Show Me The Money

Cyclists, in general, are not well paid. At the start line of last year’s British National Championship (as a spectator, obviously) a friend and I did a quick calculation of how many riders were of the brassic-and-brushing-their-teeth-with-a-twig variety, and how many could spring for both toothpaste and a brush. Some surprisingly recognisable names fitted into the first category.

The situation proved far worse when the women’s field was surveyed. Apart from a handful of truly ‘elite’ riders, most of the women either threw themselves into further education in a bid to free up time for training, or worked shifts in bike stores between September and March to allow for a hand-to-mouth existence the rest of the season. Still, the inequities of professional sports deserve more space and time that this, so I am going to focus on the wage structure of cycling in general.

One of the countries premier time trialists, Matt Clinton, lives not ten miles from our own campus, and if you so choose you can train with him on most Tuesday and Thursday evenings (meet at the Kenilworth petrol station at 6.30pm, hold on for dear life). On a handful of occasions I, dear reader, have been sitting on his wheel in the pace line, slowly becoming consumed by two thoughts. Firstly, that in no just universe should such a pretender to cycling glory be allowed within 50 feet of such a talent, my pedal stroke is nowhere near as smooth, the figure beneath my lycra is nowhere near as figure-hugging, my race face nowhere near as placid and unflustered. My man-crush knew no bounds. Secondly (and less innocuously), one slight jolt of my handle bars could have brought our tyres into unison, throwing us down into the asphalt at 30 miles an hour. A bit like when you stand near a ledge and imagine throwing yourself off of it. Everyone does this, right? Thankfully the pace line always moved quickly, and he would peel off the front, leaving me to gurn as I tried to drag the peloton along for at least 17 seconds.

My proximity to Matt Clinton was possible because of cycling’s abysmal wage structure. Matt Clinton may have achieved 9th at last year’s National Time Trail Championship, and be a multiple winner of the Hill Climb Championship, but he can still be found selling bikes at Mike Vaughn’s Cycles in Kenilworth.

At ProTour (probably equivalent to Champions League level) the minimum wage for a rider is €35,000. A year. €24,000 if this happens to be your first year at the top level of the sport. Not to moan too much, but there are undergraduates in the Law department of this very university who will earn that in their first job. What brings more joy to this world, the Mur de Hoy or Taut law? Enough said.

The true horror stories come from the lower levels of the sport. At Continental level (equivalent to the Championship) there are no minimum wage requirements. Continental level Pros display their brilliance unequivocally – they often race in some of the fastest and most grueling races around. But there is no guarantee that they will get paid for it.

Add a healthy dose of job insecurity to the mix – sponsors pulling out mid-season, one year long contracts, the general perils of relying on one’s body to pay the bills – and it becomes clear that there may be a pressing economic motivation to dope, not just a glory-based one. For every ‘marquee’ rider such as Bradley Wiggins, there are ten Yanto Barkers destroying their bodies because it is the only thing they want to do (or perhaps, know how to do). The gulf is now a yawning gulf: two riders lining up side by side at this year’s Giro d’Italia could conceivably have a €3.5 Million wage differential.

I love cycling, and I love that loving it can automatically propel you into the world of the ‘unusuals’. Who would bother with shaved legs and unpronounceable names if not truly besotted? I also love how the bicycle can be both the machine of the people [over-theorised]( as a method of philosophical investigation) and one of the most garishly over-advertised pieces of sporting equipment ever. I particularly love that you can go to races for free, and sometimes be lucky enough to walk amongst them or even chat to them (Daniel Lloyd, Johnny Bellis and Mark Cavendish, in case you were wondering). This love has nothing to do with the material rewards cycling could bring.

I don’t want to see cyclists become carbon copies of the axiomatic sports star – willfully ignorant of the rest of the world and pampered to the point of vulgarity. I would like to think that when I bump into them in a cafe I could buy them a drink as a gesture of admiration, not an act of necessity.

Epilogue: Spare a thought for cocaine-hocking, Lamborghini-demolishing [Tom Boonen]( Tomeke has just found out that, sometimes, being the Belgian Housewives’ favourite can only get you so far in life.


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