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Know Your Tour! Stage 4: Speaking of Prizes...


While the biggest stars of cycling have the loftiest goals in mind, almost every rider taking the start in Rotterdam last weekend had at least one goal in mind, if only in the back of their mind: winning a stage of the Tour de France. If you can't make a lasting mark on Tour history, you can at least be king for a day.

And you can make some money. A cool €8000*, which is about $9300 at present, for the stage win. Prize for second? A pat on the back. Actually, that's not true. Second is €4000 and cash prizes go to the first 20 riders. Here's a list of the official cash prizes awarded this July:

  • The overall winner of the general classification (yellow jersey) stands to earn €450,000. Second prize is €200,000, third is €100,000, and so on. Years ago the winner was also given a condo on the Riviera; haven't heard about that one lately. Oh, and holding the yellow jersey for a day is worth €350.
  • General Classification prizes go to the top 150 finishers! But after 20th they're minor amounts under €1000, and after the top 50 the remaining finishers get a t-shirt €400-450. Enough to cover a night out in Paris.
  • The overall winners of the Points and Best Climber (a/k/a King of the Mountain) classifications make €25,000 each. The classification winner is the guy who accumulates the most points with placings at the end of a race or at designated spots along the route (such as the top of each climb for the KOM prize). Final classification prizes go to the top eight riders. Holding the polka dots and green jersey for a day is worth €300.
  • For both points and mountains, those designated spots along the way come with cash too. The run-of-the-mill sprint spots are worth €800, 450 and 200 for the top three. The mountain peaks come in various categories depending on how hard the ascent is. Hors Categoire (off the charts) and Cat 1 climbs each pay out to the top three, €800-450-300 and €650-400-150 respectively. Cat 2 pays the top two (€500-250) and Cat-3 and Cat-4 the first rider only (€300 and €200, respectively). Then there's the Souvenir Henri Desgranges, which awards a whopping €5000 bonus on top of other prizes to the first rider to reach the highest point in the Tour -- this year on the Col du Tourmalet at the finish of stage 17.
  • The overall winner of the Best Young Rider (aged 25 or under on Jan. 1, 2010) earns €20,000. This classification is decided on overall time, just like the general classification. Final prizes run four deep. Holding the maillot blanc is worth €300 each day.
  • €50,000 is awarded to the winners of the Team Classification. To score this classification, each day the Tour takes the finishing time for the first three riders from each team to cross the line that day. The Tour then keeps a running tally of those times by team and issues the award at the conclusion of the race. Final classification prizes go to the top five teams. For each stage the top team that day is awarded €2800.
  • The Comabitivy prize is awarded by an eight-person jury after each stage to the rider who, in their subjective assessment, is the most aggressive rider on the day. Often enough the guy who wins the stage does so by trapping someone else into doing more work, so the daily €2000 is a nice consolation prize. At the end of the Tour, a super-combativity prize is awarded to the most aggressive rider over the three weeks, to the tune of €20,000. For Combativity there are no prizes for secondary placings; only the winners get paid.
  • Stage winners: €8000, as mentioned above. Prizes go 20 places deep. Second is €4000, third is €2000, etc.

Post-Tour Crits

Over the years people have found creative ways to reward riders outside of the Tour structure. A lot of money goes to riders who participate in post-Tour criteriums (lap races over short road circuits, e.g. 1 mile), with appearance fees to the winners of the big classifications. These criteriums are often associated with summertime carnivals in (primarily) northern Europe, who will set aside a pretty big chunk of change to hold a bike race with famous riders to add to the allure of their particular carnival. So for the two weeks following the Tour, you'll hear about the Tour's stars "winning races" in small towns in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, France, etc. Popular riders are given lucrative appearance fees and will show up with their yellow, green, white and polka dot jerseys even, to add to the color. The downside is that the races are generally regarded as having been fixed for the biggest name to win. But the fans know, don't care, and are happy for the extra show, while the riders are content to sock away a few more mortgage payments. In past times these post-Tour criteriums made a huge difference in a top rider's earnings, though that's less true today.

The Lanterne Rouge

One special distinction -- I wouldn't call it a prize -- has arisen over the years surrounding the "lanterne rouge" (red lantern), the nickname for the rider who is last overall in the general classification. The name comes from the red light affixed to the vehicle that follows the last guys out on the road each day, but the Lanterne Rouge has become popular with fans because it tends to go to guys who struggle on in vain and under tremendous adversity, yet don't give up. Guys finish last because they have spent themselves in service of their team and can no longer keep up, or because they were brought for certain stages and struggle in the mountains, or maybe they're just plain tired... but the key is that they soldier on. Well, over time the Lanterne Rouge became popular enough that the "winner" would command pretty respectable appearance fees at the post-Tour criteriums, at which point riders began competing for the Lanterne Rouge. And it's not as easy as it sounds: each stage of the Tour comes with a time limit, which usually requires that you finish within ten percent of the winning time, or you're kicked out of the Tour. [E.g., a five hour race is 300 minutes, so the time limit is winning time + 30 minutes.] Competitors for the Lanterne Rouge keep an eye on each other as well as the time limit, flirting with disaster.

Last year was a particularly gripping Lanterne Rouge competition. Kenny Van Hummel, a fairly accomplished sprinter from the Netherlands racing for Skil Shimano, dropped to second from the bottom after the first day's time trial and remained there until the mountains, where he climbed so poorly that the French newspaper L'Equipe called him the "worst climber ever" on the basis of his unprecedented last place finish in every mountain stage. On at least one occasion Van Hummel lost contact with the peloton almost immediately after the stage start, riding on alone... but still staying within the time limit. However, as dark a subject as the Lanterne Rouge couldn't come without its tragedies, and Van Hummel had to abandon the Tour on stage 17, just days from a notable Lanterne Rouge, after being injured in a crash. Belarussian sprinter Yahueni Hutarovich inherited the prize.

Think I'm kidding about all this? Here's the recorded list of Lanterne Rouge winners dating back to 1903.

Other Unofficial Prizes

Towns along the way have occasionally awarded prizes to draw attention to themselves. Pretty often the town where the stage finishes will kick in something of note from the area, as a way of advertising their wares. My favorite example of these unofficial prizes came from 2007, when the town of Diksmuide in Belgium awarded 250 kilograms of local Flemish butter to the first rider to cross a line they painted on the road in the center of town. Prizes like this are legend and waaaay beyond what I can cover here. But if you see a rider posing for pictures with a giant cowbell or wine bottle or wheel of cheese, you'll know what I'm talking about.

[*using 2009 figures until 2010 available. Probably the same anyway.]