Rui Costa won the stage today but this wasn’t his only prize. He also collected the Prix de la Combativité.
Each day a rider in the Tour de France wins this prize and gets to stand on the podium, wins some cash and wears a red number on their back the next day. Today it was normal that Costa won, he got in the breakaway and then dropped his rivals à la pédale on the Col de Manse to leave no doubt he was the strongest and most aggressive rider.
But what might be a noble idea often seems to be a consolation prize. Here’s a quick look at this often overlooked award and how it’s awarded every day.
What is it?
The prix de la combativité rewards the rider who is the most generous in effort and showing the best sporting spirit. This prize, awarded during the road stages, is awarded by a jury presided by the race director.
At the end of the race the jury picks the Super-combatif rider for the whole race. There are 17 stages to win the prize, worth €2,000 a day and the Super-combatif in Paris wins €20,000. The competition is sponsored by Brandt, a maker of electronics and white goods for the home.
This year the jury is made of the following people:
|Agence France Presse
|Le Soir (Belgium)
The Giro offers a prize with the same name but it is based on points awarded for crossing the intermediate sprints and mountain passes as well as the finish. For the Tour it’s a jury and a subjective pick by the all-French members, except for the francophone Stéphane Thirion (the writer of Philippe Gilbert’s biography) which some might say is why French riders often get the award. But maybe it’s because many French riders crowd the doomed breakaways?
Also note the prize has to be awarded in time for the podium ceremony. There’s no time for debate as the show must go on.
The prize is a noble idea. Riders who attack should be celebrated and even rewarded because their dynamism brings a race alive. The prize has been awarded since the 1950s and over the years often correlated with the overall winner, after all to win the race requires a tendency to attack. But not always and 1981 was the last time the Tour winner won this prize too. In more recent years it’s become a prize for the king of the transition stages, the rider able to get in the right move most often, a reward for aggression but also for recovery powers.
“Towards the end I kept going but still we got caught by the bunch. For my efforts I got the Prix de la combativité. Before, we used to say it was the prize for the most stupid in the breakaway. But I was able to stand on the podium and get some publicity.”
Thomas De Gendt speaking after Stage 5
But it’s more the way the prize has to be awarded every day that makes picking a winner difficult sometimes. When a breakaway goes riders will work together. The riders are not stupid, they know there’s only a small chance of staying away. But just as some people buy lottery tickets, some riders try a move. Plus they get their name and the team jersey on TV, valuable publicity for a career and a sponsor. Yet when the inevitable happens and the bunch draws in, suddenly a rider surges clear. You know they cannot stay away but they’re making a show, and with it a bid for the combativity prize. But surely this pointless attack is the opposite of generosity and sporting spirit, it’s a selfish bid to out-ride your breakaway companions in the name of €2,000 and a red number. The point here is that it’s hard to award a prize every day. Even if riders attack, picking the most aggressive move is not easy.
After the stage win and the four jersey wearers the Prix de la Combativité might rank last in the pecking of prizes. But this is the Tour de France, a echo chamber that resonates around the world. Win this prize once and you and your team can get more publicity out of it than winning an actual race during a quieter period of the year. And even if the prize goes to a cynical late attack, it still goes to someone who made the day’s break and had the energy to press on, no mean feat given the level of the Tour de France is higher than every other race.
A worthy idea. Sometimes it can feel like excess but we’re far from the Giro where at least ten prizes are up for grabs every day. €2,000 won’t be turned down but it’s the publicity and pride that counts more.
But as with Rui Costa today, the best rider wins anyway and on a day when a break is reeled in it has the air of a consolation prize.