While the Arctic Race of Norway lauds itself on being the world’s northernmost bike race, they would freely admit it isn’t the biggest on the calendar.
Sandwiched in between the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, there is a certain level of fatigue that sets in at this stage of the season.
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However, it still attracts a number of high profile riders, with French champion Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) duking it out for the win this year.
Although there’s not the half a million euro prize pot up for grabs like there is at the Tour, the Norwegian race offers what is arguably one of the most sought after prizes in cycling.
The winner of the King of the Mountains classification, the salmon jersey as it is referred to, also receives 500kg of Norwegian salmon. With a kilo of the fish currently priced at 50 Norwegian Krone, which equates to around £4.50, a £2,250 prize is certainly not to be sniffed at.
The prize and sponsorship from the Norwegian Seafood Council begun in 2015 under the slogan “Salmon is important for Norway”. The deal also includes all KOM points being materialised with salmon-like inflatable structures and each rider receiving a piece of smoked Norwegian salmon at the end of the race.
Forget your wheels of cheese from the Tour of Britain, cast aside your Tirreno Adriatico tridents, a literal truck load of salmon is the best prize in the professional peloton.
Odd Christian Eiking (Wanty-Gobert) picked up the prize this year, battling hard to overhaul Steve Cummings lead in the climbers’ classification, the Dimension Data rider presumably gutted he won’t be taking prime cuts of seafood back to Merseyside.
Comments on Eiking’s Instagram photo of him on the podium collecting the prize include messages from fellow riders and friends imploring him to give them a place on the list of people who will receive a portion of the prize, while others wish him well and to “enjoy salmon for the next 17 years”.
We reached out to former winners of the prize, to find out how their life had changed following the deluge of salmon that supposedly landed on their doorstep, a rather odd outcome for what would normally have just been another day at the office for a rider in the professional peloton.
“When I won, I was contacted by the four different companies that cooperated for the 500kg of salmon,” says Sindre Lunke, who rides for Pro-Continental outfit Riwal Readynez and won the salmon jersey in 2018 when he was at Fortuneo-Samsic.
“For me, as a Norwegian, it was a big thing to win the climbers jersey, but it was also an extra bonus that I got 500kg of salmon and not only a jersey.”
Despite being a good source of protein, riders often keep a stern eye on their weight, especially those who aspire to go up hills quickly, so what on Earth does a professional cyclist do with that much salmon?
“I have shared a lot of it with friends and family,” Lunke says. “I also got a dinner from the organiser of the salmon prize, which was given on a training camp with my new team, cooked by an awesome chef!”
Transporting a decent amount of salmon to a European training camp is easy enough a task, but what about South Africa?
In 2017, Bernie Eisel won the classification for Dimension Data, meaning the race transported fish more than 9,000 miles for the team to enjoy at their training camp.
Lunke says his family and friends were really excited about the prize, which the Norwegian rode himself into contention for after getting into the breakaway on stage two and sweeping up KoM points over a lumpy parcours.
“I think in general Norwegian riders want to show themselves off on home soil,” Lunde says. “It is a big motivation with the salmon and the extra attention you receive by winning this prize.”
What are his salmon stocks saying currently then? Has he been rinsed by family and friends who have not gone hungry for many months?
“I’ve still got salmon left, I can take out small portions at a time and not just the whole 500kg at once,” Lunde says, “so I will enjoy it for a long time to come.”
Lunde does admit that ‘too much salmon’ is a concept that exists, saying: “Good thing I didn’t win the prize this year,” which would result in the 26-year-old finding himself as the proud owner of a metric tonne of fish product.
One man who was won the salmon jersey twice, in back-to-back years, is August Jensen, who claimed the classification in both 2014 and 2015.
However, Jensen was too early, with 2015 being the last year before the prize was added to the race. “Too bad for me”, he says.