Continental Drift: The Hole in ‘Professional’ Biking


Joseph Laverick (GBR) virtually collapsing

post-race battlefield within the end zone

Corridor-Wattens to Innsbruck: 27.8 km

UCI 2018 Street World Championships
Innsbruck – Tirol / Austria

Aspiring professional Joe Laverick is combating his means towards a big-time contract and shall be sending over columns all through the season. Driving for Axeon-Hagens Berman this yr, Joe has a singular viewpoint on the pathways and roadblocks into the professional ranks. On this installment, he considers how we actually ought to outline ‘professional.’

How do you outline knowledgeable athlete? Is it by means, outcomes, crew, or paycheck? Should you’re within the high 1% of professional cyclists, you’ll be able to earn tens of millions of euros and afford to depend your kudos within the tax haven of Monaco. The highest 1% have it good. However, what’s it like as you’re employed your means up the slippery ladder? The place and the way do the decrease rungs slot in?

As per the UCI pointers, there are three divisions: WorldTeams, ProTeams, and Continental Groups. The extra frequent phrases are WorldTour, ProConti and Conti, respectively. I’ll be utilizing the latter all through this text. 

Every division has completely different necessities and advantages, from a minimal rider wage to entry to a race calendar. On the backside of the pro-cycling pile, there are the Continental groups. Continental groups are unusual. You may be racing Chris Froome one weekend, and Chris the native fourth cat the subsequent.

I’m a Continental-level bicycle owner myself. In biking circles, I don’t class myself as professional, but. That’s reserved for ProConti and WorldTour. Granted, it’s a lot simpler to explain myself as a professional once I’m speaking to a household good friend who doesn’t perceive the game. In my eyes, I’m a full-time bicycle owner, however I’m semi-professional.

Crew Budgets

Within the World Tour, crew budgets can vary from €4-50 million per yr. I did a little bit little bit of digging and on the British Continental scene, one crew is alleged to have a price range of between £60-100,000 every year. 

John Herety is a legend of the British racing scene, a former British nationwide highway champion, after which a long-time crew supervisor. He began off managing in 2006 on a price range of round £85,000. The crew turned Rapha-Condor Sharp after which JLT Condor. The contract with their ultimate title sponsor was price round £700,000 per yr. 

Rapha Condor JLT crew supervisor John Herety (GBR) post-race 2013 Tour of Britain stage 6.

Sponsorship agreements are fickle. They’re usually only a single yr and supply no safety. A Continental crew can solely theoretically assure their license for a yr too, because of the UCI regulation of annual renewals. What comes first, the rooster or the egg? 

Herety stated that certainly one of his proudest moments in his 12-year spell as a crew boss was securing a cope with their ultimate title sponsor. The settlement with JLT, an insurance coverage agency, lasted for 3 years. It gave the crew safety that’s unparalleled at Conti stage. Crew safety means that you could signal riders to multi-year contracts and plan for the long run. In different sports activities, it is a given. In biking, it’s a recreation changer.

I requested Herety, who’s at the moment out of the pro-cycling recreation, a frank query: “How a lot would it not take so that you can come again?” His reply: “Minimal, £150,000.” He advised me that you could possibly have a really profitable Continental crew for £250,000, whereas wages wouldn’t be potential in that price range, it might be constructed round bold younger professionals racing an thrilling calendar.

Picture: Chad Childers/ Hagens Berman Axeon

The American-registered Hagens Berman Axeon, my present crew, had a high-profile sponsor search on the again finish of 2020. Axel Merckx, the crew supervisor, was stated to be round US$300,000 quick on the price range he wanted.  

The crew remains to be on the highway in 2021 with Hagens Berman, a category motion legislation agency, coming into their sixth season as title sponsor. Keep in mind what I stated about multi-year sponsor offers being recreation altering? Crew’s like Merckx’s wouldn’t be round with out sponsors like Hagens Berman. 

Merckx’s crew has a robust pedigree of creating high quality riders they usually at all times present high worth for sponsors too. Corresponding to with Neon Adventures, a sponsor that has signed multi-year offers in previous; Axel + Neon = Axeon. 

It does make you query: If Hagens Berman Axeon had been struggling for cash, what hope do others have? 

Rider Wages

If we have a look at males’s WorldTour groups, the minimal wage is round €40,000. At ProConti stage, it’s roughly €31,000. These figures are much less for neo-pros. There isn’t a minimal wage at Conti stage. The truth is, it’s not unusual for riders to obtain no cash in any respect. Bikes, equipment, and bills all must be lined as per the UCI laws, however not a wage. 

