When Wout Van Aert mimicked a bird's wings in celebration as he crossed the finish line first on stage four of the 2022 Tour de France, people's immediate reactions suggested he had pre-planned it, designed to further highlight the sponsor - Red Bull - adorned on his helmet.
Indeed, Red Bull's slogan "gives you wings" is aptly in keeping with Van Aert's celebration, especially when considering the Belgian is one of just three riders in the men's professional peloton sponsored by the carbonated energy drink manufacturer. The other two are Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) and Anton Palzer (Bora-Hansgrohe), a former ski mountaineer and mountain runner and climber.
However, speaking after this Tour stage win, Van Aert insisted that, with his flapping arms, he "wanted to show that the jersey gives me wings."
Of his attack, the Belgian said: "I felt like flying in the last 10km, and it was real; it was special to ride alone in the yellow jersey and to take a stage like this."
Dubious as Van Aert's explanation is, it transpires that the UCI doesn't have any rules stopping riders from displaying personal sponsorship during races, only that "the helmet must be approved in accordance with the prevailing safety standards, must not have been modified and must not have suffered an impact or been involved in an accident".
Instead, teams are the ones who regulate what sponsors their riders are allowed to showcase, with decisions often dependent on whether the specific brand conflicts with another the team already has an agreement with.
In the case of Wout Van Aert, Jumbo-Visma are comfortable with him riding without the team-issued helmet. Initially, the Belgian only used his Red Bull sponsored protection in cyclocross races, but at the beginning of the 2022 season he announced he will also wear it on the road.
While Jumbo-Visma hasn't responded to Cycling Weekly on why Van Aert now always wears the helmet, there is the possibility that Red Bull has the potential to enhance the sponsors, therefore making the agreement mutually beneficial.
A Dutch and Belgian supermarket chain, title sponsor Jumbo has the ability to benefit from one of cycling's biggest names advertising a product it sells in its shops, in addition to the branded team attire he wears, too.
Meanwhile, Pidcock did wear a Red Bull helmet while racing in national team colours at the 2021 Road World Championships, but the Briton hasn't used the sponsored equipment when representing his team, Ineos Grenadiers, during road races. This rule doesn't apply during off-road events, though, with Pidcock permitted to use his Red Bull helmet at cyclocross and mountain bike races.
As Cycling Tips speculated earlier this year, one reason Pidcock doesn’t wear his Red Bull helmet during road races might be because the brand doesn't benefit Ineos - which also owns a third of the Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team, where Red Bull Racing is a direct rival.
Another reason could centre on agreement between Red Bull and Pidcock - put simply, its financial worth. Ineos Grenadiers also didn't respond to Cycling Weekly to substantiate these suggestions, however.
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