The Cost of Cycling

Ever wondered how much the average ProTour cyclist gets paid? Or how much it takes to run a ProTour team? Will transfer fees soon be introduced? Who gets paid the most in the professional peloton? It’s about time we investigated all these questions and more through this article about the cost of cycling.

Undoubtedly, cycling is big business. The UK cycling market alone has expanded rapidly in recent years and new research suggests it is now worth over £2.15 billion. Even more startlingly, the global bicycle market as a whole shows significant growth with revenues expected to exceed £39 billion through 2011.
These figures mean that the average UK resident spends £35 on cycling every year. Of course, not everyone has been converted to the wonders of cycling as of yet, therefore the actual figure per cyclist will be far higher.

There are some obvious reasons for this growth. For instance, environmental concerns have had a role to play in these increases. Furthermore, rising fuel costs have caused many to consider alternative means of transport, particularly in terms of the daily commute.

Several bloggers have concluded using basic maths, that for those commuting cyclists who travel several miles a day, the cost per mile of their endeavours equates to about 6p.

While this is fairly unscientific it does reveal just how financially beneficial cycling can be, and let’s not forget to consider the additional positive side effects such as increased health and fitness levels. Having said this, you’re also bound to spend more money on food and drink considering the greater amount of physical exertion that you’re undertaking.

So, while revenues from the cycling industry are swiftly escalating, there are also rumours of significant financial changes throughout professional cycling competition, ranging from transfer fees, to charging spectators a fee to watch cycling events.

The Salaries of Professional Cyclists

Remuneration for cyclists has been something of a grey area for many years. One might expect the typical professional cyclist to be earning a generous wage. However, they would be mistaken, at least in relation to professional athletes who specialise in other sports.

Let’s take a ProTour rider for example. Riding for one of the top teams in the sport, you would be forgiven for anticipating substantial rewards for your labours. However, the basic annual salary stands at £30,000, with this figure decreasing to only £24,000 for neo-pros.

On average, riders earn more than this. The UCI stated that the average salary of a ProTour rider in 2009 was approximately £114,240. Moreover, this figure does not take into account winnings and other monies which are not included in the basic salary. Another source suggests the average salary may now be as high as £160,000.

However, let’s compare this to the average annual salary for a Premiership footballer (or soccer player, for the benefit of our American and Australian friends), which was found to be over £1.46 million earlier this year and you can see just how poorly paid many professional cyclists are. To compound this even further, the typical player in the US NBA league rakes in around £2.62 million each year.

Minimum salaries decrease further for riders in Professional Continental teams, while those riding for Continental teams are offered no minimum salary, with many racing voluntarily in the hope that they will one day break into the big ring.

Considering the levels of training and utter dedication to the sport that is required of professional cyclists, the remuneration on offer appears to be something of an insult. Undoubtedly, if you’re looking to become a professional cyclist with the primary aim of fulfilling that long-lost dream of ‘get rich quick’, you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, what this does mean is that those who are in the sport are doing it for their love of cycling and their overriding passion for the sport as much, if not more, than for the cold, hard cash.

Movistar Team at Giro d’Italia 2016

Movistar Team at Giro d’Italia 2016

The worst case scenario

While £30,000 might be quite a small minimum salary, it’s an improvement on the payment that members of the Milram team were once rumoured to receive. Sources of dubious reliability suggested that the riders were paid in milk, cheese, yoghurt and other dairy products, provided by their sponsor, Milram. We’re sure they would have been paid in addition to this. If not, we just hope and pray that none of them were lactose intolerant.

On a more serious note, if you thought professional cycling’s men were badly paid, take a minute to consider the predicament that professional women find themselves in.
Who wouldn’t pay good money to see this?
First of all, professional female cyclist’s have no minimum salary requirements to speak of. Secondly, for 5% of the budget of a men’s team, you could have a sustainable women’s team with each rider receiving a small income. This just compounds the fact that there is far less money in women’s cycling.

This appears to ultimately be down to one reason and one reason alone and that’s TV coverage. For the women, this aspect is virtually non-existent and makes investment in the women’s side of the sport a difficult move to make for any potentially interested parties, at least for the time being.

It’s not all doom and gloom

Having painted you a fairly depressing picture of the salaries which professional cyclists receive, we also need to quickly qualify those statements by revealing that there are exceptions to such figures, with many of the biggest names in the sport continuing to be handsomely rewarded for their efforts.

Valverde and Bettini have been two such exceptions.
Riders such as Valverde and Bettini, pictured on the left, both received well over £1 million at their peak, with some reports suggesting Valverde’s salary was as high as £2.56 million. More recently, Cadel, Cancellara, the Schlecks, Cavendish and Contador all make several million pounds each.

