As regular readers will know (if in fact one can be a regular reader of an incredibly irregular blog), I can be a bit critical towards cycling from time to time. But I have to say there are also a lot of things moving in the right direction and many things have improved over time. Especially the riders (and in the end they make the sport) have benefitted greatly and will do so even more in the next few years. Here are a few of the bigger break-throughs:
- Although it is still “de rigeur” to call riders the slaves of the road, their position is a lot stronger than it used to be. Salaries for both ProTour and Procontinental riders has increased enormously over the past decade thanks to the UCI introducing minimum wages, and so everybody makes at least a half-decent salary. Of course there are still a few steps left to make (a minimum wage for female riders for example, which we have instituted internally but is otherwise non-existent).
- Non-payment of salaries has also been greatly reduced, thanks mostly due to the bank guarantee system. The principle is that every team puts up a bank guarantee equal to three months of salaries. This way, if a team starts paying slowly or not at all, there are three months in which to try and resolve the issues. You may still hear from time to time that teams don’t pay on time (like Astana last year) but then you also hear they are forced by the UCI to put up an extra guarantee, up to even the whole year of salaries.The guarantee also takes away the worries for riders and staff members whose team is winding down, as we are doing this fall. For them, it means the last three months of their salary have essentially already been “pre-paid” by the team and all the rider needs to do is request his salary be paid out of the guarantee. No worries for the rider or staff member, everything is guaranteed and they do not have to rely on the honor or dishonor of the team that is closing down.
- This fourth and final point can be positive or negative for the sport, time will tell, but it is definitely positive for the top riders. Acceptance into the ProTour is now greatly based on the team ranking. In the top-15 you’re all but guaranteed a license, and then 3 out of the 5 teams placing 16th to 20th also get one. the 15 best riders a team has signed by October 15 count towards the ranking.That makes October 14 potentially the most lucrative date to sign a contract if you have a whack of points and don’t mind riding for a second tier team that only gets to be first tier because of the points you bring. We saw a bit of that (attempted) already this year, and I expect it to increase over time. Obviously the money has to come from somewhere, so if points are rewarded more, that means people with few points will be rewarded less. Which means the domestiques who may play a vital role in securing a victory but don’t score points themselves could be worse off, or at least they will rely more heavily on the benevolence of their team leaders. We’ll see how that pans out.