Conti stage cyclists spin many plates. There’s the racing, however then the 2 or three part-time jobs to make all of it viable (though I’m not going to say that scripting this with my ft up is inflicting a lot stress!). It’s price me stating that the extent of rider on the Conti scene is excessive, usually ok to make it within the higher echelons of the game. However are you ‘professional’ when you aren’t paid to do your job?

Within the third tier of British skilled soccer (soccer), the common highest earner is on £247,000 per yr*, or US$335k. Whereas I do know this comparability is futile, because of the obscene quantity cash in skilled soccer, it does give a reference level.

I couldn’t discover any knowledge to present a median wage of a continental rider, however I can safely predict that it’s not fairly £247,000. The truth is, I lately did an off-the-record survey between my pals racing on the UK Continental scene, it appears that only a few, if any riders are paid a wage.

There was a ‘golden age’ for the British Continental scene within the early-mid 2010s. Sponsors had deep pockets and wages went up, one may argue that we’re now struggling via the aftermath. Dean Downing, a former British champion, raced via the nice instances, he advised Bicycle owner Journal:

“John Wooden, who was behind NFTO, had made some huge cash and he paid excellent wages. Endura additionally got here alongside and pushed the wage bracket up. We had been getting paid greater than neo-pros on WorldTour groups, which is loopy when you consider it. However that bubble has nicely and really burst now.”

Dean Downing

What’s the worth of a rider? On the British scene, worth has traditionally come from being a profitable Tour Sequence rider. These are numerous metropolis centre criteriums that carry TV time. This isn’t too completely different within the States the place there’s a sturdy criterium scene. 

Herety stated that in his crew’s prime, a high Tour Sequence rider might be making between £25-35,000 per yr. Everybody on his crew would both get a wage, or cheap bills paid. It appeared comical to him {that a} Continental rider may demand greater than the World Tour minimal wage.

Race Calendar

UCI Continental crew. It’s within the title, they need to be racing throughout the continent. It is a criticism that usually will get directed at British groups who select to stay to a domestic-based calendar.

One may argue that not all Conti groups want their Continental license. Herety believes that there are too many Conti groups within the UK. “Why are we permitting sponsors to get within the Tour of Britain on a budget?” he requested.

With groups primarily based within the USA, Britain, and Australia, there may be the added expense that comes with touring to the large races that aren’t of their residence nation. The Continental license offers entry to most professional races, however even membership groups can race as much as the UCI .2 stage.

JLT-Condor had been trailblazers in Britain. All through their iterations, the crew gained races on three continents. They gained the Tour of Korea twice. It’s uncommon for a European crew to race within the Asia Tour, not to mention for a British continental crew.

They usually primarily based themselves in Australia for the primary six weeks of the yr. A visit which Herety claimed to price virtually 1 / 4 of their annual price range. Why? 

It was sponsor-driven at first. Rapha wished them to race in Asia after which Australia. It had the added bonus that riders can get a great racing block, and the publicity that comes with it, because the UK calendar usually doesn’t kick off till March. 

The ultimate perk is the attraction to riders. Sure, they might earn more money at one other crew, however they couldn’t have a race calendar like Herety’s. There’s loads of fact on this, as a rider, one of many first issues I do when searching for a brand new crew is have a look at what calendar they rode for the previous couple of seasons. As a rider, you need to journey the very best races. I’m unbelievably excited for my 2021 calendar, however extra to come back on that one other time.

Wanting the world over

As beforehand talked about, the UCI states that Continental groups should not have to pay riders, they do nevertheless must pay bills. Nationwide governing our bodies can add extra guidelines in too.

  • France: Riders are handled as professionals on account of employment legal guidelines. They have to obtain a minimal wage, they usually have a calendar made up of UCI.1 and HC races. It’s costly to run a Conti crew in France.
  • Belgium: There are three completely different classes; CP1, CP2, and CP3. Every comes with its personal monetary guidelines, from bills to wages.
  • UK: Groups are required to help the Tour Sequence and the Nationwide Street Race Sequence. There are not any necessities to pay a wage.
  • USA: Quite a few hoops to leap via, however no requirement to pay riders.

So, I ask once more; how do you outline knowledgeable athlete? If you’re incomes 0 euros per yr, are you able to classify your self as a professional? It’s a gray space that may by no means be solved, topic to opinion and context.

There are quite a few Continental-level cyclists who’re ok to be WorldTour, many are one good consequence away from a life-changing contract. What’s clear is there’s a spot, one which feels prefer it’s widening, between the place younger riders like me are, and the place we need to go.

For these eager to learn extra about life on the Continental stage of motorbike racing, ‘Professional Biking on $10 a day’ by the now retired Phil Gaimon is a superb learn.

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