Tour de France 2020

Pricey bling at the Tour de France: Flashy fun or faux pas?

Bling at the Tour is nothing new, but the price tags this year have us reeling. Does fancy bling belong in the Tour de France?

The 2020 Tour de France has treated us early to some fantastic moments. And for some of the riders involved in those big successes, the fireworks have led to some pretty impressive bling: Alaphilippe’s $120,000 Richard Mille watch, and Kristoff’s $5,900 diamond-encrusted Scicon Aerowing sunglasses. It’s certainly not the first time riders have donned expensive luxuries, but the price tags on these particular embellishments are pretty striking. Does the Tour need more flash and flair?

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It does seem somewhat surprising that a sport so entrenched in tradition now plays host to sunglasses that cost more than my truck and a watch with a price tag that looks more like a pretty darn good salary. We as fans often revel in the photos of riders of yesteryear with wool jerseys, tubular tires wrapped around their shoulders, and cigarettes dangling from their mouths. The image of Alaphilippe donning a watch that could fetch a nice house in the suburbs (in the midwest somewhere, maybe) runs directly counter to that romanticized image of simplicity. The bling has gotten blingier.

Alexander Kristoff celebrates his overall leader’s yellow jersey on the podium at the end of the 1st stage of the 107th edition of the Tour de France. Photo: Stuart Franklin via Getty Images

Of course, perhaps in 2020 we should expect, and possibly even welcome, such frivolous flair. Cycling has also suffered under that stifling traditionalism. A bit of bling and flair only helps to shrug off the sense of stiffness and stuffiness. The riders get to show off a bit of personality and flex some figurative muscle in the name of celebration and even intimidation. That makes for some additional, albeit subtle, dimension and fun to the racing.

And lest we forget, just about every rider now sits astride a bicycle that costs more than $10,000. Times change, technology changes; the prices of course will change with that. Bicycle racing is no doubt an exclusionary sport to some degree, boxing out a significant swath of the population simply by creating superbikes with price tags to match. It’s important to remember how much research and development goes into creating such bikes, which are intended for the top echelons of the sport. The riders are taking F1 cars to the race, not Ford Escorts.

Yet while the prices of the bicycles themselves may be justified to a degree, diamond-encrusted sunglasses and six-figure watches exist solely to send a status message: I am the best, and don’t you forget it. That notion has existed in the peloton for some time (Looking at you, Mr. Cipollini), usually in the form of custom shoes or other gear; but in 2020, among a sea of teams with custom yellow helmets, custom yellow bar tape, custom this and that, it’s no longer enough to simply choose a color scheme to stand out. Alaphilippe and Kristoff are both making statements here.

Whether cycling needs such statements, beyond what the riders do on the bike, is up for debate.

Alaphilippe’s watch adds nothing useful to his arsenal of gear. The watch itself is analog, does not feature any useful athletic measurement tools like heart rate, and generally, just appears to be a fancy-pants timepiece made with expensive components like titanium cogs. This watch is not about function in any way.

Kristoff didn’t appear to even wear his diamond-encrusted glasses while racing, because why in the world would he? After the podium ceremony, it appears the glasses went back in the case for who knows what purpose: charity? Posterity on Kristoff’s bookshelf? Sunglasses, while a vital piece of gear, have certainly been jettisoned on the side of the road in certain racing situations. The diamonds again add nothing performance-oriented to Kristoff’s arsenal. It’s all for show.

Perhaps that’s something cycling needs: a bit more show, especially in a pandemic-plagued year in which fans are eager for fireworks, flair, drama, and ultimately, something to debate on the internet.

So let’s do just that! What do you think? Is it a good thing that riders are bringing a bit of bling to the peloton and showing off their statuses as the elite? Or is the trend a gaudy one that only makes the peloton look elitist and exclusionary, thereby putting off fans? Let me know via email, Twitter, or Instagram.