A part of the Tour de France since 1975, the best young rider classification has showcased the top developing talents in the peloton on the world's biggest stage, and although not all of the winners of the white jersey classification go on to add an overall title to their name, a fair number have.
The list of names in the palmares of this competition is impressive: Francesco Moser, Laurent Fignon, Greg Lemond, Andy Hampsten, Marco Pantani, Jan Ullrich, Oscar Sevilla, Ivan Basso, Alberto Contador and, for three years in a row, Andy Schleck. Each year the competition brings to the forefront promising new talent.
Last year's winner, Pierre Rolland (Europcar) has aged out of the category, which now includes riders born in 1987 or after. At present there are only 21 such riders set to take place in this year's Tour, but not all will be contenders. Many are in their first Tour or will be dedicated workers for a prime overall contender. Cyclingnews has chosen five riders who could stand a chance at taking home the white jersey in July.
Tejay Van Garderen
Name: Tejay van Garderen (USA)
Team: BMC Racing
Career Highlights: 2nd 2009 Tour de l'Avenir, 3rd 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné, Best Young Rider in 2011 & 2012 Tour of California, USA Pro Cycling Challenge and 2012 Paris-Nice
Tour debut: 2011
Best Tour finish: 81st
Summary: Tejay van Garderen has been one of the most exciting talents to come out of the USA in recent years, and his third place in his debut Critérium du Dauphiné in 2010, in his first ProTour season, put his name on the list of favorites for every stage race he entered since.
He may not have a chance to fight for the white jersey classification as his loyalties will lie in helping Cadel Evans to his second Tour de France victory, but as one of the main climbing lieutenants for his captain and a world-class time trialist in stage races one cannot discount van Garderen slipping into the jersey as a consequence of his work. Should Evans falter, the young American will be his team's second hope for the overall podium in Paris.
Name: Wout Poels (NED)
Career Highlights: Stage win, 2nd overall 2012 Tour of Luxembourg, Stage, 2nd in 2011 Tour de l'Ain, 17th Vuelta a España, 2nd on Angliru
Tour debut: 2011
Best Tour finish: DNF
Summary: First off it's Wout, not Wouter like Mr. Wynants. Poels has been making that unique name for himself ever since he surprised the world by climbing the torturous slopes of the Angliru in the 2011 Vuelta a España, coming second to overall winner Juan Jose Cobo on the stage ahead of Denis Menchov, Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins.
Since then, he has similarly impressed in this year's Tour of Luxmebourg, where he out-gunned RadioShack-Nissan's Jakob Fuglsang and Fränk Schleck to win the queen stage and came home with second overall. Poels may have the distinct advantage in the Tour de France of not having to work for a recognized podium contender, although Lieuwe Westra could very well finish high up. The 24-year-old Poels is aggressive and great on the climbs, but lacks the time trial prowess of someone like Van Garderen.
Name: Rein Taaramäe (EST)
Career Highlights: Stage 2011 Vuelta a España, three-time Estonian TT champion, Best Young Rider 2011 Paris-Nice, Critérium International, 11th 2011 Tour de France, 4th 2011 Paris-Nice
Tour debut: 2011
Best Tour finish: 11th in 2011
Summary: Rein Taaramäe is a supremely talented climber and time trialist whose only downfall in Grand Tours is luck. As the only rider in our five with a Grand Tour individual stage win to his name, the Estonian will have the advantage over his young competitors of having his whole team behind him in the race.
As witnessed by his fourth place in the 2011 Paris-Nice and mountains classification win at the 2009 Basque Country Tour, Taaramäe has potential to not only climb with the best but he's also well equipped to tackle the 100+ kilometers against the clock as three-time national champion in the discipline. Taaramäe is an opportunist who is not afraid to ride in long breakaways and should not be underestimated by his rivals.
