The pictures, suspense and entertainment are great, and I believe the trophies are too. But how much do you know about them and which one do you like most? Let’s look at the contenders.
Tour de France
The Tour de France trophy is called the Coupe Omnisports. It was designed by Roger Vieillard in 1971 after being commissioned by French president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (1974-1981), to renew the official pieces offered by the State. But the idea was to present it to top athletes, and not just Tour winners.
Prior to 1971, research has not revealed a clear trophy presented to the individual TDF winner, but rather public glory, a financial reward and a yellow jersey. Between 1930-1961, 1967-1968, national teams competed for the team classification trophy called the Challenge International which looks to have served as the inspiration for the Coupe Omnisports. The primary difference being it was forged from metal and not ceramic.
Today’s ceramic Coupe Omnisports is made by the Manufacture National de Sèvres on the banks of the Seine River a few kilometres downstream from Paris proper. They make some of the finest porcelain objects in the world, dating back to 1759 and the reign of Louis XV, and are the official porcelain supplier to the French government to this day. State dinners at the Elysée (the presidential residence) are served on fine porcelain Sèvres tableware.
The exquisite deep blue used to contrast the 24-carat gold hand-painted detail is known as “le bleu de Sèvres” (Sèvres blue). It is proprietary to Sèvres and symbolises the manufactory and France. The winner receives a cup every year, but it wasn’t always this way.
It wasn’t presented to the winner of the Tour de France until 1975. Why? Theories state it’s because The Grande Boucle finished on the Champs-Élysées for the first time that same year. And/or Bernard Thévenet defeated Eddy Merckx, ending an eight-year French Tour losing streak and restoring national pride.
The TdF bonus
Besides the Coupe Omnisport, the jersey winners on the Champs (Yellow, Polka Dot, Green and White) receive a magnificent bonus trophy as a gift from their longtime partner and sponsor, Škoda. But they aren’t just trophies, they are works of art that reflect the skill, refinement and talent of Czech crystal manufacturing that dates back to the 1670s, and arguably centuries before.
Škoda has been presenting these sublime, original pieces of hand-blown and worked pieces of lead crystal since 2011. A Slovakian designer named Peter Olah is the artist. And the magnificent 60 cm lead crystal vases that weigh 4 kg each represent what cycling is all about, “nature and clean energy”. Every one is produced by the renowned Czech crystal manufacturing master, Lasvit.
The Giro is the most important race on the Italian calendar and second only to the Tour de France in Grand Tour standings. For the last 23 years, the Giro winner has received the “Trofeo Senza Fine” or the Endless Trophy. It was commissioned in 1999 through a collaboration between the Gazzetta dello Sport, the famous pink sports newspaper that defines the colour of the Giro leader’s jersey, and the RCS Sport media group which organises the Giro and some of Italy’s other top road cycling competitions such as the Milan-Sanremo and Tirreno-Adriatico.
A public competition was held, and the winner was an original design from the artist Fabrizio Galli. He presented the elegant continuous spiral that forms the trophy’s hour-glass shape so recognised today. Its architecture represents the roads the peloton takes as it winds through Italy, and the history of the Giro that “has no end”.
The spiralling tower that looks like an endless ribbon of gold is actually 18-carat gold-plated copper. Copper being the material required to form and hold its complicated shape. It’s made in the Mario Penello workshop in Saletto di Vigodarzere, Italy. The village of Saletto is in the Vigodarzere municipality, within the province of Padova and the Veneto region. Each one takes approximately a month to create.
A copper bar is made round by a special machine. It then gets polished, heat treated and coiled into its suspended-like, spiral form on something that resembles a primitive torture device before being cut and polished. The ultimate and most delicate step is laser etching the names of previous winners before receiving a final sand blast. A new trophy is presented every year and the winner’s name engraved on the spot by Penello.
Details on the size and weight of the Coupe Omnisports were hard to track down, but the Giro trophy is close to the height of the beautiful lead crystal vases gifted from Škoda, 54 cm tall. But its Giro brethren weighs substantially more, 9.5 kg. Panello also makes the trophies for Milan-Sanremo, Milan-Torino, Strade Bianche at the trident from the Tirreno-Adriatico.
Vuelta a España
It’s no surprise the trophy awarded to the winner of the Vuelta a España also has noble roots. The Royal Glass Factory of La Granja (La Real Fábrica de Cristales de la Granja) has made the Tour of Spain general classification trophy since 2008. It was established in 1727 by Philip V of Spain and is located a few kilometres outside of Segovia, Spain.
The trophy has transformed since the first Vuelta in 1935. Until 1999, first prize was a silver cup. Then it became a large crystal plate with a square base as a stand. The round shape was chosen to mimic a bicycle wheel with the names of previous winners making up the spokes. Today, the victor still receives a large lead crystal plate, but one with the red La Vuelta logo in the middle.
Once the red enamel needed to reproduce the logo is set through a special vitrification process, the spokes of the wheel are created with the names of past winners via a diamond dust blasting technique. Space reserved for the current year’s winner, of course. And that name isn’t added until the final stage is over. The second and third place finishers receive crystal vases made from the same manufactory, but they only contain an inscription of the podium placement.
The podium of Grand Tour trophies
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Far be it from one article to decide for the masses. Other than pure visual aesthetics, the history and culture behind each trophy may sway your affections in your final Grand Tour trophy podium. Any of the three would already be a fantastic accomplishment in the career of a professional cyclist.
Personally, I would give first place to the Giro d’Italia’s Trofeo Senza Fine. I think it’s contemporary, exquisite and I love the fact its design came from a public competition. Cycling, after all, is a sport for the masses, right? The Tour de France’s Coupe Omnisports lands on the second step of the podium for its classic looks and pure prestige, with the Vuelta rounding things off in third place.