Nevertheless, only recently, Cavendish has expressed his discontent at receiving no additional bonuses or payments as a consequence of his 2010 successes. He suggests “I’m kind of abused for what I’ve achieved but I’ve been contracted to do it, so I have to do it.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lance Armstrong has been one of the best paid cyclists. While earning a similar salary to other top cyclist’s, his total earnings tally up closer to the £15 million a year mark, taking into account merchandise and his various endorsement arrangements. In the news only recently, it has been revealed that Armstrong’s 2009 Tour de France comeback, and his duel with Contador, helped net the Amaury Sport Organisation an additional £20 million in revenue.

Moreover, there have been significant improvements in terms of salary for the average professional cyclist in recent years. More than half the riders in Pro Continental teams earned less than £23,000 only five years ago. Today, not a single rider earns less than this amount.

How much does it cost to run a team as a whole?

So we’ve looked at salaries for individual riders and how much the typical rider can expect to earn. However, how expensive is it to actually run a fully fledged ProTour team? Yet again, perhaps less than you’d think.

The average budget of a ProTour team was approximately £8.69 million in 2009, while the lowest survived on a modest £3.15 million.

While they are obviously completely different sports, with completely different costs involved, when you compare these figures to the budget of a Formula 1 team, you can see just how inexpensive running a professional cycling team actually is. For example, is it rumoured that some of the biggest teams in Formula 1, such as Ferrari, operate on a budget of up to £320 million.

2016 Strade Bianche - Pre-Race

2016 Strade Bianche – Pre-Race

Should transfer fees be introduced?

In recent months there have been further rumblings of change in terms of finances. One such rumbling is concerned with the possible introduction of transfer fees into the sport.

The major instigator behind these rumours has been Irish legend, Sean Kelly. He suggests that a system of transfer fees would compensate smaller teams when riders are drafted by the big names in the sport. Essentially, a small team may spend considerable time and effort in nurturing a rider in his early years without ever being able to reap the rewards before the rider moves on. While committing to new riders can be beneficial and relatively inexpensive, there is always the worry that the best will be picked up by larger, more influential teams.

Of course, as we’ve already discussed, riders do not receive major money until they’re riding successfully for a major team. As a result, you cannot blame young riders for wanting to progress. Many believe that having to buyout a rider’s contract is compensation enough for a small team, while others suggest that this isn’t enough, as the contracts are worth so little in the first place. At the end of the day, small teams simply cannot afford to pay big money salaries. If transfer fees were put in place, it’s possible that this could change.

Do you think transfer fees are a good idea? Do you think the UCI would ever implement them? Please let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the blog.

Will cycling spectators soon have to pay for their place on the roadside?

Another increasingly talked about aspect of cycling is the debate around whether or not spectators should pay to watch their favourite riders.

Patxi Mutiloa, Sports Director of the Basque Government, was one of the first to ignite the debate, suggesting that it’s about time that supporters began to fund the costs of maintaining and organising the big events. His argument touches on the sports of football and basketball, “where nobody disputes that you have to pay entry. If we want to see the best cyclists on our roads in certain areas, why shouldn’t we ask people to pay as well?”

He concludes by suggesting that races are increasingly funded by public money and fans should therefore help to alleviate the financial burden.

These comments have sparked considerable controversy on cycling blogs and forums around the world. One of the established counter-arguments against Mutiloa’s proposal is that cycling’s supporters often have to camp out for hours on end, struggle with road closures and parking restrictions, brave hostile weather conditions and all to catch only the briefest glimpse of the cyclist’s as they flash by. With a sport such as football, the players and spectators are contained with a stadium for at least 90 minutes, allowing all the action to unfold in front of the fans. Quite simply, cycling cannot therefore be compared to sports such as football in this sense.

Finally, let’s not forget the logistical and strategic issues involved in charging spectators. Most prominently, the roadside is ultimately owned by a range of different people, at a range of locations, rather than merely the race organisers themselves. Consequently, it’s pretty much impossible to control.

Again, is it about time spectators had to pay to watch some of the major events in the cycling calendar? Perhaps, merely charging spectators in some of the prime locations is the way forward?

The financial future of cycling

Well, with Lance looking set to make his final professional appearance on foreign soil in the Tour Down Under next year, additional revenue off the back of his involvement is likely to quickly dwindle.

Moreover, continued bad publicity for the sport in terms of doping cases, suspensions and general mistrust doesn’t help cycling’s cause, either in terms of attracting new supporters or encouraging larger, more influential sponsors to fund some of the major teams. While the phrase, ‘No publicity is bad publicity’ springs to mind, it really does appear as though we’ll have to wait and see how the sport evolves through 2011 and beyond.

However, with all the action and excitement we’ve come to except from the sport, there’s no reason it can’t progress from strength to strength, attracting a wider audience and developing further. While doping cases are always likely to take the headlines in the off-season, let’s hope the racing will do the talking when the Tour Down Under kicks off in a couple of weeks.

We’d love to hear your comments on the topics that have been raised. Are you surprised by the costs of running a ProTour team? Do you think professional cyclists are paid enough? Discuss!



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