A taxonomy of cycling's best and weirdest trophies
In cycling, the best prizes are often worn. The Tour de France’s Maillot Jaune may be the most coveted single piece of laundry in sports. UCI’s rainbow jersey, awarded to the world champion across all of cycling’s disciplines — from road racing to downhill mountain biking — is gorgeous and iconic. A special jersey may be given to a particular race’s best climber, or sprinter, or most plucky loser, all of which are prominently displayed in the bunch.
The actual pieces of hardware that come with winning races — various trophies, baubles, trinkets and food stuffs — are often an afterthought to fans and riders, destined to, at best, feature in a post-race podium photo before gathering dust on a mantle.
Races have responded to this fact in one of two ways.
Some follow the direction of ASO — the organization that produces major road cycling events like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix — which uses the same trophy design for its (relatively-speaking) less prestigious races like Liège–Bastogne–Liège, La Flèche Wallonne and Paris-Nice: an understated, easy-to-carry ornate bicycle cassette attached to a small five-spoke wheel and mounted on a sturdy wooden base. It’s an unobtrusive object that winners can hold on the podium without distracting from the hugs and smiles and champagne.
Then there are the races that take the exact opposite approach. Some, like Paris-Roubaix, are so grand and unique that they need a standout trophy worthy of it. Other races are relatively small, so they give out gaudy trophies to help them get noticed while raising awareness about local culture and industries.
Whatever the reason, cycling’s panoply of trophies is one of its best, weirdest and most criminally overlooked traditions. They come in a number categories, from heavy duty weaponry to delicious local delicacies. Here’s a look at some of the best:
Weaponry and masonry
- The Tirreno-Adriatico Trident – Tirreno-Adriatico is an approximately one-week stage race nicknamed the “Race of the Two Seas” because it starts at the Tyrrhenian Sea and ends at the Adriatic. The long golden trident which symbolizes, uh, Poseidon, is ceremonially raised out of the water by coast guard divers before the first stage.
- The Paris-Roubaix cobblestone – Though “The Hell of the North” is an ASO race, it deserves more than a shiny cassette. Since 1977, a polished and mounted cobble has been given to the winner of road cycling’s most storied one-day race. The trophy is made by a local stonemason, and represents the area’s reverence for its pavé and history.
- Milano-Sanremo sharp-looking frisbee thing – Not much backstory here, but included for the fact that it looks like it would FLY if given a good backhand toss.
- The Sword of Toledo – A special mention to the actual factual sword that David Millar was given after winning the Vuelta a España Stage 20 time trial in Toledo, which has been renowned for its steel since ancient times.
Races often double as marketing opportunities for local tourism boards, and there’s almost no better sales pitch than tasty treats.
- Tour of Austria, giant sausage, Pt. 1 — One of the race’s biggest sponsors is Wiesbauer, an 80-year-old Viennese sausage company that awards what looks to be approximately a meter of sausage to the overall leader after each stage.
- GS Emilia races, giant sausage Pt. 2 — The organization that hosts Italian semi-classics like Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, Giro dell’Emilia and Per Sempre Alfredo likes to hand out a big hammy hunk of Mortadella to its podium finishers. Here’s Bauke Mollema spraying champagne all over his delicious wedge after winning Trofeo Laigueglia.
- BinckBank Tour, keg of beer — A lot of races award beer after a race — Belgium, if you didn’t know, is very big on the stuff — but the BinckBank Tour deserves special mention for giving out a half barrel to each day’s prize winners. (The barrel is presumably empty given how high the riders can lift it above their heads, but still).
- Tour of Yorkshire, Yorkshire pudding — It’s a trophy … made out of Yorkshire pudding.
- Tour of Denmark, giant chocolate bar — A lot of countries claim to have Europe’s best chocolate, but only Denmark backs it up by handing out an egregiously-sized hunk of it to its race winner.
- Tour of Turkey, bananas — Mark Cavendish received a massive bunch after winning a 2016 stage into Alanya, Turkey’s biggest banana producer.
- Tour of Britain, combativity cheese — Once upon a time, each finish town in the one week-ish stage race gives the day’s most combative rider a wheel of its finest, ripest cheese. Now, the Tour of Britain hands out a lovely (though less edible) native British tree after each day.
Animals, both live and stuffed, often make for the most beloved cycling prizes. Sometimes, they represent local industry or corporate sponsors. Other times, they simply make the proceedings more fun.
- Tour de France stuffed lion — Tour sponsor Crédit Lyonnais began handing out the now-iconic stuffed lions in 1987, and haven’t stopped, even now that the lion is no longer an official mascot of the bank.
- Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne donkey — The citizens of Kuurne are nicknamed “ezels” — or in english, “donkeys.” The story goes that when Kuurne farmers went to market in Kortrijk early in the morning on donkey-drawn carts, the noise woke up slumbering Kortrijk-ians, who’d shout “It’s those asses from Kuurne again!” The term of derision was adapted into one of pride. Hence, the adorable stuffed donkey waiting at the finish line of this early cobbled classic.
- Arctic Race salmon — The King of the Mountains in the Arctic Race of Norway wears a fish scaled “salmon” jersey as the points leader, and also receives a giant stuffed salmon. The overall winner of the competition also takes home 500 kilograms of prime Norwegian salmon. Let’s repeat that, because you maybe read “500” and thought, “that’s probably a typo and the author meant to write ’50,’ which is still a lot of salmon.” That’s not a typo. Race organizers actually sent 500 kilos, or 1,102 pounds, of fish to the King of the Mountains at the 2018 edition.
- Tro-Bro Léon piglet — Tro-Bro Léon is a relatively minor race that takes on gravel, cobbles and the treacherous coastline of Brittany, France, traditionally one week after Paris-Roubaix. Like races, it’s particularly proud of its local flair. In this case, it awards the day’s highest-finishing Breton rider with a cute little piglet.
- X2O Badkamer Trofee duck — Going offroad, there may be no more unique prize in cyclocross than the giant rubber ducky that podium finishers receive in the X2O Badkamers Trofee series. Lucinda Brand received an extra special rainbow version after becoming World Champion.
- Red Bull Rampage’s various creepy crawlies — The most extreme event on two wheels appropriately features some of the most elaborate trophy designs you’ll ever see. We’ll focus here on the trophies celebrating the local Utahan wildlife like spiders and snakes, which are particularly unsettling but also really, really cool.
Trophies that really tie the room together
Sometimes a little bit of elegance is all you need. Some of these trophies have history behind them, but mostly they just look good.
- Tour de France chalice — The Grand Boucle hands out so many prizes that it’s easy to forget that there’s also hardware for the general classification winner. It is a nice piece of craftsmanship, though. So much so that someone stole it in 2018.
- Giro d’Italia spiral — The Grand Tour with the best trophy is arguably the Giro, however. The Never-Ending Trophy is a glittering golden spiral with the name of every overall winner etched into it, theoretically stretching upwards forever.
- Tour of Flanders sculpture — A lot of races reward winners with a sculpture of a rider on a bike, but Flanders at least mixes it up by commissioning a different design every year. Some of them are quite abstract.
- Clásica San Sebastián beret — Not a piece of furniture, but fetching nonetheless. The traditional Basque beret has been a favorite of Pyrenean shepherds for centuries. And if it can pair well with Lycra, it can pair well with anything.
- Omloop Het Nieuwsblad statuette/candleholder/old-timey microphone? — The cycling trophy that’s most like a Rohrshach test. Whatever it looks like to you, the Omloop trophy is certain to be a conversation piece in whatever corner of your home you stuff it.