The Combativity Prize – Worth Fighting For?

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:

Jean-François Pescheux ASO
Cédric Vasseur France Télévisions
Christian Ollivier RTL
Jean Montois Agence France Presse
Philippe Bouvet L’Equipe
Stéphane Thirion Le Soir (Belgium)

Parlez-vous français?
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.

Nice idea
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.

Futile Gestures?

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.

Rui sees red

Massive Prize
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.

18 thoughts on “The Combativity Prize – Worth Fighting For?”

  1. The other day it was widely reported that OPQS won the prize as a team, not just Cav.

    Was that actually true, or was it just another smart Cav-ism – giving a quote in which he could simultaneously praise his team but also provide a journalist with some copy a bit more interesting (and therefore a bit more reportable) than the normal “man wins red number”?


    • Good question. It was awarded to the team but it seems the rules say one rider has to be picked so Cavendish was sent to the ceremony plus his name is listed for winning that day rather than OPQS. But he collected it on behalf of the team.

    • Quintana for me. Froome has mainly reacted to him rather than the other way around. Be intersting to see if Quintana holds back his attack next time.

    • I think we’ll have to see who goes on the attack this week. It could someone like Sylvain Chavanel or Rui Costa if they go on some more long range raids. Even if these are doomed they could score points.

  2. I like the idea of the Super-combatif, even if there are cynical ways to define it. While the breaks are often seen as nothing more than a publicity stunt for smaller teams, I take the view that if you are not willing to lose then you will never win. Risk can be rewarded, and at least they are trying. Sure, it might be a doomed break, but having a man out there means his teammates are able to rest (no expectation of work to close down their own man), his sponsor gets some air time (marketing money rules all these days) and it is a lot more fun than sitting in with 160 guys waiting for a sprint.

    So far, the Tour has brought us a lot of great racing in the daily stages, as opposed to a lot of waiting. Granted, the Yellow seems to be mired in the same waiting game as usual, but that seems to be the way of things for now. If the Super-combatif encourages good daily racing then why over-think it?

  3. Just wondering, do podium girls get to present different jersey and price everyday or the same girl would go on to present the same stuff, be it yellow jersey or stage win, everyday>

  4. Thanks for the background. Its a nice recognition, no matter how subjective the selection may be. Marketing, strategy and commerce are what engendered the tour in the first place and they have never gone away. Nothing wrong with that, without them, there would be no race.

  5. Although it’s pretty subjective, I find I usually agree with the winner. And last year Chris-Anker Sørensen won over Thomas Voeckler, who had also some justifiable claims on the price, so it’s not always the consolidation price for Best Frenchman.

    For this year my bets are on Bakelandts, with Chavanel and Quintana as other good picks.

  6. So far I think Bakelandts deserves it – he’s clearly working on taking the mantle of ‘extremely likeable plucky breakaway guy that sometimes makes it’ from his room-mate Voigt.

  7. It would be interesting if somebody was keeping track of the amount of time/distance spent in breaks, similar to the Giro’s Premio della Fuga. Otherwise, Sir Bakelants looks like a good call for me too.

  8. If the race continues like this, Il Pistolero should get the overall prize for combativity in my book. While I’m not really a fan of the guy, at least here he’s taking the fight to the race leader every day, whether going up or down, even causing some whining from the maillot jaune. If the guy’s scaring you Chrissy, you can always back off and let him go, no? Please don’t start sounding like lil’Andy Schleck…the race is not just about racing uphill or against the clock on flat courses – it’s the sport’s biggest showcase and at least someone is trying to make a race of it!

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