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Eyes on the prize

Eurosport’s Felix Lowe takes a look at the weird and wonderful world of cycling trophies.

Felix Lowe
4 Jul 2016

Such are the vibrations from the relentless cobbles, the annual Paris-Roubaix race can be as draining on a rider’s arms as it is on his legs. Which is why it’s almost cruel that the winner of ‘The Hell of the North’ must then summon the strength to raise one of cycling’s most famous trophies above his head: a mounted cobblestone that weighs about 12kg – or roughly a quarter of the bodyweight of Venezuelan climber José Rujano. The prize may be a physical burden, but at least it has its uses. Belgian pro Tom Boonen has won the race so many times that he now has enough stones to repave his driveway. And the Paris-Roubaix trophy is not the only prize in cycling that has functional appeal. During World War Two, when times were lean, its organisers resorted to dishing out boxes of razors, bike equipment and even a stove. The last four riders in 1949 were appeased with bottles of massage oil.

The history of pro cycling is littered with peculiar awards. Between 1976 and 1987, winners of the Tour were offered apartments over money, which should have meant that Bernard Hinault ended up with five separate addresses to add to his farm in Brittany.

Back in the day, gifts of livestock were commonplace. Sean Kelly, Mario Cipollini, Rolf Sørensen and Barry Hoban all won cows. Hoban gave ‘Estelle’ to a local farmer but kept her bell, while Sørensen apparently donated his heifer to Hinault (the cow could have had an apartment all to herself). 

In 1999 Belgian sprinter Tom Steels won his weight in sugar cubes and the next day, rather aptly, he won a half-bred trotting horse. Squealing piglets are still awarded to the riders who bring home the bacon in April’s gruelling Tro-Bro Léon race in Brittany, ‘The Hell of the West’.

Winning your weight in local produce – be it cider, Chianti, Dutch gin, beer or cheese – is an age-old gimmick. Such early career wins may even explain Danilo Napolitano’s growth as a rider: after his Settimana Coppi e Bartali scalp in 2009 he clearly gorged on a mortadella heavier than any cobblestone.

Other edible trophies include salamis (Tour of Austria), bunches of bananas (Tour of Turkey, a favourite stomping ground of Andre ‘The Gorilla’ Greipel), fizzy Dutch lager (Amstel Gold), fruit juices (La Tropicale Amissa Bongo), combativity cheeses (Tour of Britain) and, of course, the unctuous prize on offer at Paris-Camembert.

Winning can do wonders for your fancy dress wardrobe, too. If you took victory at País Vasco, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of California, you could attend your next party wearing a beret, brandishing a huge sparkling trident and with a surfboard tucked under one arm.

While Tirreno’s trident looks like something a camp Didi the Devil might take to Mardi Gras, it’s not the only weapon on offer. In Oman, traditional Khanjar daggers make a point on the podium, while Paolo Bettini and Philippe Gilbert have both won swords in Vuelta finishes in Toledo.

Perhaps the cutest trophy was the panting St Bernard dog that joined Alberto Contador on the podium in Verbier during the 2009 Tour. Understandably, the Spaniard elected to leave his canine companion in the Alps (minus the brandy). In fact, Bertie already has a Weimaraner called ‘Tour’ at home – a gift from a local TV station.

As for the most confusing prizes, how about the sixth-form art project thrust upon Greipel after a win at the 2011 Three Days of De Panne, the centrepiece of which was an edible cake-man with curly hair (and seemingly naked from the waist down) reclining on a staircase in a yellow jersey, apparently smoking a shisha pipe while sawing a snowball in half. Google it: Greipel’s expression says it all.

All things considered, it’s hard to beat Roubaix’s iconic cobblestone keepsake. Sure, you can’t eat it, nor can you wear it, but if you drop the 12kg boulder on your foot, the trophy clearly encapsulates everything that the race is about: pain management.

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