Name: Steven Kruijswijk (NED)
Career Highlights: 8th in 2011 Giro d'Italia, 8th 2012 Tour de Suisse, 3rd 2011 Tour de Suisse
Tour debut: 2012
Best Tour finish: N/A
Summary: Rabobank's Steven Kruijswijk makes his Tour de France debut this year, but he will do so as one of the most successful young riders in the Grand Tours. He's finished two Giri d'Italia and one Vuelta a España, and placed top 10 in the Giro last year, coming second in the best young rider classification to Roman Kreuziger.
Ever since his third place in the 2011 Tour de Suisse, Kruijswijk's name has been uttered in hushed tones of reverence when it comes to this year's Tour. Although the team's main contenders for the overall are Robert Gesink and Bauke Mollema, Kruijswijk will be supported by the Dutch squad, perhaps even getting in on the hunt for the yellow jersey himself.
Name: Thibaut Pinot
Career Highlights: Winner 2011 Settimana Lombarda, 3rd 2011 Presidential Tour of Turkey, 2010 Tour de Romandie mountains classification
Tour debut: 2012
Best Tour finish: N/A
Summary: Thibaut Pinot is not well-known amongst the cycling pundits, but he has been quietly racking up promising performances and could well be the revelation of the 2012 Tour de France. 11th in the Tour de Romandie this year, he was sitting 10th in the Tour de Suisse until he suffered from heat stroke and had to withdraw.
Pinot earned his spot on this list with his performance in last year's Settimana Lombarda, where he left behind riders like Domenico Pozzovivo to win the mountainous first stage, and held off all the challengers to claim the overall victory three days later. This will be the 22-year-old's first Tour so he has plenty to learn - perhaps the lessons will include podium protocols.
Peter Sagan, 22 (Liquigas-Cannondale) is the main rider tipped for the green jersey classification, but he lacks the abilities in the high mountains and prowess in time trials to contend for the overall best young rider jersey.
Edvald Boasson Hagen, 25 (Sky) has overall wins in the Tour of Norway, Eneco Tour and Tour of Britain in addition to numerous Norwegian titles. However, he will be focusing on the very important task of helping his teammate Bradley Wiggins win the overall Tour and driving Mark Cavendish to the line for stage wins. It is more likely that Boasson Hagen will win a stage than contend for the white jersey.
Marcel Kittel, 24 (Argos-Shimano) is one of the fastest sprinters in the world and will be fighting for stage wins, but he is a terrible climber and will be battling hard just to make the time cut on the high mountain stages and will in no way contend for the young rider classification.
The young riders of the 2012 Tour de France:
Anthony Delaplace (Saur - Sojasun) 1989-08-11
Anthony Roux (FDJ - Bigmat) 1987-04-18
Arthur Vichot (FDJ - Bigmat) 1988-11-26
Cyril Gautier (Europcar) 1987-09-26
Daniel Oss (Liquigas - Cannondale) 1987-01-13
Domenique Nerz (Liquigas-Cannondale) 1989-08-25
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky Procycling) 1987-05-17
Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Euskaltel - Euskadi) 1987-10-07
Kris Boeckmans (Vacansoleil - Dcm Pro Cycling Team 1987-02-13
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 1988-05-11
Nicolas Edet (Cofidis - Le Credit En Ligne) 1987-12-02
Patrick Gretsch (Argos-Shimano) 1987-04-07
Peter Sagan (Liquigas - Cannondale) 1990-01-26
Rafael Valls Ferri (Vacansoleil - Dcm Pro Cycling Team 1987-06-27
Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis - Le Credit En Ligne) 1987-04-24
Romain Zingle (Cofidis - Le Credit En Ligne) 1987-01-29
Steven Kruijswijk (Rabobank Cycling Team) 1987-06-07
Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing Team) 1988-08-12
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ - Bigmat) 1990-05-29
Tony Gallopin (Radioshack - Nissan) 1988-05-24
Wout Poels (Vacansoleil - Dcm Pro Cycling Team) 1987-10-01