged in a polka dot-patterned wrapper. Since then, Tour organisers and advertising brands have come and gone but the dots have remained. The Rapha Climber’s Shoes are inspired by both the famous polka dots, and the two riders who have each won the kom jersey a record six times: Spain’s Federico Bahamontes; and Lucien Van Impe from Belgium.
“Bahamontes never had a strategy in the mountains. He just didn’t want anyone on his wheel.”
– Raoul Rémy
Known as The Eagle of Toledo, Bahamontes is one of the sport’s greatest climbers. The son of Cuban immigrants, this Spaniard with scrawny legs was famous for looking nervous on the bicycle, an anxious expression on his face and twitchy hands on the bars. If his victories in the mountains – in 1954, 58, 59, 1962, 63 and 64 – made him a hero at home, his fragile ego prevented him from being one of the great champions. Legend has it that he once stopped at the top of a climb to wait for the peloton so he could descend safely with the pack; while he waited, he ate an ice cream handed to him by a spectator.
Lucien Van Impe
“I owe a lot to Bahamontes. I didn’t try to win it again, I could’ve won it 10 times.”
– Lucien Van Impe
Regarded by many as the greatest climber of all time, Lucien Van Impe is, somewhat surprisingly, a Belgian. It was another illustrious climber, Federico Bahamontes, who, at the end of the 1960s, helped Van Impe turn professional by suggesting to Jean Stablinski that he sign the curly-haired youngster. In 1971, Van Impe won the first of six King of the Mountains titles, the others coming in 72, 75, 77, 1981 and 83. Unlike most ‘pure climbers’, Van Impe had the legs for sprinting, too, and could pull off devastating attacks on any kind of climb. The only other man to have achieved six kom titles was Bahamontes himself; when Van Impe was presented with the opportunity to surpass his idol’s record he declined, preferring to leave it at six jerseys each.